Ongoing curriculum is an essential element in Sunday School classes if they are to remain “open” groups. According to David Francis, Director of Sunday School at LifeWay, open groups expect new people every week. The curriculum used by ongoing groups must be “guest friendly” so that when a new person attends the class and receives a learner guide, they can jump right into the study without feeling like they will never catch up. To quote David again, “every lesson has to be a complete and satisfying experience.” In my family’s saga to find a new church home last year, my wife and I visited numerous churches, the majority of which did not use ongoing curriculum in their classes. The classes were designed to be open at one point (expecting new people every week) but because of curriculum choices they’ve made since their launch, functionally they’ve become closed groups. One such class we visited was in week number 10 of a 13 week study in a book by John MacArthur. My wife and I had no intention of spending $20 each for books we’d use only 3 more weeks, plus we knew we did not have the enormous amount of time to invest in reading the first 10 chapters we’d missed! This ongoing Sunday School class had become a closed group simply because of the nature of it choice of curriculum. As a Minister of Education for almost 20 years, I sometimes had to fight this battle with teachers who wanted to “do their own thing” and use discipleship curriculum instead of “ongoing” curriculum (like LifeWay’s Explore The Bible series, Bible Studies for Life, YOU, MasterWork, and others). At a recent conference I led in Illinois, I shared 5 reasons why ongoing curriculum is the best choice for your Sunday School class, and ways you can make it and the Personal Study Guides work for you.
1) It can be used as an evangelistic tool – The inside cover of LifeWay ongoing curriculum and the Personal Study Guides contain the plan of salvation (but I bet you knew that). The presentation changes every 13 weeks with the start of a new quarter, but you can direct your learner’s attention to it from time to time and use it as a means of training them in the basics of the Gospel so they are well-prepared to share their faith and call on a few simple but profound verses they can use to lead a person to a point of decision about Christ. The “ABCs” of the Gospel found on the inside cover helps us “be ready to give reason for the hope within us” if we use that page purposefully.
2) It can be used as an invitation tool – Personal Study Guides from LifeWay are about $2 each…a great value considering they contain 13 weeks of Bible studies, but don’t just think of them as a tool to be used in the classroom! When you go and make a home visit to thank a family for visiting your church’s worship service, take copies of Personal Study Guides for each family member and invite them to attend the next class session in your Sunday School. They’ll know what the topic of the next lesson is, and they can come prepared to get involved in the class session.
3) It can be used to increase participation in class – A smart teacher will use the Personal Study Guide to get class members to more fully participate in the class session. My teacher, Marty Blakely, does this like a pro every Sunday…in fact, I’ve never seen anyone do it as good as him! He always directs our attention to an interesting graphic element in the Personal Study Guide, a quotation, or a question and generates a lot of conversation in our classroom. He uses the Personal Study Guide not just to prepare himself before the class session, but it’s an essential element in our class time that leads to greater discovery of biblical truths. I’ve heard some teachers complain over the years, “My learners just won’t read the study guide, so don’t order me any.” But learners will use their study guides if we train them to expect us to use it in class to increase their participation. As teachers we’ve got to quit lecturing so much, and get the learners more involved in the teaching/learning process, and Personal Study Guides are a great tool to increase participation.
4) It can be used to start new Bible study groups – beginning in December 2011, all LifeWay ongoing curriculum will start to have “start new groups” articles. How do I know this? I had the privilege of making that decision and partnering with fellow LifeWay leaders to make that happen. For the next three years a “start new groups” article will be in Leader Guides and Personal Study Guides for the learners. In fact, we are even building those articles into one or two teaching plans each quarter to intentionally help teachers dialog with their class members about the importance and need for starting new Bible study groups in their church.
5) It can be used to create spiritually balanced learners – LifeWay curriculum is built around four desired outcomes for adults: Connect, Grow, Serve, and Go. Healthy, balanced adults make all four of these outcomes a reality in their lives. They connect with God in a saving relationship, then connect with His people. They grow in their knowledge and application of His Word. They serve as vibrant leaders in the church, and they go into missionally into their communities to minister to people and share Christ. The curriculum has built-in application points for Connect-Grow-Serve-Go, or entire lessons are designated as either a Connect-Grow-Serve or Go lesson. To learn more about this, click here to go to the LifeSpan page at lifeway.com.
And there you have it…5 ways to use ongoing curriculum in your ongoing, open Bible study group. As a friend of mine once encouraged me, “Work smarter, not harder.” Let the ongoing curriculum from LifeWay work for you and your class members.