Sunday School is as important in the Church today as it has ever been, although methods of encouraging members to participate in it have changed through the years.
The emphasis today is "worshipping and gaining a commitment to the gospel," said Elder Merlin R. Lybbert of the Seventy and general president of the Sunday School. For the Grant Stake Sunday School Board nearly 70 years ago the method to increase attendance was a "Rally Day."Elder Lybbert recently received an account of the first "Rally Day" on Sept. 14, 1924, from John K. Fetzer who, as a 9-year old, participated with the Jefferson Ward Sunday School.
The "Rally Day," complete with trophy and a tidal wave of publicity, came about because Grant Stake leaders were concerned about anemic attendance at Sunday School.
The day was a success with 7,033 attending Sunday School in the 11 wards of the stake, located in Salt Lake City. That represented more than 70 percent of the stake population. Winning the trophy - a silver flower vase donated by a resident of the stake - for highest attendance among the wards was the Jefferson Ward with 978. Only 24 were visitors.
Bishop Kaspar J. Fetzer of the Jefferson Ward decorated a company truck and loaded it with a brass band to publicize "Rally Day." Since the ward's meetinghouse wasn't large enough to accommodate the expected crowd, the ward received permission to hold an outdoor service at the site where their new building was to be constructed. Sunday School workers provided an organ, facilities for the sacrament and seating for 1,000.
The Burton Ward drew 906 people to "Rally Day" and the Wilford Ward had 749 in attendance.
The Jefferson Ward went on to retire the trophy by winning it on "Rally Day" for three years in a row.
"[The Jefferson Ward bishopT had a vision to commit his people to the great cause of Sunday School," said Elder Lybbert.
"It was important for members in that ward to be a part of that event. And Sunday School is as important today as it was 69 years ago," Elder Lybbert said.
"Sunday School has the responsibility of teaching all members of the Church who are over 12 years of age. It is the place where we learn the principles of the gospel. But we can't teach those who don't come. They can't have the Sunday School experience if they're not there."
The scriptures are the basic manuals for Sunday School where we learn "the fundamental doctrines of the Church based on them," he said. "If a person attends regularly and studies the lessons, he'll gain in knowledge of the gospel and develop and maintain spirituality throughout his life."
Elder Lybbert exhorted members of the Church to get involved with this year's Gospel Doctrine course of study, which is the Doctrine and Covenants and involves much of Church history. The Church's history is the "fertile ground" out of which revelations came; and members will learn the revelations came out of the needs and desires of the people.
He also extolled the boundless lessons and blessings that can come through Sunday School study in other courses dealing with the Old Testament, New Testament and Book of Mormon.
"What greater cause is there than to understand and live the gospel?" he asked. "That is the purpose of life."