Blame Trump on Sunday School

Stay with me.

It looks like evangelicals who go to church don’t support Donald Trump:

Across all the states, the March 15 elections showed that, on average, a super-majority of 60 percent of evangelicals voted for someone other than Trump. Furthermore, there continues to be strong evidence that the more religious a voter is, the less likely they are to support Donald Trump. For example, in Missouri exit polls, which tracked church attendance, Trump performed much worse than Ted Cruz. Of those who attend religious services “more than once a week,” Cruz garnered 56 percent of the vote, outpacing Trump by a full 26 percentage points. Among those who attend religious services once a week, Cruz earned 50 percent of the vote, which was a full 17 points above Trump.

In contrast, with those who only attend services “a few” times a year, Trump won 48 percent of the vote to Cruz’s 29 percent. If Missouri’s numbers are indicative of voters in other states, then Trump does much worse among those who actually take their faith seriously enough to attend religious services consistently.

So, who is responsible for nurturing evangelicals who don’t go to church (and vote for Trump)? Sunday school is.

Church leaders sensed that Boomer parents wanted the one hour break from their kids—that they wanted to focus on their own spiritual life for an hour away from the distraction of their children. And, again, we assumed, reasonably so, that worship targeted to adult boomers would not be all that engaging for kids. So dynamic Sunday school programs were created to engage the kids at their level in their language while their parents were in worship. In fact, some churches didn’t (and don’t) allow kids into big people worship at all.

The result: Many of these innovated congregations had a positive, significant impact on the lives of disenfranchised Boomers and their kids. Many saw their congregations and their children’s ministries grow exponentially. The evangelism imperative to reconnect with Boomers seemed to work.

But there was (and is) one huge unintended consequence: We have raised the largest unchurched generation in the history of our country.

Admittedly, there are many reasons why each generation in our culture is increasingly distanced from the church. Some have to do with societal shifts that have nothing to do with the church. Some have to do with the inability of the church to articulate the Gospel in compelling ways.

But perhaps one of the reasons has to do with the Sunday School shift…as we shifted kids out of the main worship experience, en-culturated them in their own program, and robbed them of any touch points with the rest of the body of Christ. Another way of saying it: by segregating our kids out of worship, we never assimilated them into the life of the congregation. They had no touch points. They had no experience. They had no connection with the main worship service—its liturgy, its music, its space, its environment, and its adults. It was a foreign place to them. And so…once they finished with the kids/or youth program, they left the church.

In other words, parents who forced their kids to sit through boring church services and eat broccoli at Sunday dinner reared people who vote — wait for it — for Ted Cruz.

Doh!

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15 thoughts on “Blame Trump on Sunday School

  1. This is interesting. I’m not sure I agree that more religious a person is the more likely they are to vote for Cruz-although I’m sure there is a correlation between the unsoundedness of Trump’s ideas and unbecoming behaviors and not growing up with sound religious instruction and an emphasis on the importance of religion.

    I do know that Catholics children go to Mass with their parents and if a parish has Sunday school( which is a good thing) it never takes the place of Holy Mass.
    In fact, there is no Sunday school going on at the same time as Mass and Catholics know that Sunday school isn’t a replacement.
    The problem with broader evangelicalism is that” church” is “only” preaching and fellowship, and so “kid’s church” is ,”understandably”,preaching geared to the child’s level.
    When church is understood to be where you go to receive Jesus through the sacraments, then you don’t want to keep them from “adult worship”( unknown in Catholicism).

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  2. Susan, right, but just remember not to leave your child alone with the priest in the rectory. There are real advantages related to maturity in worship that you get from growing up RC but as we diminish boomer evangelicalism as the silly feel goodism,- it’s all about the boomer’s liver shiver that it is, don’t forget the gaping wound of a poorly conceived, poorly administrated, poorly policed discipline that is RC clergy sex abuse crisis. It’s still an enormous opportunity.

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  3. Certainly there are multiple reasons why there is a growing disconnect from Church from generation to generation, some of them are listed above. But there is one that went unmentioned it is relates to why some support Trump. That reaons is that there many who are disillusioned with the Church. And some of that disillusionment has to do with the conservative political ideology that has often been associated with Conservative Christianity. We’ve seen that in the kids we get in the high school class.

    It isn’t that I think the Church should adopt one political ideology over another. It is that the Church should be able to point out the injustices as well as possible idolatries that are clearly observable in each ideology. In addition to preaching the Gospel, the Church needs to be a spiritual curmudgeon in society’s political life.After all, one doesn’t have to be a socialist to speak prophetically against today’s Captialism especially since is there more than one form of Capitalism and the same applies to Socialism. And the issue that hasmost bottered the church kids who have crossed our way is not as much the definition of marriage in the Church, but the definition of marriage in society though the past treatment of those from the LGBT community has moved some of our kids to defend practicing homosexuality in general.

