Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday Schools, was born on September 13, 1735, in Gloucester, England. The city was then a very different place from what it is today. Plenty was surrounded by poverty and culture by total illiteracy. For stealing a handkerchief, a man was hanged, and for quarrelling a woman was tied to a cart and whipped. The children of the day roamed the streets as a vast unwanted army, clothed in only rags and living in filth.
The desperate plight of the children who spent their time swearing and quarrelling beneath his office window, moved Robert Raikes, at the age of forty-four, to start the first Sunday School in all history. His problems were many. Often boys in rags were marched to Sunday School with logs or weights on their feet to prevent them from running away. On occasions, Raikes would march a boy home and demand that his parents “leather” him before he would be marched back to his Sunday School class.
Today, however, the children who attend Sunday School are, for the most part, reasonably well fed, clothed and disciplined. Our major problem, rather, seems to be in interesting children in regular attendance at Sunday School. So often today’s Sunday School teacher re-echoes the words of 1 Samuel 15:11, — “Are here all thy children?” On that occasion, a simple and urgent command was given, “Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.” Oh, that the Lord would place upon the heart of every Sunday School teacher a burden for reaching children who have never heard the simple plan of salvation!
As there was no magic formula for bringing David into Samuel’s presence long ago, neither is there such a scheme for the rapid growth of a Sunday School today. However, in this and a following article, some methods will be suggested in the hope that blessing will result.
It must be remembered, of course, that various methods are only an aid to increasing attendance, and in the final analysis increased attendance will only result from the hard work of superintendent and teachers.
Although it is impossible to outline a definite set of rules to be followed on this important subject, teachers should always love their class into returning next Sunday. By interest shown in each individual child prior to, during and after the Sunday School session, the child will become extremely fond of his or her teacher. Almost three thousand years ago Solomon said, “A man that hath friends mush show himself friendly.” The rule remains unaltered. If children are to be won to the Friend of sinners, then a loving interest in them must be shown by the teacher.
Although interest in the child is imperative, it is in itself not enough. The teacher will find that regular attendance will also be encouraged by visiting the parents for a friendly chat.
A telephone call through the week for a friendly talk with the child will pay dividends on Sunday. Also, a telephone call on Sunday an hour or two before class will usually prove very successful. These little acts show the child that his teacher has a loving interest in him.
As it was in the case of David, however, so it is with many today: they must be brought in to receive the blessing. Here again, the onus is on the teacher to make certain he brings as many children to the Sunday School as his car will safely permit. How sad, if any teacher professing to love the Saviour and the children for whom He died, should drive an empty car to Sunday School!
The fertile field of a new housing area should present a challenge to the teachers engaged in winning souls for Christ. By means of a Daily Vacation Bible School or a good program of house to house visitation many children can be encouraged to attend Sunday School regularly. Following such an effort, in many instances it has been necessary to charter a bus in order to take all the children to Sunday School.
An interest in the growth of the Sunday School on the part of teachers and scholars will often result when an Attendance Graph is kept. By this aid, all will be enthused when the attendance increases and spurred to action if it drops. When such a graph is kept, it should be an accurate record of children in attendance and not falsified by including the teachers and Bible Class in the count.
It seems that regular Sunday School attendance, like many things children do, is habit. Therefore, the teacher should do all he can to encourage the child’s regular attendance. In this respect, a careful check on attendance often proves helpful. One method is as follows: after the registers have been marked, they are collected by a non-teaching member of the Sunday School staff. He, in turn, prepares a list of the scholars absent in each class and gives the list to the teacher concerned. On the following Sunday, the teacher is expected to return the attendance form stating the reason for each absence. In many cases, the child will be in attendance on the second Sunday.
The occasions when the teacher and his scholars enjoy each other’s company on Sunday will be greatly increased by the closer and more informal contact of a class outing. These are excellent opportunities for the teacher to meet the child on the child’s level, and wonderful friendships are formed. Outings might include a weiner roast, a hike, a trip to the zoo, a hay or sleigh-ride, a boat-ride, a fishing trip or a dinner at the teacher’s home. Such occasions are golden opportunities to win the child’s love and confidence. Of course the teacher will experience great difficulty in winning a child to Christ if the child’s affections have not first been won by the teacher.
Early in this article, it was said that it was impossible to state the rules for maintaining and increasing attendance. If and when such a list is compiled, a teacher’s love first to his Saviour and then to his scholars will have to be included. May it ever be remembered then, by all who teach the young, that if a teacher is to see his friends in the Sunday School won to the Saviour, he must show himself friendly.