Duce's Wild: The untimely demise of Sunday School attendance rolls

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

Classes during church on Sunday, Dec., 16, 2012, take part in the new LDS youth curriculum.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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A strange thing happened at the beginning of this Sunday School year — I had no idea who my new incoming students were because I didn’t have a class roll. So I had to ask the younger kids to raise their hand if they were turning 15 during the calendar year so I knew whom to expect in my older class.

Our Sunday School president had done away with attendance rolls last year as well as the calling that one elderly woman in our ward had for years — to walk the halls during the second hour and pick up the clip boards that were propped outside every classroom door with checks next to the names of those who were present.

I kept a very accurate roll the first quarter of last year, and when I handed the precious papers to my Sunday School president, he smiled slowly, shrugged sheepishly and said in his slow Montana twang, “Well, there’s really nothing I can do with it.”

At that moment, it seemed so strange to purposely be a non-record-keeping Mormon.

Besides, I wanted to shout from the rooftops that one of the best parts about the new LDS youth curriculum, “Come, Follow Me,” is that kids come to class.

No one jets to the parking lot to sit in his car and eat a snack. You don’t see stray teenagers in the foyer who need to be rounded up and prodded down the hall.

And what I’d really like to know is how attendance has improved at the church where my husband grew up that was within 100 yards of a Dairy Queen. (Needless to say, he confessed to having more than one successful lesson while eating a peanut buster parfait when his teacher gave up and found his class at the alternative gathering location.)

Now, almost every single Sunday, I arrive to a classroom already full of teenagers who have set up chairs, gathered scriptures, sharpened pencils and are ready to roll.

It makes me want to have a new, second certificate to present at seminary graduations that gives credit to those who were avid Sunday School attendees and successfully chose to be an active learner of the new curriculum. It truly is no passive thing and should be recognized somewhere by someone.

I know some kids in our ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have never missed a Sunday School lesson but may find it hard to get to every session of early-morning seminary. It's not because they’re lazy sleepers, but because school sports, drama and other activities sometimes have regular, early-morning practices as well. It would be a shame not to recognize them for being stellar, spiritual teenagers because they were also participating in other extra-curricular activities and didn’t finish make-up work that varies from year-to-year based on the preferences of our volunteer seminary teachers.

Another benefit of an attendance roll is knowing the names of classmates who never come at all. Last year at the beginning of “Come, Follow Me,” I set up a private Facebook page for our class. I invited those who were on my roll but not at church to be a part of the group, and more than half accepted. By the end of the year, half of those hadn’t deleted the group, so they were at least receiving and hopefully seeing periodic messages from me that included quotes from the lesson, short videos about the monthly theme or reminders about our weekly goals.

As times have rapidly changed, I should probably now tweet my Sunday School messages or post an Instagram picture and message because our teens now prefer those social messaging sites over Facebook. It also means the LDS media department might need to create even shorter inspirational video clips to conform to the constraints of video sharing on other sites — 15 seconds instead of two to five minutes.

I believe that Sunday School has a new reputation with teens. It’s now a place to gather for interesting conversation, socially acceptable sharing of feelings and vital practice that prepares them for missionary service.

The kids are coming, but unfortunately, no one knows but me.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear weekly on deseretnews.com. Email: duceswild7@gmail.com

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