Sunday School reports all time high attendance

George Barna's reseach, compared with population information provided by the U.S. Census Bureau indicated last year's Sunday School attendance was the all time high ever in the history of American Sunday School.

This information stands in stark contrast to the general impression that Sunday School is dead and that the church is losing ground. For the skeptics, here are my footnotes:

Barna's research can be found in two places:

Population figures come from this page:

The above information only goes through 1999. Current population comes from this page:

I used a formula to fill in the year by year population for the missing years. 

For some reason, the first page skips years 2001 and 2003. This information is supplied in the second page. The percentage of Americans attending Sunday School since 1991 looks like this:

SS percentage

As you can see, in terms of percentage, last year was the third highest year. Here are the actual percentages synthesized from the pages above. I have also added U.S. Population Statistics along side Barna's Sunday School percentage numbers.

% Attending SS US Population # Attending SS
1991 23% 252,153,092 57,995,211
1992 22% 255,029,699 56,106,534
1993 22% 257,782,608 56,712,174
1994 21% 260,327,021 54,668,674
1995 17% 262,803,276 44,676,557
1996 27% 265,228,572 71,611,714
1997 23% 267,783,607 61,590,230
1998 23% 270,248,003 62,157,041
1999 19% 272,690,813 51,811,254
2000 19% 276,508,484 52,536,612
2001 19% 280,379,603 53,272,125
2002 25% 284,304,918 71,076,229
2003 20% 288,285,186 57,657,037
2004 21% 292,321,179 61,387,448
2005 20% 296,413,676 59,282,735
2006 24% 300,267,053 72,064,093

As you can see, last year's Sunday School attendance is the all time high, beating the previous record set in 1996 by 400,000. (I realize we don't have numbers before 1991, but, with the population growing as it is, the farther you go back, the less likely there was ever more than 72 million attending in one year. When we graph the actual number of people attending Sunday School, it looks like this:

Sunday School growth

Note, the figures above are based on surveys of what people say they do. Sometimes, people lie. (Say it isn't so!) If you actually were able to do a head count, the number might be substantially different. That is a given. Here is the point: the trend is undeniable. This information is based on the basis of sound statistical research. There is a margin of error, but that margin of error stays constant over time. Thus, we may not be able to rely on the precision of the actual numbers; we can be pretty confident in what the trend is telling us.

This information stands in stark contrast with the impression of most of the people with whom I work. Most people seem to think the church is flailing and losing ground. We are not doing everything we would like to do. We are not doing everything we should do. But, we are making some progress.

These numbers do not include house churches or home groups. More on those next week.

This is good news, and it is what the Bible says will happen. The fields are white unto harvest. The gospel will start out like a little bitty seed, but will grow to be a large tree. It is like a bit of yeast that grows and grows and grows until it fills the whole batch of dough.

It is an important perspective because the perspective that Sunday School is not doing well can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Jesus said it will be done for you according to your faith. Whether you think you can or think you cannot, either way you are right. If you think Sunday School is doomed for failure, it is. If you think it is a sound method with a bright future, it is. Either way you are right. It will be done for you according to your faith.

Sunday School grows in spite of lack of support from pastors

While I was on Barna's page, I prowled around and found this shocking statistic. It is a year old--one could hope this situation has changed for the better. This quote has to do with the number of pastors who say Sunday School is really important. It is an important fact because, as I have said before, nothing is important till the pastor says it is important. The pastor's passion for Sunday School is a strong predictor of the health of Sunday School.

What percentage of pastors would you guess say Sunday School is really important? 90%? 75? 50? Check out his quote from Barna
(The actual quote is about half way down under the "Declining Priority" Section

In terms of Sunday school prioritization, the research showed that just 1 in every 7 Senior Pastors (15%) considers Sunday school to be their church’s highest priority. This represents a significant drop from previous years - 2002 was the high point, when 22% of pastors claimed that Sunday school was the top priority of their church.


In spite of this lack of support from pastors, Sunday School still showed a banner year. To God be the glory. Also, to be fair to pastors, note that the question was about pastors who consider Sunday School their highest priority. It could be a close second and not show up according to the way this question was worded.

Pastor, I want to ask you to wave the flag. Nothing is important till you say it is important. I can talk about the glory of doubling groups and point out that a group of 10 can grow to 1000 in 10 years by doubling every 18 months, but they won't believe it is important till you say it is important.

If Sunday School is doing as well as it is without the enthusiastic support of Senior Pastors, just think what it would do if we had the support of Senior pastors.

If I were a pastor I would get in a group that is doubling. I would model. I would embody the vision. I would wave the flag. And, I would train my teachers. I would teach them, and let them teach the masses.

But, that was last week's article

This week, I just want to say keep up the good work. Keep doubling those Sunday School classes. The system really can work. We can push back the darkness. Good really can overcome evil. God really can defeat the evil one. We really can help. Glory be to God.