FOR MORE than 225 years, Sunday school has been the primary Christian-education program for persons of all ages in Protestant churches. But, in recent years, general interest in Sunday school seems to have declined. In fact, statistics tell us that over the past 20 years, attendance has dropped more than 25 percent.

Does this decline in attendance and interest mean that Sunday school is no longer important? I don't think. In fact, I believe that Sunday school is as important as ever. Here are five primary reasons:

First, Sunday school is important because of its basic purpose - Christian education. In Sunday school persons of all ages learn about God, the Bible and God's will for each person's life. The Bible is the Christian's "handbook for life." Within its pages we learn about what's right and what's wrong. We see examples of people who followed God and those who rejected His leading. And, we learn about Jesus Christ, His teaching, and the Way of Salvation that is available through Him.

Second, Sunday school is important because of how people are taught. Sermons are important, but they are one-size-fits-all lectures with little opportunity for discussion or questions. But, in Sunday school, you can ask questions, discuss, and share personal insights and experiences as you really dig into the Scriptures.

Third, Sunday school is important because it is age specific. Preschoolers don't have the same understanding of sin, grace and many other Christian concepts as adults. And, the problems and concerns that junior high students face are much different from those of senior citizens. That's why, in Sunday school, we divide students according to their age, interest and education so that they can get the maximum benefits from each lesson.

Fourth, Sunday school is important because of the fellowship that it promotes. We all need friends. We all need Christian friends, persons that we can share with, confide in, laugh with and be accountable to. And, Sunday school is one of the best places to see such Christian relationships develop.

And, fifth, Sunday school is important because of the opportunities for service that it promotes. Across Pennsylvania each week, about 250,000 people are involved as teachers and leaders in the Sunday schools of the Keystone State. And, many more are involved in work groups and mission projects carried on through the Sunday school.

But, if Sunday school is so important and there are so many good reasons why Christians should be in Sunday school, why are attendance numbers continuing to decline in most churches? I believe that the primary reason is a general decline of interest in the church and the Bible. In fact, Barna Research tells us that only about 30 percent of all Americans attend church on a regular basis today. For far too many people today, religious faith is rather far down their list of priorities.

This general lack of interest is certainly one of the biggest reasons for the decline in Sunday school attendance, but I believe that many churches must also bear some of the responsibility.

God doesn't change. The Bible doesn't change. But, the world and people have changed greatly in recent years. And, because people have changed, the ways that we teach people of different ages in the church and Sunday school must also change. We can't continue to use outdated teaching methods from 25, even 50 years ago.

Why is Sunday school important? Because the Bible and the central character of the Book - Jesus Christ - are important! If you believe that Jesus Christ is important, shouldn't you have the desire to learn more about Him by reading the Bible and then coming together with other Christians to really dig into God's word in Sunday school?

(Editor's note: The Pennsylvania State Sunday School Association is offering free "Celebrate September as School Sunday Month" program kits to all interested churches. For more information contact the PSSSA at 800-358-2303 or visit its Web site, www.SundaySchoolHelp.com.