Travel Teams?

Single Parents?


Sleeping in?


Are Kids too busy these days for Sunday School?
Part II in a series by Neil MacQueen

This second article in the series looks at the actual research and polls for some answers. This article dispels myths and debunks popular excuses. And it is intended to create discussion. At its conclusion, this series also offers the seeds for some new thinking about moving forward.

This article has been UPDATED and REPOSTED TO


You can print it as a PDF from there.

Some links below may not work as we have moved to a new site.

Too much homework?

Not enough
free time?

Fewer kids in
the population?




"Kids these days are involved in so many things that they don't have time for Sunday School."

Wish I had a nickel for every time I heard this excuse for why kids don't come to Sunday School or fellowship, or ________. (insert your event here).

The question is: IS IT TRUE

Are kids really "too busy" ?

After hearing it ad nauseum, I decided to see if there was research to support this popular excuse. And hey! ...I actually found some!  Keep reading...  I also came across all sorts of anecdotal 'evidence' that "kids these days are overscheduled." That "travel teams and sports are taking kids away from the church." Several newspapers around the U.S. have run stories about how "sports on Sunday" are pulling kids away from church. Interestingly, many of those articles are wire reports, picked up by local papers and run with a local anecdote. That's how many papers get their "news" ...from other papers. No research, no statistics, no investigation.

The Blind leading the Blind.

We live in an "ain't it awful" world where pet theories about why this, and why that are turned into FACT by reporters, talk show hosts, and authors with books to sell. And in my humble opinion, church people are too quick to make excuses. Churches have been guessing at the reasons for the decline in their Sunday Schools without a serious investigation of the facts. There are two possible explanations for that: (1) They have bought into conventional wisdom. (2) The conventional wisdom helps cover for their poor performance!  (btw...regarding "poor performance" -you should read my experiences looking for a new church here in my new town. The lack of follow-through on visitors was surprising. These are the same churches probably complaining about kids being too busy too!)

Who's to Blame?
Depending on who you talk to, the problem is "busy kids" or "parents not spending time with their children," --or a general decline in church attendance. "The Secular Culture" is often blamed. A few will date the decline to the removal of prayer from schools. Lately it has been "sports on Sunday." [Of course, few blame the lousy 'product' many churches pass off as preaching and ministry, but that's another article!]

But do "busy kids" or "kids playing sports" really translate into un-churched kids?
Yes, if we want to believe it. No, if we look at the stats and refuse to make excuses.  One problem is that up until now we have only been waging a war of words and anecdotes in the church. As easily as some can cite dramatic examples of families trading church for sports and sleeping in, I can counter with my own personal anecdotes that. "y kids are busy, but they go to church." Fact: My older teen works at the mall, takes honors courses, and has a boyfriend, -but she goes to church. My youngest plays select travel soccer with its practices and travel game schedules, but she goes to church. I'm busy, I work a 50-60 hour week and part of every weekend, and I go to church. My wife works full-time and she goes to church. And there are more in my congregation just like my family. So who's examples are right?

By nature I'm a contrarian. I don't readily accept the stock excuses that we in the church have created to support our failures. So I began this investigation Googling the internet. I wondered if there were any statistics about how kids spend their time, including on Sunday. Lo and behold, there were. Then, as I answered one question, I Googled other questions. The following is a report of what I found, and my thoughts about what it means.

The Research into What Are Kids Doing with Their Time

There's actually a bunch of it out there.

In 1997 a study was conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research on 3,500 children nationwide to determine how they spent their time. This study was widely quoted in venues such as Newsweek, Time and the Associated Press. Excerpts from it can be found all over the Internet.

Here's a simple chart of the results.
"A breakdown of the estimated average number of hours and minutes children spend weekly in major activities."

Activity Age 6-8  Age 9-12 
Sleeping  70 hrs, 44 minutes a week 67:34 
School  33:54  33:50 
Playing  11:26  8:44 
Television  12:38  13:36 
Eating  7:58  7:54 
Personal care  7:58  7:54 
Household work  5:05  6:06 
Sports  4:38 ! 5:14 !
Visiting  3:25  3:41 
Other leisure  2:32  3:34 
Studying  2:03  3:37 
Church  1:21  1:28 
Reading   1:14  1:16 
Art activities  0:45  0:56 
Family talks  0:32  0:28 
Hobbies 0:04  0:09 

This chart suggests we should be ranting about television and school, rather than commitments to sports teams (you'd think this would be especially true given the direction television and the schools seem to be headed, but no, "sports" is an easier target.).

