Could Your Sunday School Die?

Once a church, now Maxim's Casino

Have you heard the phrase, “You are never standing still…you’re either growing or declining”?  That’s true of your Sunday School, for sure.  Your classes are either reaching new people and remaining strong and vibrant, or they are becoming closed groups that forget the real reason Sunday School exists is to reach people who are far from God.  Is it possible for your Sunday School to be in a state of decline that ultimately leads to its death?  The answer is yes.

On a recent trip overseas, a friend of mine, Ross McLaren, took some photos of churches in Scotland.  I was deeply impressed with the architecture of these buildings and the engineering that went into the designs. I was equally impressed that in an era without the benefit of computers, virtual models, and advanced equipment to bring supplies to the work sight, the architects, foremen, and workers managed to erect these monuments which became the centers of towns and the centers of people’s lives for centuries. I can only imagine what worship and Bible study must have been like in these churches. In my imagination I can see men, women, boys, and girls walking to church on a Sunday morning in their “Sunday best” to worship their Lord, summoned there by the church bells that announced services were beginning, calling everyone in the town to come and worship Jesus. For hundreds of years these churches were a spiritual legacy to the cities in which they were built. But something bad happened…something very bad…and these churches lost their legacy. Their once great legacy as places of worship, centers of Bible study, places of hope and spiritual healing for individuals and families have long since disappeared.  Today, these churches are no longer churches at all.

As I examined the photographs my friend had taken, I quickly discerned that once-vibrant churches have now become void of the spiritual activity that once took place in them.  St. Andrews and George’s West Church has become, for all practical purposes, a mall and space is rented to cafes, recording studios, volunteer centers, and various other businesses.  One church is now Maxim’s Casino…a casino!…another one is a theater, and  yet another another one houses a SubWay sandwich shop for hungry business professionals to visit during their lunch hours.

Note the many businesses now occupying this once vibrant church

Could This Happen to My Sunday School Class?

Churches in Scotland are one thing – they are an ocean away, after all. Is there a possibility their stories of lost legacies could become the story of my Sunday School class? Could my class one day no longer be vibrant, healthy, and relevant? Would there ever come a day when no one showed up in sufficient numbers to keep the class going? The answer is unfortunately, yes. The possibility exists that classes might lose their legacy and have their doors closed for good.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Leaving The Right Legacy

 Think about the Sunday School class in which you are involved today.  Were you there for its beginning years ago?  Do you remember its vibrancy, energy, and effectiveness in reaching people for Christ and for Bible study?  Are those things still going on, or has it become a shadow of its former self?  Do you find yourselves reminiscing about the “good ol’ days” rather than focusing on future things?   Can you foresee a day coming when there won’t be enough people to continue the work of the class?  Or can you see the class thriving and growing, becoming more alive than ever before?  It’s my hope you see and want the latter.

Vibrant, Healthy, & Relevant Classes Focus on 3 Things

 For a class to remain vibrant, healthy, and relevant, the teacher and class members must all focus on three essential things.   Do these things and you’ll be certain to leave the right kind of legacy.

1)  Sunday School classes must remain OPEN GROUPS –Open groups are open because they expect new people every week.  Vibrant, healthy classes always have the mindset that someone new might show up any given Sunday.  Is that the mindset of your class?  Do you expect new people each week? If you did, you’d do a few things like having plenty of extra chairs, class greeters to make guests feel welcome, extra learner books to give to them, an aggressive follow-up and outreach visitation to the guests, and nametags!  Don’t forget the nametags.  They help people learn names and start friendships quickly.

2)  Sunday School classes must practice OPEN ENROLLMENT– Guests should not have to visit three times

Restaurants like Subway now fill this once-vibrant church...see the banner to the right in the photo

before they are placed on your class role!  Open enrollment means they can join on their first visit, being placed on your class role (I like the term ministry role) so that you are accountable to look after them like a shepherd.  Open enrollment means practically that people can “belong before they believe.”

3)  Sunday School classes must START NEW GROUPS – If you want to make sure your class has a legacy that lasts, and that it’s around in 5, 10, and 15 years, it must start new groups!  This is an irreducible law that is in effect at all times.  Your goal as a class is not to have great Bible study, fun fellowships, and solid ministry to one another.  Those are functions of a healthy, vibrant class, no doubt!  But the main goal of any Sunday School class in any age group is to reproduce itself and start “legacy classes” – sometimes called daughter or granddaughter classes.  It’s a proven fact that new classes reach more people and are more evangelistic than older, established, long-tenured classes.  How many groups has your class started in the past two years?  A healthy, vibrant class would have already started at least one new group.

Don’t end up like the churches my friend visited overseas.  Remain a vibrant, healthy class, or if you aren’t that today, reverse the hands of time and make adjustments today so that your class still exists for years to come, reaching new people, welcoming them into the class family, seeing them grow spiritually as they develop relationships and find ways to serve.  Start new groups, leave legacies, and never let it be said your class lost its way.  Practice the three things above, and you’ll leave the right kind of legacy for those who come behind you.

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