Sunday school: The church no longer needs it – News


“Save Sunday school,” church congregations demanded decades ago. Now even the church no longer wants that.

“Sunday school is no longer the way our grandparents knew it,” says a video from the reformed parish of Bözberg-Möhntal in the canton of Aargau. “It’s happening to us.” There is painting, crafting and singing, and Bible stories are told and staged in a child-friendly way. Nevertheless, such offers have now become very rare.

A traditional Sunday school is still offered in four places in Aargau, says religious educator Monika Thut from the Reformed Regional Church of Aargau: “These Sunday schools are located in small villages with a strong Protestant influence, a bit off the beaten track. In other words, in places where the church is still something of a given.”

Originally an offer for the poor

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Robert Raikes in an undated drawing by an unknown artist.

IMAGO / Heritage Images

The English newspaper publisher and social reformer Robert Raikes is considered the father of Sunday schools. He is said to have founded the first Sunday school in England in 1780.

He taught “neglected children” in a slum in the city of Gloucester in western England and taught them to read and write using the Bible, according to various sources.

For this reason, Sunday school is also called a driver of literacy. At the same time, of course, it was about educating children in the Christian faith.

Sunday schools quickly spread to other countries and became a regular program of many churches and free churches.

The concept of Sunday school dates back to the 18th century. Reformed Sunday schools were introduced in Aargau in 1905. While the parents attended the service, the children were taught Bible studies. But as early as the 1980s, church congregations called for “save Sunday school” because the number of children was shrinking dramatically.

The development is not surprising: the number of church members is also shrinking. Over 30,000 people turned their backs on the Reformed Church in 2022. The Aargau Church recorded a new record with almost 5,000 people leaving in 2023. Childcare is therefore hardly necessary during church services.

New offers, also outside of the church

Other offers have emerged for this. A “children’s church” in Aarau, the “Fiire mit de Chliine” in Rheinfelden, the “children’s service” in Baden. These offers often no longer take place on Sundays. In addition, all of these offers are now in even greater competition with extra-church activities, says Monika Thut.

Small children sit on a bench under trees in a tent camp


For a long time, Sunday schools also had a social purpose: In this photo, migrant children are taught in a potato pickers’ camp in California. The photo is probably dated to 1937.

Imago/Heritage Images

There are also offerings with a spiritual approach outside of the church. «I think children’s yoga, for example, is very good. If parents are more at home in the yoga area, then we don’t have a chance with our Christian tradition anyway.” Monika Thut from the Aargau Regional Church believes that offers that promote the children’s personal development are important.

From a professional perspective, offers must offer added value for the children.

“Even in youth associations it’s not about performance. But about cohesion, community and attitude; Attitude towards nature or towards people.” From their point of view, such offers do not necessarily have to be Christian in orientation.

Children should want to, not have to

Even for church youth and children’s work, Monika Thut finds psychological aspects particularly important. “It’s about how we can strengthen children’s resilience. So that they can survive in this world that is about performance or beauty. We have to convey countervalues.”

Two women play with dolls, in the background children on bath towels on a meadow


There are new forms of church work with children and youth everywhere: here is a “crawling service” in the open air in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

IMAGO / Funke Photo Services

The classic Sunday school will probably soon be obsolete. Gone are the days when Reformed parents “send” their children to Bible studies on Sundays, says Monika Thut. And remembers her own past as a Sunday school student.

“There was always someone who behaved stupidly. He obviously didn’t want to come and the good Sunday school teacher always had something to do with him,” she says. Today it is clear: those who want to come will come. “That’s a nice approach, even in a club or at other gatherings. You do something with those who also like to be there.”

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