Update: PC magazines October 1, 2007 issue there's a chart comparing internet usage to TV watching in the major countries of the world. For the first time in the U.S.A, internet usage out-paced TV viewing. This stat included adults in the study and time spent on the computer at work. So even as we speak, things are changing. So I wonder why we don't hear the complainers blaming  "Increased Internet Usage" as a reason why people don't go to church? 

TV, internet, and school 'usage" aside... maybe the problem is with sports on Sunday(?)

This seems to be the knee-jerk conclusion. Problem is, the stats don't support the conclusion.

According to a 2003 study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 61.5% of children aged 9--13 years do not participate in any organized physical activity during their non-school hours. Worse: 22.6% do not engage in any free-time physical activity. This means if you're going to complain about sports in general as your church program's major competition, you can only use it as an excuse for 38.5% of your kids.

Ok, in your hyper-hockey or soccer community --maybe 50% are participating in organized physical activities after school. But are all 50% playing year round, and on every Sunday morning? HIGHLY doubtful. You might have a few kids who always seem to be gone playing sports, but as the study points out, odds are the rest are simply staying away for other reasons mentioned later in this article. For those of you in hyper-sports communities, read my aside below.

[Aside: Can you imagine planning a weekly church event for all your adults at 1 pm every Sunday? No, you can't. Then you'd really come up against sports. So why in some communities where Sunday morning sports 'may' be a serious competition, do we plan Sunday School exactly at a time they can't come? Excuses, in my humble opinion, are often the last resort of those who don't care enough to change.]

By contrast we know for SURE that 43% American adults do NOT attend church in a typical weekend. (Barna Research, 2002 Survey). Why then the backlash against kids in sports? Because in some ways kids and sports are an easier target to blame. [Yet rather than complain about sports, some churches are creating sports ministries. They are trying to meet the needs of their student-athletes, and helping young athletes see their sportsmanship as an opportunity to demonstrate Godly values. And others are creating more flexible schedules for kids rather than the "all or nothing" proposition of Sunday at 9 a.m.]

[Another Aside: Four times a year my daughter's soccer team would join with dozens of other soccer teams and descend upon a community for a weekend tournament. Never once have I seen a church set up a tent next to the concession stand and offer Sunday morning services, coffee or a donut to traveling families. In rethinking Sunday School, we need to look at ways to "move the mountain to Moses" in some churches, communities, and times of the year.]

So if it's not sports, then, who or what's to blame?

Maybe it's "all the moms working outside the home that we have these days" ???


Chew on this statement:

"Contrary to popular belief, the increase in female labor force participation has not led to a decrease in the amount of time children spend with their parents," says John Sandberg, sociologist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world's largest academic survey and research organization.

"Even though parents, and especially mothers, may be busier than ever, many seem to be managing to fit in more time with their children than an earlier generation of parents did."

Maybe its a general lack of parental involvement in the lives of children?

Nope. According to the University of Michigan study, children between the ages of 3 and 12 in two-parent families spent about 31 hours each week with their mothers in 1997, compared with about 25 hours in 1981. Time spent with fathers increased from 19 hours to 23. In general, parents and kids are spending MORE time together these days!

Read the full article at http://sundaysoftware.com/site/are-kids-too-busy-for-sunday-school/




This article has been UPDATED and REPOSTED TO


You can print it as a PDF from there.

Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister, Christian educator, President of Sunday Software Inc., and leader in the Workshop Rotation Model movement for reinventing Sunday School. Over the years he has written and published numerous articles and two books on Christian education and led numerous conferences and seminars on these subjects. Neil and his wife Malinda have three daughters and now live in Sarasota Florida. This article was first published at www.sundaysoftware.com.

You can read MORE Articles about the Church from Neil at www.sundayresources.net/neil

To contact Neil, email him at neil@sundaysoftware.com

This article may be reprinted for non-commercial use, provided the author and website information is preserved.