With the academic year having ended in many parts of the country,
Christian educators are disturbed by a dramatic decrease in Sunday school
enrollment for the upcoming year, a trend they say is largely due to the
growing popularity of home Sunday schooling. Home Sunday schooling, a
system in which a child obtains Christian education at home rather than
in traditional church-sponsored Sunday schools, dwelt in relative obscurity—primarily
in New England and the Pacific Northwest—for nearly a decade before
the recent upswing.
Supporters say home Sunday schooling provides a vastly superior learning
model for children, especially those who do not flourish in traditional
classroom settings. Critics contend that home Sunday schooled children
miss out on vital opportunities for socialization or fall short educationally.
Katherine Eusibio, president of the Nashville-based nonprofit Homestead
Christian Education, has been advocating for home Sunday schoolers for
eight years. "Many, if not most, students have difficulty learning
about the Christian faith in traditional classroom settings," she
argues. "Bringing the experience into the home allows children to
learn at their own pace while spending more quality time with their families."
Ms. Eusibio insists that the results lauded by Christian Educators as
signs of Sunday school success—such as high rates of scripture memorization
and the ability to identify flannel cutouts of major Bible characters—are
indications of conformity, not evidence of actual learning. "Traditional
Sunday school may seem to be a great success, but most of these kids are
not really learning; they're just doing well at standardized Bible
Not so, says Harriett Petsche, Director of Christian Education for the
United Methodist Church, who considers home Sunday schooling a dangerous
trend that she says "threatens the future of Sunday School as we
know it." According to Ms. Petsche, success at competitive exercises
such as memorization and Bible quizzing correlates to a deeper understanding
of scripture. "Children in a structured curriculum can often recite
very long portions of scripture without even thinking about it. That's
what I'd call 'allowing the word of Christ to dwell in you
The attraction of home-based Christian education won over Neva and Allan
Magrath in 2003, when they began home Sunday schooling their two daughters
Erika and Ellen, ages 7 and 10 respectively. "Erika was having some
trouble with a Sunday schoolyard bully, and Ellen had severe allergic
reactions to the combination of Oreos and orange juice from concentrate,"
recalled Mr. Magrath. "It got to the point where the girls just
dreaded getting dressed on Sunday mornings. So we agreed to try this for
a year, and we all love it. Now we sleep in an hour later on Sundays,
and we all study Bible stories together in our pajamas. Or sometimes we
just have pancakes and skip the stories."
It hasn't been all fun for the Magrath family, however. They say
they've received harassing phone calls from the Sunday school president
at their church, whose name they declined to disclose. Even their friends
from the adult Bible study they attend have expressed concern over the
decision to pull Erika and Ellen out of Sunday School.
But despite the criticism they've received, the Magraths say they
are quite content with their current arrangement. In fact, they're
contemplating broadening their domestication of the church experience.
"Now that we're home Sunday schooling, we're considering
just home churching while we're at it," says Ms. Magrath.
"We ordered some sermon tapes from Willow Creek and some got some
worship CDs at the local Provident store. "We're just trying
to decide which media ministry to send our tithe check to, and then we'll
be all set."