Because we are so used to hearing the term,“Sunday School,” it’s easy to think it has been a part of the church since the Book of Acts. However, I don’t remember ever reading about how Paul and Silas began a Puppet Ministry in Ephesus, or how Peter prepared crafts to help teach a lesson on Jonah being swallowed by a whale.
Nope, if you haven’t thought about it, the whole idea of Sunday School was something that generated out of a need to educate children not so long ago.
You see, England went through what we call “The Industrial Revolution” in the late 1700’s and into the early 1800’s. People were called to work in the factories and hundreds of thousands of children were put to work. Because they came from poor families, they were forced into labor to help support themselves and their families.
There was no school system for these kids. Education was primarily a private matter or something that the church did, so the kids were left to work. Not 40 hr. weeks but 6 days a week, 12 hrs a day. Imagine that!
So there was a great problem with the kids. They were receiving no training, they were illiterate and uneducated. Because they couldn’t read, they were uneducated spiritually as well. They had no access to the Bible.
A man by the name of Robert Raikes, who was the owner of a newspaper (Gloucester Journal), saw the condition of the children who were working. Many of them were sick and forced to work to stay alive. They were rebellious and the outcasts of society at the time. Many of their parents were either dead or in prison. Sunday was the only day they had off.
Mr. Raikes enlisted the help of his friend, Reverend Thomas Stock. He posed the idea of starting schools on Sundays to teach the children education “basics” as well as the Bible.
He said, “We will teach them to read and write for part of the day, and then teach them the Bible for the rest of the day!”
It wasn’t long before Robert Raikes and Rev. Stock had 100 children, ages 6-14, coming to their schools. Even though they were only taught one day a week, their behavior began to change dramatically and people (especially law enforcement) noticed.
Raikes published an article about the new schools and the idea caught on all over England. Soon there were 4,000 new schools! Sometimes they were called “Kitchen Schools” because of where the classes were taught in homes. But they were termed “Sunday schools” eventually.
Oddly enough, the greatest opponent at first was the local church, but it wasn’t long before many began to embrace it. The Methodists were one vocal group that saw the need for Sunday school and ran with the concept.
For those of you who know little about church history, Methodism was the exploding movement among God’s people in the 1700’s and 1800’s here in America. The Methodist Church became the largest, with the exception of the Catholics.
Even the Catholics had enough sense to know that if they wanted to keep the people, they were going to have to have schools to reach the kids.
The Jesuits had a saying, “Give us a child until he is 6 and he’ll be ours for the rest of his life.”
So there you have it! That is a very brief description of how Sunday Schools came to be. Today, at The Rock, we don’t call our classes Sunday School classes because we don’t just meet on Sundays! We call them Children’s Church or Children’s Ministry. We believe in breaking the Word of God down into age-appropriate messages so that all ages may be able to learn the truth of God’s Word!