    So, not in disagreement with what is written above, just that there are multiple factors who generations have been less and less connected with the Church.

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  4. Hi Sean,

    I agree that there are hazards in all communities( horrible when its men who know better and should be holy).
    I’m a victim of abuse myself so I’m wary of almost all men who come near my children, religious leaders and lay Sunday School teachers included.

    It’s hard to trust, I agree, but I know that we can’t dispense with going to church.

    We’ve had this discussion before so that’s all I’m going to say.

    Blessed Easter to you Sean!

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  5. I’ll have to agree with Susan on this one. I’ve been attending services with evangelical-types for about 12 years now (ex-Lutheran) and I’ve never been able to comprehend (nor approve of) this shooing the kids away to “children’s church” before the sermon. Seems I recall Jesus reprimanding his disciples for do the same thing.
    While this attempt to correlate the “Sunday School shift” with societal ills as a whole (there are too many other more profound factors at work) seems like stretch, there is some logic behind the child growing up apart from general worship and then failing to appreciate the liturgy, traditional hymn singing, etc. and an eventual abandonment of church attendance.

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  6. Dr Hart, you should probably say “children’s church” instead of “Sunday School” because that’s what you actually mean, even if it was called Sunday School historically.

    Also, while I’m sure children’s church alienated people from the worship service, I’m not sure it has the explanatory power the quote you cited gives it. I’d like to see some analysis on how the automobile affected the church. Once upon a time, people lived in smaller towns and went to the community church by walking there. Today, people drive for 30-45 minutes to get to church, or even longer in some cases. Church has ceased to be a gathering of neighbors. No one knows their neighbors because everyone barricades themselves inside watching TV, surfing the internet or playing video games in the air conditioning. People aren’t outside talking to neighbors or watching their children.

    I suspect that these developments have all contributed to a decline in church attendance, and have even made a greater impact than children’s church.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am NOT defending children’s church.

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  7. Mike, I was sorta joking. But when everyone is trying to explain Trump, I thought I’d try a different angle. And if you can take a shot at the megachurch, it’s a bang-bang.

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  8. There is a way (I imagine) to do Sunday school for children that is so thoroughly different from the worship service that it creates expectations for entertainment and activity that Reformed worship can’t match. Children’s church, youth worship, youth conferences, P&W videos for kids — all these things are surely injurious to the toleration/enjoyment/being able to profit from sober RPW worship. And isn’t RUF worship just children’s church all grown up?

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  9. Mike, still, isn’t Sunday School a Methodist invention? Historically the Reformed had something called catechism, which might’ve had parallels to SS but less rather than more. And the point wasn’t to create a special space to meet the felt spiritual needs of a certain demographic. It was to indoctrinate the baptized. So why do P&R even speak the language of SS? Do other Reformed adults here ever feel a pang of yuck when they refer out loud to attending Sunday School? Or am I the only one?

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  10. Zrim – good point. I’ve always understood that it was someone like Richard Baxter who started the concept of Sunday School when, upon visiting with members of his congregation, he found that they were not being thoroughly catechized by their parents. His solution (Sunday School) is not the correction of a problem, only a bandaid solution. And evangelicals have been paying the price ever since.

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  11. I wonder if the drop in adherence among working class evangelicals might be connected to the priorities of evangelical churches. Evs made a pointed effort to “reach the culture” and have a bevy of college ministries directed at getting (keeping?) college kids connected to church: RUF, Navs, Cru, BCM, IVF, etc… How many ministries are there to 20yr olds working as a roofer and living in a trailer park? My guess is not all that much, though I freely admit that living in college towns biases my observations. I know there are prison ministries, rescue shelters, crisis preg outreach, etc… and as welcome as those may be, I don’t see so many examples of those resulting in new members in churches the way the big Nav/RUF/Cru push does. There just aren’t very many mailers asking for donations to support outreach efforts to cashiers at WalMart. It seems to me that evangelicals have taken the working class for granted and are seeing the results. Non-adherent evs seem to be among the likeliest of Trump voters and among the most dysfunctional. As the old Wilcox study showed, while adherent evangelicals do best on things like divorce rate and abuse rate (followed by adherent mainliners, catholics, non-religious) non-adherent evangelicals do the worst on these measures (much worse than nominal mainliners and RCs). I guess their political judgment isn’t much better.

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  12. @SDB: How many ministries are there to 20yr olds working as a roofer and living in a trailer park?

    Mega Dings. The closest we have come to date is having a Minister to Young Adults. He is off to a reasonable start (been with us 3 years), but we (our church as a whole) do a better job across racial lines than we do the economic divide. Some of us older types remember when the order was reversed. Not sure I buy into the political part of your observation but just from the standpoint of what our community needs, you have put your finger on a problem that frankly snuck up on us (my Church, anyway.)

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