Can we save our Sunday Schools?

I am a member of the St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Trivandrum (Kerala) and we are part of the Malankara Orthodox Church in India. As on March 2013, we have 1,375 members in our parish register and about 1,000 are active which means about 2,500 – 2,750 individuals but there are only about 100 children for the Sunday School. So what are the issues facing the Sunday School today and what can be possibly done to revive it?

My daughter was attending the Sunday School here for the last three years and what I have written below is based on my observations in this church. This year she is going to the Nanthancode Parish, another of our church in the neighbourhood, for Sunday School.

1. Students are declining in Sunday School because they are loosing interest.

2. Sunday School should be conducted in English medium. When all the students attend the regular school in English medium, why is Sunday School in Malayalam medium?

3. Methodology and the style need to be changed to attract the present day students who are smart and intelligent than our generation. Make classes more interactive – use of audio visual tools, good music, etc.

4. Many of our children are going to Sunday school of other churches (including other denominations) because they are much better organised- great music, lot of activities and good fun. They enjoy it.

5. Just announcing ‘Don’t go’ will not help (even the previous vicar used to do that).

6. Have regular PTA meetings after announcing in church. There should be at least 3 meetings in one year. (There have been no meetings in last 3-4 years).

7. Conduct orientation / skill development / leadership training programmes for teachers including heritage tour. If they don’t know about our church, how can they teach the next generation? Experience does not matter if you cannot adapt to the changing times.

8. Have Tea / Snacks break before the starting of the classes than in between. (Classes can start from 10.30 am after breakfast.)

9. Use better teachers with music background or professionals to teach songs, use musical instruments. Children should not get scared after hearing the songs.

10. Involve parents (who wait in the church during the Sunday school classes)

11. Are we doing anything for children with special needs? Need to work on this issue.

12. It is surprising that the Annual Budget of the church does not have any programmes or projects for reviving the Sunday School.

13. Committee members should check if all the children in their ward are attending Sunday school and if not, they should find the reasons and see what can be done to bring them to Sunday School

14. Vicar and Asst. Vicar should interact with students and teachers regularly – at least once in two weeks.

15. Bishops should find time to visit Sunday School and interact with students at least once in six months. It’s bad if they cannot find time for the next generation.

I have not mentioned about the syllabus or the content because I feel it is beyond the reach of an individual parish to make any changes. Not that I am happy with what is being taught there.

Please feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts also. I am sure many other churches will be having a similar problem with their Sunday Schools and what I wrote might be of use to them.

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11 thoughts on “Can we save our Sunday Schools?

  1. I appreciate in your thinking and agree with your points but would like to comment on few.

    – Since nothing on syllabus has been mentioned, I assume you are happy with it.

    English Medium: You mentioned Sunday school ‘Should’ be in English. I would say it will help only partially. I shared same views long back but not now. I left Sunday school has I could not read Malayalam and I found it tough. It took a long time to realize that my ignorance limited me from understanding the Qurbana in Kerala which is also in Malayalam. Our Indian Orthodox liturgies have both Malayalam and Syrian words and while chanting the words together, many of us don’t understand or mean the words.

    Secondly there is a mix of sslc, icse and cbse students sitting together in class of Sunday school.
    For this I would suggest, explanation can be in Malayalam but if student opt to write exam in English then that has to be arranged.

    Training: I agree teachers need to be trained. Also it is again about faith of one self.
    I have seen a popular Sunday school teacher who comes with her kids only towards ¾ th of liturgy but being a strict Sunday school teacher. I don’t wish to judge here but blame it on time taking to prepare food and dress up her 3 school going kids, for being late to liturgies. On top, I say teaching of prayer and faith comes from home first. Parents these days religiously attend church but fail to remember, learn about church fathers. Instead they prefer Joyce Meyer or other prosperity ‘gospel’ preachers. After all Jasmine from home garden won’t have fragrance!

    – Point 11: Holy Trinity’s Balabhavan have taken lots of effort on helping children with special needs. I have seen children from Hindu background, staying at Balabhavan, happily participating in Sunday school than our kids, despite their physical and mental challenges. Holy Trinity’s project progress is now dim due to resources but never failed.

    Church is us, the believers, the congregation, and the families. If we take effort then only church can move on. Priests themselves cannot do everything.

  2. This is quiet surprising for me.When the church case was on the peak also, we had more than 100 hundred children and enough teachers under the guidance of our vaidiyan achen,Jacob cheriyan achen(H.G Mar Ireanius) and the leadership of Kunju Siir.What Happened now?Announce in the church for able teachers.we have very able teachers like Mani sir, Tk joseph sir,,Koshy sir etc(call them and take advise).I don’t think language is a barrier that stops children to come for the sunday school.Here in Middle east we use both English and Malayalam to teach.we have more than 800 children in our SS.Dear Anil, so these are not the reasons. Make aware the parents not to send the children for tuition’s on sunday morning.or Let the vicars call a meeting after the church and collect the opinions of the faithfuls(.At a time we use to come for the first service then we have MGOCSM meeting till 10.15 and after that we taught sunday school till 12.30pm.).i am not boasting myself but needed dedication and sincerity.

