Sunday School & Small Groups Side-by-Side

My wife and I recently enjoyed an excursion to a local ice cream parlor for dessert. As I conecontemplated my many choices (and faced a moment of indecision), I opted for a chocolate and vanilla swirled cone. I thought it would give me the best of both worlds. I was right. The ice cream was wonderful, rich, creamy, and oh so good. Then I realized that the swirled cone represented something else – something that many churches are experimenting with. What might that be, you ask? The idea of having Sunday School groups and small groups “side-by-side.”

The Goal of Groups

Whether you’re in a small group (typically meets off-campus) or a Sunday School group, the goal is the same – to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Both models for discipleship are valid and effective. You and I may have a preference based on past experiences, but both models can serve a church well in its disciple-making process.

Not Mutually Exclusive Ministries

There is no need to see Sunday School and small groups as an “either-or” or an “us Vs. them” ministry. The two can co-exist and sit side-by-side in a church’s strategy to reach and disciple people. Sunday School isn’t necessarily better than a small group ministry, and a small group ministry isn’t necessarily better than a Sunday School ministry. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and both can reach people the other one can’t. Sunday School tends to reach people who have a history with the church. Small groups tend to reach those who don’t have a history with the church. Both can be used strategically to accomplish more than either one could separately. We’re all on the same team with the same goal of reaching people in order to make disciples.

Options for time-compressed people

A Sunday School ministry gives busy families a great way to experience Bible study and group life. This ministry is normally adjacent to a church’s worship service on the church calendar, and is very convenient for families with young children or teenagers. These are people who lead busy lives, but have carved out a traditional time for worship and Bible study on Sunday mornings.

Small groups can reach a different kind of time-compressed person or family. According to which statistics you pay attention to, statisticians tell us that 21-25% of people in our cities cannot attend a Sunday morning worship service or Bible study because they work. Small groups provide an alternative for these kinds of time-compressed people who are busy working and serving the people of their communities on Sunday mornings.

The Sunday School & Small Groups Side-by-Side Tour

Small group expert Rick Howerton (I’ve linked to his blog in my sidebar) and I will be touring in Mississippi in November 2015. Through the state association of Baptist churches there, we have been invited to speak at 3 different locations and help pastors, church staff, and lay leaders think through the side-by-side concept for having Sunday School and small groups.

I encourage you to check out Rick’s blog. He is a prolific writer and blogs daily on the topic of small groups. I’ve learned a lot from him, and look forward to joining forces to talk about Sunday School and small groups side-by-side. You can jump to his blog by clicking here:

Future posts

Stay tuned for future posts on the topic of Sunday School and small groups side-by-side. It’s the hot topic of the day, and many churches are looking to the future with an eye on providing both ministries.

Follow my blog

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my blog. I post regularly about the topics of Sunday School, small groups, and other things related to these important ministries. There’s no cost, and you can opt out any time. Your name and email are never sold. I began this blog as a ministry to those of you who lead groups or have a responsibility for leading the groups ministry at your church.



  1. Ken, you know me from your Life Group and I am not even sure I’ve shared this with you or not. My wife and I have been involved with an Emmaus community. After you take your 3-Day journey at an Emmaus event we are encouraged to join a reunion group, which basically is a small group of people who have been on an Emmaus walk themselves. Usually people near where you live. Groups could meet once a week or once a month to share a meal and have conversation. These informal reunion groups encourage one another, share life stories with each other, and form bonds that last a lifetime. Most don’t realize how valuable small group meetings can be, but for me it’s way to express my thoughts and feelings without the limits of a 45-60 minute time frame. Deep, meaningful conversations come from these type of encounters and you can feel the Holy Spirit empower the conversation and others around us feel as well.

    To use a commercial slogan made famous by Toyota, “Oh What a Feeling”, God!

    I would love to talk more on this subject, perhaps another day.

    I am very thankful to God and Mike W. (my Emmaus sponsor) for my “Emmaus Walk” experience.

  2. Ken, do you have a schedule of where and when you’ll be in Mississippi? I’d love to figure out what the closest “tour stop” to Central Alabama will be, and try to come over and hear what you guys have to say. This is great stuff.

    • James, there is a schedule and I’ll get with Rick and send you those places and dates. It would be great to see you again and have you at one of those workshops!

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