Ten Largest Sunday Schools

Ahhhh…Sunday School.

Just saying that out loud brings back memories of flannell boards and donuts.

Wiki states that Sunday School had its origins dating back to 1831 with the work of Robert Raikes, editor of the Gloucester Journal, who saw the need to prevent children in the slums descending into crime. The first Sunday School in London opened at Surrey Chapel under Rowland Hill.

Some notable Sunday School teachers:

  • Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States and Nobel Prize Laureate
  • Stephen Colbert, American comedian and host of the Colbert Report
  • Margaret Hamilton, American Film Actress (“The Wicked Witch of the West”)
  • Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
  • Charles M. Schulz, US cartoonist
  • Dick Van Dyke, American Television and Film Actor

But last night I came across a study that just may tell a revealing story.

The article spoke of a 40 year comparitive study that measured the largest 10 Sunday Schools in the country – in 1969. Back then, Sunday School attendance was more significant than worship attendance because it drew the larger Sunday crowd. Wonder why that was?

Anyway, check out how are those top churches from 1969 are doing today:

1. Akron Baptist Temple, Akron, OH
1968—5,762
2008—2,000

2. Highland Park Baptist Church, Chatanooga, TN
1968—4,821
2008—no response (estimated 2,000 from Outreach Magazine)

3. First Baptist, Dallas, TX
1968—4,731
2008—2,600

4. First Baptist Church, Hammond, IN
1968—3,978
2008—12,000 (did not respond—this figure comes from Outreach Magazine)

5. Canton Baptist Temple, Canton, OH
1968—3,581
2008—1,500

6. Landmark Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH
1968—3,540
2008—1,200

7. Temple Baptist Church, Detroit, MI (Now Northridge Church)
1968– 3,400
2008—13,865

8. First Baptist Church, Van Nuys, CA
1968—2,847
2008—does not exist

9. First Baptist, Lynchburg VA
1968—2,640
2008—17,445

10. Calvary Temple, Denver, CO
1968—2,453
2008—3,500

So forty years later, 40% of the top 10 churches have grown their attendance while 60% of the churches have either declined or closed shop all together. And I propose that this decline is only beginning to gain as evidenced by the aging congregation of our more traditional denominations.

And today’s worship attendance dwarfs that of Sunday School.

Why?

I ask these question because I love my Christian heritage. And our current church leadership’s determination to refuse to adopt to “today” is choking the life out of our churches. Forgive the re-quote, but could it be that D. Elton had it right when he said:

“It’s hard to exaggerate the degree to which the modern church seems irrelevant to the modern man.”

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Ron on February 28, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    Actually, First Baptist Church of Van Nuys does still exist. It relocated to the north part of the San Fernando Valley and is now Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch (www.theshepherd.org). I attended FBCVN from 1954 to 1977.

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