When I was a little boy, I was told that cats always landed on their feet (I disproved that when I was nine years old), that “this is going to hurt me more than you” (which never was true, especially when my parents administered corporal punishment), and that “my face would freeze in that position if I made a sour face too long.” Thankfully for me, my face is just fine today. But for years I lived with these myths, and probably many more.
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, a myth is “an unfounded or false notion.” I wonder how many myths we’ve bought into with regard to Sunday School, especially when it comes to starting new groups? What things might we believe are true, but really are not? What if these Sunday School myths keep us from having the kind of vibrant, healthy, growing Sunday School God desires for our churches? Let’s spend a few minutes de-bunking some of the more popular myths.
Myth #1: A large class is better than a small class. Possibly, but not always. Sometimes classes grow too large simply because the classroom is large enough to accommodate the growth. Some classes simply can’t get large because they are placed in smaller classrooms, and the size of the room limits the size of the class. For those smaller classes to get bigger, they either need a bigger room or a different way to grow – by starting a new class. I have always cautioned teachers and class members about thinking that “bigger is better.” Releasing people to start new groups is one of the signs of a healthy Sunday School class. Try to think of your group as a “clearing house” and not a storehouse of people. A small (or smaller) class may be one of the greatest groups in the church because it continually starts “daughter” classes, never fully filling up its classroom space because it starts new groups to reach new people.
Myth #2: “Splitting a class” ruins the fellowship of the group. Possibly, but not always. On my second Sunday at a church, one member of the church’s largest adult class told me, “Don’t come in here and split our class…you’ll ruin the fellowship.” I’ve seen classes start new groups over the course of my 18 years in full-time Christian education ministry, and very rarely, if ever, did releasing people to start a new group “ruin” the fellowship of a class. In fact, just the opposite took place. It became easier for the people who remained in the parent class to form new relationships, and it was certainly easier for guests to build relationships with existing members. The same was true in the new class that was birthed. The pioneers who started the class banded together and grew close as they did God’s will to reach new people, and as they reached those prospective members, the newer people were drawn into relationships and were assimilated much more quickly than they would have been in a larger group.
Myth #3: If we don’t start a new group, somebody else will. Possibly, but not always. Sunday School classes should have a “missionary mindset” (see David Francis’ book Missionary Sunday School available at http://www.lifeway.com) but often they don’t. The longer a class has been together, the more inwardly focused it tends to become. New groups tend to grow faster and reach more people than older, established groups, so it’s very important that all Sunday School classes make starting new groups a priority. You can’t assume the class next door is committed to that…so take ownership as a group yourselves and don’t assume another class is starting a new group. The class of which I am currently a member was birthed from a large class where the average attendance was approximately 40 people. That class took responsibility for starting a new group, sent out a handful of adults, and now 12-16 of us gather each week for Bible study, prayer, and ministry, just a few steps away from our parent class.
Maybe you’ve bought into some of the myths mentioned here. Quite honestly, there are many more that I could have mentioned. So many of our Sunday Schools are plateaued or declining, and what we need is a healthy resurgence in the number of existing classes that commit to start a new group this year. Will your class step out in faith and start a new group this year? Don’t let these three common myths hold you back!