Does Sunday School Still Work? 6 ways to make sure it does

“Does Sunday School still work?” That’s a question I was recently asked at a multi-day meeting of pastors who came together to talk about how to disciple their congregations. Sunday School groups, small groups, D-groups….there are lots of options today, and many churches are experimenting with hybrid combinations of groups. But the question still remains, “Does Sunday School still work?”

I believe that Sunday School can be the most vibrant ministry your church offers, but it may require you to make a few changes to it. If you are willing to make those necessary changes, then yes, Sunday School will still work! If you are not willing, then you should call in hospice care – one day you’re going to show up and find that it’s died.

Change or Die

I can’t imagine why these kids don’t enjoy Sunday School…

If you want to breathe life into your church’s Sunday School ministry (and into your group if you’re a Sunday School teacher), then here are some suggestions that will help make Sunday School your best, most effective ministry:

  1. Clarify goals – In order for Sunday School to be vibrant and on-target, its leaders must know what the goal is. If you’re a pastor or staff leader, how have you communicated what you want your group leaders to do? Do they know what’s expected of them? Sometimes Sunday Schools languish because of a lack of focus and clarity over its basic functions. Tell your group leaders exactly what you want them to accomplish as teacher/leaders. Keep it simple – four or five key things is all you need to define. Show your group leaders the target. Clarify your expectations.

    Now that’s better!
  2. Fund it – I can tell if a ministry is important to the church if it sets aside significant amounts of money for it in the annual budget. “Just follow the money trail” is a way to know if a church values something. How much money have you set aside for curriculum materials? For training? For new classroom equipment and other upgrades? Do you have an annual appreciation dinner for your group leaders? How do you say “thank you” in a tangible way to your leaders? It all takes money. Fund Sunday School in your budget!
  3. Talk about it – If you are the senior pastor, people will value what they believe you value. Talk about the importance of Sunday School from the pulpit. Work it into your sermons. Show the congregation new families who are joining the church because of your Sunday School ministry. Connect its ministry to baptisms, and how people are coming to know the Lord through Sunday School. Lift it up. Put it front and center.
  4. Attend it – If you’re a pastor or staff member, set the example by belonging to a Sunday School class yourself, and mention that from time to time as you preach or have the microphone! It’s hard to expect people to belong to Sunday School when you don’t. So join a group and set a good example.
  5. Organize it – Adult group leaders must be led to organize their groups to get group members involved in leading the class. Adult groups need multiple leaders to take on work and become outreach leaders, care group leaders, fellowship leaders, prayer leaders, and more. Moses tried to do it all (see Exodus 18) and learned a valuable lesson from his father-in-law who told him “What you’re doing is not good.” Jethro’s advice? Train others who could  help carry the workload – and let them do it! It works the same way today. If you’re a group leader, you’ll wear yourself out trying to do all the work of the class. You’re not supposed to! Ask others to take on leadership roles.
  6. Promote it – People need to know the next steps to take when they join your church, or when they visit it as guests. Are you clearly telling people that you want them to attend and join a Bible study group? Or are you counting on them figuring that out on their own? Tell them! Advertise your expectation in your worship bulletin. Say it during announcements. Have a greeter center that has people who are well-trained to know your Sunday School’s options so they can connect guests to groups. Don’t assume people know what to do next. They don’t. So tell them to attend a group and show them their options.

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Should you re-brand Sunday School?

Ghostbusters 2016

Spider-man. Star Trek. Alien. Ghostbusters. Baywatch. CHIPs. Each of these movie franchises has been re-branded in the last few years to reach new audiences. Did I mention The Fantastic Four? I’ve lost count of how many times they’ve tried to re-brand that movie franchise! If you think it may be time to put a fresh coat of paint on your church’s Sunday School by calling it something else, let’s make sure you’ve thought through the positives and negatives. It may be the right move for your church. And on the other hand, it may not. Let’s see if we can reason through some of the pros and cons of re-branding your church’s Sunday School.

Pros

Star Trek re-branded itself with a younger cast playing iconic characters
  1. Sunday School isn’t 100% about Sunday. Having the word “Sunday” in the title may lead people to believe that Sunday School is about that hour before or after worship when you gather in age-graded classes to study the Bible. That’s unfortunate, because many good Sunday School groups “do life together” outside of the Sunday morning group experience. They fellowship together, pray together, serve together, and minister to one another. These groups have come to believe that Sunday School isn’t just about Sunday. Good for them!
  2. “School” can be a negative term. Many people associate the word “school” with something difficult, or perhaps boring. It also conjures up images of teachers who lecture, or who are harsh in the way they deal with their students.
  3. In some denominations, Sunday School is just for the kids. Southern Baptists are not alone in their Sunday School philosophy, but they might be outnumbered. Many churches only offer Sunday School groups for kids and teenagers.

Cons

  1. Sunday School already has “brand identity.” When you say the words “Sunday School,” most people know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s the hour adjacent to the worship service on our calendars.
  2. People may not accept the new name for it.  LIFE Groups, Adult Bible Fellowship groups, Adult Groups, Small Groups, or whatever other name you can come up with may never be accepted by members of your congregation.
  3. Verbiage changes slowly. I know of churches that changed the name of Sunday School years ago, yet the majority of their members still call it “Sunday School.” Don’t underestimate people’s unwillingness to change.

