Open or Closed Groups in Sunday School…”To Be or not to Be?”

LifeWay recently invited 25 Ministers of Education, all new to the world of leading Christian education ministries in their churches, to the headquarters in Nashville for a two-day Beta Conference.  At this foundational event, M.E.s received training and information about how to conduct good, basic, Sunday School work in their churches.

During one of the training sessions, David Francis, Director of Sunday School and Discipleship, shared the difference between open and closed groups.  For many of the M.E.s this was their introduction to the idea of open Vs. closed groups.  Perhaps you may not know the differences between open and closed groups.  David Francis wrote about these in last summer’s Great Expectations book (a must read for all M.E.s, Sunday School Directors, and teachers).  If your Sunday School is going to be full of open groups, here are some things you’ll need to know…

1.  Open groups expect new people every week – Think about your Sunday School class.  Are there extra learner books that can be given to a guest on their first Sunday?  Are there enough chairs in the classroom?  I’ve recently visited two Sunday School classes on our quest to find a church home, and in both cases the answer was no.  They had just enough for “the home crowd,” but they obviously weren’t expecting us to be there!

2.  Open groups have leaders who arrive early – If you have an open group, then class leaders must be the first ones there each Sunday, especially if they are expected new people every week…newcomers tend to arrive early!  My wife and I visited a Sunday School class two weeks ago, and the teacher was one one of the last people to arrive.  We initiated conversations with couples around us, exchanged pleasantries, but everyone was keenly aware their leader was AWOL.  He finally did arrive, scrambled to get things in order, but the message had already been sent…he wasn’t expecting a new couple to be in his classroom.

3.  Open groups don’t have “throwaway Sundays” – This is a term that David Francis used in his book, Great Expectations.  A throwaway Sunday is one where the teacher and/or class leaders just don’t “hit on all cylinders” and in their minds say something like, “Oh, well…we’ll do better next week.”  The challenge is that most guests won’t come back if they have a less than stellar experience.  As David noted in the book, “Every week may be somebody’s first week.  If it’s not a good week, they may never come back for a second week…”  One of the authors that I began reading years ago said, “Local churches must take a hard look at their performance and dedicate themselves to excellence in all they do.  In today’s marketplace, people are critical and unforgiving.  They have high expectations, and they give an organization only one chance to impress” (The Frog in the Kettle, p. 44 )

This just barely scratches the surface of what open groups should be like.  For more on this topic, pick up a copy of David Francis’ book, Great Expectations, download a copy of it, and view a free training session (PowerPoint show provided, too) at

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