Sunday School Paused During the Pandemic. Will It Come Back?

A new report shows dramatic disruptions to religious education classes as fewer attend or volunteer.

When Tracey Fixen volunteered to serve as the Sunday school superintendent for her church, she had a clean slate. There had been no religious education programing at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Colefax, North Dakota.

“I started saying, ‘We’re going to watch videos so we have some sort of adult education,’” she said. The 200-person church now offers lessons during a coffee hour prior to the Sunday service each week.

Many of the materials they have are “outdated,” Fixen said—it’s not in the budget to invest in new ones right now—but putting on some kind of Sunday school is more than a lot of churches are doing.

As US church attendance remains stagnant and congregations move toward a focus on Bible studies or small groups, religious education classes on Wednesday nights or Sunday mornings have largely fallen away.

Plus, those extra gatherings were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. Will they ever come back?

New data from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research shows that half of churches surveyed report that their religious education programs were majorly disrupted in the past two years, though evangelical churches weren’t as affected as mainline, Catholic, and Orthodox congregations.

The majority of churches had fewer religious education offerings in 2021, while a quarter recouped some of those losses by March of this year.

Among the surveyed congregations, “a few consolidated classrooms and combined age groups, while some did away with their Sunday classes and moved them to weeknights for the whole family,” the researchers wrote. “For some churches, these decisions may have been a conscious choice, but for others, they may have been …

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