As I drop in and visit Sunday School groups when I travel, I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend. Well-meaning teachers stand (or sit) in front of a large group of learners and “teach” a lesson. The goal in this kind of classroom is a transfer of information. The teacher studied throughout the week, and Sunday morning is the time for an “information dump” into the minds of the class members. The teacher learned lots of interesting facts and information, is considered the biblical expert, and group members should be expected to sit and soak in the teacher’s knowledge. Right?
Wrong! This kind of “information transfer” has hurt the Sunday School. In a recent roundtable meeting of education leaders in Memphis, Tennessee, there was widespread agreement that Sunday Schools are in decline. Information transfer isn’t helping groups reach new people. In fact, information transfer may be hurting efforts to do just that.
4 Ways Information Transfer Has Hurt Sunday School
- Students have left the church. A possible result of well-intentioned but lecturing teachers in student ministries is that young people have chosen to stop attending Sunday School in their twenties. They’ve had six years or more of information transfer, and they’re done with that approach to learning.
- New groups are not being started. The information-transferring teacher often loves listening to the sound of his own voice. This kind of teacher is the star – the featured attraction – and he loves being at the center of his own small teaching universe. This kind of teacher releases people to start new groups very infrequently. In his mind, “bigger is better.” His goal is to have the largest class in the church, and to wield the most power. The larger the group, the greater the chance that the group is an information-transferring one.
- Apprentice teachers are not stepping up. New groups do not start without new teachers. New teachers most often come from those who are apprentice teachers. Apprentice teachers will not readily volunteer to co-teach a class where the lead teacher is an information-transferring one. Why not? Because the apprentice, who often lacks the teaching experience of the veteran teacher, believes he cannot hold a candle to his mentor who seems to possess and freely distribute all kinds of facts about the Bible. “I could never be like that,” thinks the potential new teacher.
- Group members are bored. The lecturing teacher is not communicating with all of his group members in their preferred way of learning. There are at least 8 approaches to learning, and an information transfer lesson appeals to only a handful of learners in our Bible study groups.
I am not opposed to an occasional Bible study in which there is “information transfer.” Jesus used information transfer effectively during his Sermon on the Mount. There are times it is an appropriate way to teach. But His preferred methods didn’t involve wholesale “information dumps.” Instead, Jesus used a variety of teaching techniques to communicate His messages.
The Solution to Information Transfer
The solution to this problem in our Sunday Schools won’t be fixed quickly. It will take a long time, maybe even a decade, to right the wrongs that have been perpetrated on group members in the name of Bible teaching. If you are a group leader who has leaned toward information transfer, consider doing the following in small steps so that you can lead yourself to be a more engaging teacher who follows Jesus’ teaching style:
- Let people talk. Well-crafted discussion questions (no, most teachers don’t know how to craft really great discussion questions…they think they do…but often develop non-conversation generating ones that can be answered with “Sunday School answers”). Use a good curriculum like Bible Studies for Life that is intentionally crafted to be discussion-centered, using 5 great discussion questions in each Bible study session.
- Don’t set up the room in rows. If your room is set up in rows, people can only see the backs of people’s heads. This doesn’t help generate conversation. Instead of rows, set up your room in two or three half-circles, arching the chairs to that people can see one another’s faces. Seeing faces helps to generate conversation.
- Change your mindset. Too many teachers equate teaching with telling and learning with listening. Don’t settle for a “sit and soak” philosophy. Your people deserve better. The classroom isn’t another time for preaching to take place. Let your pastor deliver the sermon – you deliver an engaging Bible study in which people have the freedom to respond, question, disagree, and even teach and influence the group with their own wisdom and experiences.