One of the most frustrating things said by well-meaning Bible study group members (or group leaders) is, “Sunday School isn’t deep enough.” Maybe someone has said that to you as a group leader. Perhaps you’re a pastor or you lead your church’s education ministry and group members have said that to you. What can you say to help them understand more fully about Sunday School’s mission, the curriculum chosen by the church, and the depth of content? Plenty!
- Sunday School isn’t designed to be “deep.” We who have been in Sunday School groups for a long time have forgotten that first and foremost, Sunday School is an outreach ministry. It is designed to be attractional, and to provide a place for every member and guest to easily find a place where they belong. Too many groups have turned their focus inward, and that leads to the complaint that lessons aren’t deep enough. Our groups are filled with members who should have been encouraged to leave their group to start another one, or to take a leadership role in another ministry of the church, but they sit in our groups year after year. They hear Bible studies over and over on similar topics and texts, and it’s no wonder they complain about a lack of depth – they know the Bible stories backwards and forwards, and they should be leading their own group! If Sunday School is truly going to be an open group ministry (it’s open to new people attending each week), then we must assume that some of those people won’t have a great grasp of the Bible, and they’ll need foundational discipleship lessons as they grow up in Christ. Open groups have Bible studies that are accessible to “Joe Unconnected” who comes to the group with little or no Bible background. If groups had “deep” Bible study each week, it would potentially discourage and scare off people like Joe Unconnected who needs a group he can relate to.
- Sunday School can be used to create D-Groups. To make sure that Sunday School remains open to new people attending weekly, it is imperative that the curriculum chosen is designed on a solid open-group philosophy. That means lessons stand alone and create a satisfying Bible study experience for each group member. It means that lessons are crafted with the assumption that people of all spiritual maturity will be present. But to answer the need of some more mature group members for more depth of study, Sunday School group leaders should seriously consider starting a D-Group through their class. What’s a D-Group, you ask? D-Groups are same-sex groups of 3 to 5 people who meet during the week for more in-depth study and accountability. By sponsoring D-Groups, Sunday School classes can remain open to prospective new members being in attendance, deliver satisfying Bible study lessons, but save the “depth” for another time with those group members who really desire that and are ready for it.
- No one can truly define what they mean by “depth.” If you ask two people what they mean by “deeper Bible study” or “depth,” you’ll get three answers! For some people depth means studying a lot of verses, or every verse, in a passage. For others, depth means that Greek or Hebrew backgrounds of words are regularly explored, and sometimes tense, mood, and voice of those words. For still other people, depth means learning a new factoid they’ve never heard before in a Bible study. The definition of “depth” is literally all over the map.
- We are all educated beyond our level of obedience. It makes no sense to ask for depth when we aren’t obeying what we already know to be the revealed will of God. There is actually depth in simplicity. Bible studies that help me focus on simple truths from God’s Word that I should be living out, but am not, can challenge me to live out the Word in front of my family, friends, neighbors, and peers. What I don’t need is another fact about a Bible character. What I don’t need is another list of things that happened on a particular plot of ground in the Bible. What I do need is to love my neighbor and to love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. What I need is to be a Christian father, husband, son, employee, and friend that people need me to be. Teach me something simple, but profound, and give me some practical ways to live it out. There’s depth! I don’t need another history lesson. I need a road map for living life in a way that pleases God.