    • Thanks Sam for those inputs. I met Mani Sir, Vicar & Asst. Vicar yesterday and has shared the contents of this post with them. The Vicar is planning to call a PTA meeting. Even he has commented on the commitment of the teachers. Let’s see how things work out.

  3. Church should realise the contemporary “WORLD” of children if some improvements are to be made. Will the Sunday School association address the following questions?

    1. Is it absolutely necessary to spend 10 years to complete the present Sunday School curriculum? Why cant we reshedule it to 8 years and leave the children free to give more attention to secular studies? (Stds. IX,X,XI&XII are the most important and you can see children running from churches to attend special classes at Schools and Tuition centres). This will also give chance to get more young blood into the Choir, Sunday School teaching etc. as those who do not have to go as said above will be available.

    2. Should the children be loaded with biased versions of church History? Why can’t we remove topics that will hamper unity of St. Thomas Christians and pave way for better understanding among the next generation ? Are we false preachers of Ecumenism? More emphasis should be given to the pre Coonen Kurisu history of the church,rather than the rift filled days that started after Coonen Kurisu)

  4. There’s a wonderful, wonderful book by a professor at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary here in the USA in which he made the observation that Orthodox catechism must be taught differently than other Christian denominations. What does it mean to get a diploma or a “first class” in an examination, when the true objective of our Sunday School is to bring both adults and children closer to the Church, the Body of Christ .. and in an Orthodox understanding this is a Sacramental life. For example, just memorizing the Nicene Creed does not mean the child understands or believes .. and that must become our focus moving forward. Thank you so much for your post, and would love to talk more! – Joe Varghese (vargh3se – at – gmail – dot – com)

  5. Dear ICON members,

    Good to see a posting on the most important sector of the Orthodox Church. I had opportunity to be part of conducting Sunday School at St Thomas Orthodox Church (now Cathedral), Calcutta, St George Orthodox Church, Bhubaneswar and St George Salem Orthodox Church, Ayppalloor, Kottarakara for about 10 year in each places before, during and after the period of my economic temporary migration from my native parish.

    I endorse most of the points raised in the original posting. If our Church desire to keep its folks of current and generation next in her faith and tradition and make use of the investment made so far for the institution building process, specially among the families who are migrated from their home parish for economic reason outside Kerala and main towns like Trivandrum, the members of Holy Episcopal Synod and the Malankara Church Association should take appropriate action through Sunday and Students and Youth Movements on war footing basis.

    May the Church organize seminars, conferences and workshops at Diocesan level for preparing strategy outline for policy development plan involving best available facilitators.

    Majority of the Church members will talk one another including some priests about the failure in attracting new generation in the church activities without working towards any solution for healthy practices. This needs to be coupled with sincerity, honesty and commitments.

    Let us initiate some good practices at parish level with willing vicars and managing committee and then share the outcome to replicate it to remaining parishes.

    K.G. Mathaikutty
    Ayppalloor, Kottarakara.

  6. I think each of us should consider this a personal mission. In our North American South west Diocese , Sunday School teachers certification program is initiated which is really commendable. However I strongly feel that we should have also some kind of mechanism to assist the sunday School teachers to focus more on practising the Orthodox Christian faith than the theory of it. This is a ministry of the Church and if we as individual teachers don’t pray, don’t read the scripture, and look at our short comings asking God’s mercy and help and live out the life of the Church, then our Children are already lost.
    I am suggesting that we should start in a small way – say a few groups with each group of say 3 to 5 people. Each of this group could collaborate and seek out how they can help each other in the journey as Orthodox Christian. I believe this is in line with what Joe has written. Also they need not be Sunday school teachers , but atlaest willing to take the effort that is this a priority. If there is atleast a two others than me , I will need one of those to get the blessing from a Bishop if you know him and ask if if it is ok to try it out for a year.

  7. Dear Anil,
    Glad to read the comments by a concerned parent. I think we should rather ask, “Can we save our children?”
    Regarding the diminishing attendance: I think this is due to the priorities set by the parents and the society in general, rather than the lack of interest of the students. If there is a feeling that scoring 99% in school and gaining admission in a college of their choice, eventual graduation, and employment with a high salary are all we need for guaranteed success in life, then Church and Sunday School become less of a priority. We need constant reminders that positions and possessions without values and morals will not bring long term success.

    Sunday school has to be interesting to the students. The best way to achieve this is by hiring the best teachers. The teachers have to have motivation and passion to teach. If they have passion, they can be trained. Demand more from teachers. If they come prepared, that is half the battle. When teachers come prepared, kids will notice, and will pay attention. Today, children have a lot to study in secular schools. Instead of burdening them with Sunday school homework, try quiz or short tests in class. I have found this to be more effective with kids who are not motivated to do homework.

    Keep the parents also involved and informed, as much as possible.

  8. Friends, I wanted to give you some update but the reality is that even after two months there is nothing much to update. I had met the Vicar on June 19 to discuss this issue. I also gave him a print out. (This was much before I posted this in my blog) I had also given a printout to the Asst. Vicar and the Sunday School Head Master.

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