"Sunday School" is the generic
name for many different types of religious education pursued on Sundays by various denominations.
It had its origins when Hannah Ball,
a native of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, England, founded a school within the town in 1769.
However the founding of Sunday Schools
is more commonly associated 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. By 1831, Sunday Schools in Great Britain were attended weekly by 1,250,000
children, approximately 25% of the population.
Their work in the industrial cities
was increasingly supplemented by Ragged Schools (charitable provision for the industrial
poor), and eventually by publicly funded education under the late nineteenth century School Boards.
Sunday schools continued alongside
such increasing educational provision, and new forms also developed such as the Socialist Sunday Schools movement which began in the United Kingdom in the late 19th century.
Some Roman Catholic churches operate Sunday Schools, though Catholics commonly refer to Sunday School
as 'Catechism class'. Sunday Schools, contrary to the name, are virtually never recognized educational institutions; rather than offering formal grades or transcripts, Sunday Schools simply attempt to offer meaningful
instruction concerning Christian doctrine and keep little or no record of performance for any given week.
Attendance is often tracked as a
means of encouraging children to appear regularly, and awards are frequently given for reaching attendance milestones.
Sunday School often takes the form
of a one hour or longer Bible study which can occur before, during, or after a church service. While many Sunday Schools are focused on providing instruction for children (especially those occurring during
service times), adult Sunday School classes are also popular and widespread (see RCIA.)
In some traditions, Sunday
School is too strongly associated with children and alternate terms such as "Adult Electives" are used instead of "Adult Sunday
Some churches only run Sunday
School for children concurrently with the adult worship service. In this case there is typically no adult Sunday School. Churches
that have children's or youth worship separate from Sunday School, but concurrent with adult worship services, tend to have
better attended adult Sunday School programs as parents use the time to learn while they are waiting for their children.
Sunday School teachers are usually
lay people who are selected for their job by a church board or committee, normally
because of their advanced experience with the Bible—few teachers receive any formal training in education, though many
Sunday School teachers have a background in education as a result of their occupations.
Some churches, however, do make Sunday
School teachers and catechists attend several courses on religion to ensure that they have a mature enough understanding of the faith to educate others. Some Baptist Churches (particularly Southern Baptist Churches)
do allow volunteers to teach even without formal educational backgrounds. A profession of faith and a desire to teach is all that is required in such a case.
It is also not uncommon for Roman Catholic priests or Protestant pastors (church ministers) to teach such classes themselves.
Hebrew schools also usually operate on Sundays.
Also, in America, some Islamic education
is taught on either Saturday or Sunday.