12 Essentials for Breathing Life Into Sunday School

In 2001, the United States Navy launched a new aircraft carrier. Named after one of our most popular presidents, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan began its service that year. When a ship is launched, it is done with a lot of fanfare. Mrs. Nancy Reagan, President Reagan’s wife, was invited to speak at the ceremony as the ship’s sponsor. Hundreds of sailors lined the deck of the massive aircraft carrier, standing at attention while Mrs. Reagan gave her speech. She concluded her tribute to her late husband, and signaled the beginning of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan’s service by uttering eight words that are spoken at ceremonies like this. As she ended her speech, she said, “Man the ship, and bring her to life.” Hundreds of sailors ran to their duty posts and assumed their stations. The massive aircraft carrier was brought to life as sailors eagerly ran to their assigned work stations. It was an unforgettable moment. The U.S.S. Ronald Reagan was for all practical purposes “dead in the water” until her crew brought the ship to life.

Does your Sunday School feel a little like the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan prior to the speech? Does it have potential but needs to be brought to life? If yes, don’t despair. Many Sunday Schools lack health and vitality. But it’s not too late, and any Sunday School can regain health and strength as it goes about the important task of making disciples.

My just-released book, Breathing Life Into Sunday School, details 12 essentials for breathing new life into your most important ministry. Here’s a sneak peek into 6 of those actions you can take to breathe life into Sunday School. If you are interested in getting a copy of the book, just click here and you can jump to the exact page on lifeway.com. Please consider ordering a copy for yourself and someone else you know who leads out in Sunday School ministry. Let’s get the word out together that Sunday School is going to make a comeback! Pass along this post in social media using some of the sharing buttons below.


To breathe life into Sunday School, you must:

Feed it Financially – If you starve anything long enough, it will die. This is true of people, pets, and organizations like Sunday school. Because of the Great Recession, churches have tightened their financial belts, and Sunday school has suffered. In numerous churches, education staff leaders’ jobs have been deleted, curriculum expenditures have been cut back, training has been reduced, and other cutbacks have starved the Sunday school of life-giving resources. Sunday Schools need resources such as chairs, marker boards, storage cabinets, televisions, data projectors, children’s supplies, curriculum, and training for leaders, just to name a few. Without adequate financial resources, our Sunday Schools will struggle.

Train the Leaders – If you are going to ask people to volunteer to lead in the Sunday school, you owe it to them to provide training. Research has demonstrated that churches that provide regular training grow more than churches that have no plan for training leaders. Almost every industry has requirements for its workers to continue in their roles each year. If secular companies require workers to be trained, how much more important is it for the church’s lay leaders to be trained?

Clarify the Win – Sunday school leaders must know the essential tasks they and their groups are to accomplish. Sadly, most churches do not clearly communicate what a “win” looks like to teachers or group members. If leaders are not given direction, they will self-determine what winning looks like, and their goals may or may not align with the goals of church leaders. Clarifying the win aligns the actions of groups with the mission and vision of the church.

Downsize for Discipleship –The goal of the Sunday school is to make disciples. This includes evangelism, group life, Bible study, and ministry. Some groups have grown too large and cannot produce disciples in the way Jesus did. In order to make disciples, groups must follow biblical principles for developing them. Jesus created disciples by recruiting a small group of 12 men. He also had an inner group of 3. His method of making disciples was doing so life-on-life.

Enroll your Guests – It is a fact of group life that approximately 50% on a group’s ministry list (class role) will attend any given Bible study. The implication is clear: to grow attendance, you must grow enrollment. If enrollment increases by 100 persons, attendance will increase by approximately 50 persons. Growth goals can be established by churches that understand this principle, which brings a cadence of accountability to those who are in charge of the Sunday school.

Follow up Fanatically – People are taking longer than ever to join churches – up to 18 months according to some research. The goal for churches and their Sunday school groups is to take a longer-term approach to cultivating the guests who attend their churches. Churches must create a plan to reach out to guests, enroll them, and continue to build bridges relationally that lead to official church membership.

These six essentials, when paired with the remaining 6 essentials, create an environment in which Sunday School can flourish once again.

So is it time to “man the ship, and bring it to life?” I say yes! In fact, it may be past time to breathe life into Sunday School, but the good news is, you can do it. Remember that grass isn’t greener on the other side – it’s greener where you water it. For too many of our Sunday Schools, we’ve forgotten to water it enough. There’s no need to throw out this time-honored Bible study ministry. Revitalize it and breathe new life and health to it!


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