This practical manual for the starting, enlargement and operation of Sunday Schools incorporates years of experience from one who has pioneered Sunday School work in a new town, and has been central for many years to the growth of Britain’s largest Sunday School in the heart of London. This manual teems with information and tips which will help small as well as large Schools, but the transparent aim is to encourage the greatest growth possible, in gathering teenagers and children under the sound of the Word.
Sunday Schools for children, where they still exist, tend only to cater for the children of believers. Even in American all-age Sunday Schools the children’s classes are usually drawn from churchgoing families. The old concept of a local church taking spiritual responsibility for all the children and young people living in its neighbourhood has almost disappeared. The devastating results of this policy are now to be seen all around us.
Many Christians maintain that even if an evangelistic Sunday School were to be held, today’s children would not be interested or persuaded to attend. Yet I have gained the impression over the years that there are thousands, even millions, of children who would attend Sunday School, if only churches were to seriously operate evangelistic Sunday Schools, obeying the command of the Saviour to suffer little children to come to Him! I hope readers will forgive a little personal reminiscence to show how I came by this impression.
As a child of parents who had given up church attendance I myself was collected every Sunday afternoon by teachers from a local evangelical church in suburban London. My parents were glad to have a few quiet hours on Sunday and had us ready for the collector’s welcome knock soon after lunch. In early days I heard about the Saviour and was drawn by the cords of His love to follow Him. This Sunday School later opened a branch in the community centre of a large nearby London housing estate where I was privileged to serve as a young teenage teacher. Hundreds of children flocked along over many years. Even the local ice-cream van man saw his opportunity and greeted the children as they left at 4 o’clock. At times the hall, which held over 200, was too small and the problem was how to avoid sending children away. The great majority of these children came from families living in the surrounding flats, whose parents never attended church. What a tragedy it would have been if this opportunity had been missed!
My next positive experience came in my early twenties as a pastor’s wife in a church being pioneered in a new town north of London. Letters were distributed in the neighbourhood announcing the start of a Sunday School, followed by a personal visit to most homes. On the first Sunday, 73 children turned up and soon a thriving work was under way. Within no time the attendance passed the 100 mark. The numbers of children attending helped persuade the local authority to lease the fledgling church a site for a building. In the course of time, parents and even grandparents, contacted through means of the Sunday School, attended the adult services regularly and an evangelical church flourished in that town.
This second experience confirmed my view that many children were ready and waiting to come and consider the Gospel if only Christians made this possible for them.
From a smart new town where our church building was surrounded by bushes and bluebells, my path led to the huge church building of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in central London, an area known at the time for its violent youth gangs. Would a serious, traditional Sunday School cut any ice here? Would children growing up on crowded estates be allowed to come and learn the Ten Commandments and the way back to God?
Children like to be with a crowd, so in order to rapidly increase the numbers an ‘Easter Mission’ was held for a week in the school holidays. Our green bus was driven through the estate where invitations had been distributed to parents, and over 100 children gathered that week, leading to a large jump in the regular Sunday attendance.
Here in central London this provision of transport has proved to be, under the Lord’s hand, the great key to success. Those who continued to organise the different bus runs (17-seat minibuses are now favoured) have commented that if Christians are willing to go and knock on doors and provide transport, then ‘the sky’s the limit’ to Sunday School attendance. How sad that such opportunities are missed.
The other vital component of the work was the substance of the Sunday School hour, necessary for maintaining the children’s interest and attendance. At that time almost all the materials available in the UK were unsuitable for us, being aimed at children from Christian homes who were assumed to be ‘little Christians’ already. To meet the need for lesson notes that would be chiefly evangelistic (but also teaching doctrines), I began to refine and extend notes I had prepared for our new-town Sunday School, and ‘Lessons for Life’ gradually came into shape. Teachers also took care to provide suitable, challenging visual aids.
With the prayers and labours of the church membership we had the joy of seeing hundreds of children attending Sunday School each week in the years ahead.
Our highest concern is the Lord’s glory. It is His wish that ‘every creature’ should hear the Gospel, so that He will rightly ask on the great day of judgement, ‘What could have been done more . . . that I have not done?’ (Isaiah 5.4.) While such a door of opportunity stands open, should we not take it? There are doubtless places where for some reason the children simply cannot be drawn to Sunday School, but my personal experience seems to suggest that there are still large areas of Britain today which would yield great fruit if only labourers would move into the harvest field.