What will Sunday school look like in the future for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada congregations? That was the question addressed at a consultation organized by Mennonite Publishing Network (MPN) earlier this month.
The consultation, held Nov. 1-3 at Amigo Centre, Sturgis, MI, brought together Christian education leaders and thinkers throughout MC USA and MC Canada.
During the three-day event, participants agreed that Sunday school still has a future—but some changes need to be made.
“Over the course of our time together, it became clear that we need to consider new approaches to the way we do Sunday school,” says MPN Managing Editor for Curriculum Mary Ann Weber, who organized the event.
“The reality is that our cultures and congregations are changing, and we need to pay careful attention to what’s happening.”
Changes identified by participants include the fact that Sunday morning is no longer a sacred time—there’s competition from sports, work and other activities; declining attendance and irregular attendance patterns; urbanization; growing racial and ethnic diversity in MC Canada and MC USA congregations; changes in family structure; waning biblical literacy; and declining denominational loyalty.
The changes also affect the way publishers like MPN will need to produce curriculum in the future.
“The traditional curriculum format, where one session builds on the other over a whole quarter, has worked for generations, but doesn’t work as well when Sunday school attendance is irregular for an increasing number of children,” says Weber.
There is also a growing expectation on the part of many churches that curriculum will have multi-media components—many people want more than just print.
“Some congregations are looking for multiple formats, incorporating print, online and video, while others are looking for curriculum that is flexible enough to be used for midweek clubs, or other meeting times and places,” she says.
Participants also spoke in favor of more teacher training options for teachers. Gather ’Round: Hearing and Sharing God’s Good News, MPN’S Sunday school curriculum, currently includes tips for teachers and a downloadable Power Point presentation about how to use the curriculum; other ways to provide assistance, Weber notes, include social media, which allows people across North America to share teaching ideas and tips with each other.
Although there are many changes affecting the way faith is passed on to children and youth, participants agreed that Sunday school is still important.
“Sunday school is an excellent way to teach the biblical story and Anabaptist distinctives, and to help children and youth develop a relationship with God, build relationships with caring adults, develop a moral framework, develop spiritual habits and practices and allow God to shape every aspect of their lives,” she says.
Sunday school in the Mennonite Church “still has a future,” she adds, “but what it will look like remains to be seen.”
As part of the consultative process, Weber plans to seek additional input from people involved in Christian education in MC Canada and MC USA congregations in 2011. “We want to hear from many people about this important issue,” she says.
Participants in the consultation were Marlene Bogard, Minister of Christian Nurture and resource Library Director, Western District Conference of MC USA; Lisa Carr-Pries, Associate Pastor of Christian Formation, Waterloo North Mennonite Church and Chair of the Christian Formation Council of MC Canada; Amy Gingerich, Editorial Director, MPN; Carrie Martens, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary student from Altona, MB.; Chris Rahe, MC USA; Elsie Rempel, Director of Christian Nurture, MC Canada; Chrissie Walls, Chair of Christian Education, Rochester, NY Area Mennonite Fellowship; Curt Weaver, Pastor of Children and Youth, Portland, OR Mennonite Church; Kathy Weaver-Wenger, former MPN Resource Advocate Coordinator; and Weber.
For more information, or to comment on the future of Sunday school, visit http://www.mpn.net/news/november10/consultation.html