If you and/or your church have changed the name of Sunday School and survived it, I’d love to hear from you. Post your comments and help your fellow brothers and sisters wrestle with the decision to be more culture-shaping and culture-impacting by changing the name of Sunday School. We’d like to hear words of caution, and we’d also like to hear stories of success!

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Tuesday Teaching Tip: Encourage Learning Outside the Group Experience

Your Bible study doesn’t have to be the culmination of the learning experience – it can become the 15279947961_40217eb213_zstarting point of a journey. Most Bible studies are designed to provide a complete and satisfying experience in the time allotted. However, savvy group leaders will encourage group members to learn beyond the group’s study experience. Learning outside the group experience can be meaningful, challenging, and stimulating to adult learners.

To encourage your adult group members to stretch themselves and continue learning, choose one of these options:

  1. Before you lead the Bible study, come prepared to hand out an assignment that has simple step-by-step instructions. This assignment is to be accomplished by group members after the study is over, but before the next time the group officially meets.
  2. Ask for a volunteer to provide a mini-lecture on a subject that is related to the Bible study you’ve just completed. Give the person until the next time the group meets to research the subject, pen their thoughts, and provide an interesting presentation about the assigned topic.
  3. Challenge group members to select an application step (found either throughout or at the end of most Bible studies). The next time your group meets, follow up before pressing forward with the new Bible study. Call for volunteers to share what they learned as they applied portions of the last Bible study to real-life situations.
  4. After your Bible study, email participants with an additional question or a challenging assignment you want them to complete prior to your group’s next gathering.

The possibilities for learning outside the classroom are limited only by your own creativity!

 

4 ways to encourage “worship only” attenders to try Sunday School

Every church has them – “those people.” They’re the ones who, for whatever reason, attend worship only. Adults may hustle their kids off to a Sunday School class while they attend the worship service, only to pick up their kids and leave the campus after being there just over an hour. Some families have figured out how to really streamline their Sunday morning experience. How do you encourage these “worship only” adults to move from being worship attenders to being members of a Bible study group?

  1. The pastor must regularly mention Sunday School’s importance from the pulpit – Pastors like Johnny Hunt and Vance Pitman tell their congregations, “If you have just one hour to give on Sundays, attend a Bible study group, not the worship service.” That’s powerful encouragement from the most recognized leader in the church! If something is important to the pastor, it becomes important to the congregation.
  2. Start new groups – New groups are much easier places for newer people to get connected to others. As you intentionally begin new groups, make a big deal of it from the pulpit and let everyone know who the target audience is for the group. Send a mailer to anyone on the church role who has not been attending their Bible study group recently.
  3. Start a pastor’s class – The goal is not for the pastor to retain people over the long-haul, but to funnel them into existing Bible study groups. Sometimes guests or irregular attenders feel a certain affinity for the pastor, and if he were to start a group, they’d attend.
  4. Emphasize a church-wide study – If your church uses an ongoing curriculum series like mine does, it makes it easy to identify the start of a new study and your desire to have every adult in the study for the next 4, 6, or 8 weeks. It helps even more if the pastor preaches a sermon series that complements the studies offered in Bible study groups. If it feels like a big deal to the church, many of those “worship only” adults will commit to attend a group during the special emphasis time. The good news? The majority will stay with the group they visit during that church-wide study!

Does Sunday School have a future?

Today’s blog post comes from a friend’s book, Missionary Sunday School. It’s one of my favorite booksmss-cover in a series of books he’s written. Why is it one of my faves? It gets to the heart of what Sunday School is about. It takes a look at where and how Sunday School originated. And it continues to challenge me as a group leader today. In this excerpt, LifeWay’s Director of Sunday School, David Francis, asks the question, “Does Sunday School have a future?”  Straight from his book, here is what David says about that:

Does Sunday School have a future? Once in a while, you hear people say that Sunday School had its turn and it’s time to move on to something new and innovative. I’m not against new and innovative. I think we should use the tools God gives us to reach the world for Christ…What disturbs me are the words better or more effective are usually left out of that discussion. When Sunday School is done right, with excellence and with a missionary purpose, it continues to be a proven and effective way of reaching the lost in our communities, involving them in service, and mobilizing the local church for ministry…I see it time and time again: Sunday School works and works well….if the leaders are willing to do the work. It is not easy , but nothing worth doing ever is.

Sunday School’s future is brighter in some churches than in others. There is a growing number of churches that have rediscovered the importance of training Sunday School leaders, and are making significant changes in their budgets and calendars to make Sunday School a top priority again.

My conviction is very much like David’s – Sunday School works IF you work Sunday School!

To get your free digital copy of the book Missionary Sunday School, just click here and download it at your convenience!

Sunday School Matters

Friend and co-worker Allan Taylor has just released a new training resource for churches. This trainingsunday-school-matters series, Sunday School Matters, will help local churches build, expand, and maintain a healthy Sunday School ministry. Use it to train workers in the skills required to grow a viable Sunday School and bring vibrancy to your church.

The kit features 50- to 60-minute video training sessions and topics range from leadership, vision, and teaching, to evangelism, care, and the structuring of this vital component of a healthy church.

SESSION TITLES:
1. Leadership Matters
2. Vision Matters
3. Souls Matter
4. Teaching Matters
5. Transformation Matters
6. Curriculum Matters
7. Ministry Matters
8. Organization Matters
9. Assimilation Matters
10. Growth Matters
11. Groups Matter
12. Now Matters

If you’re looking for a resource to use in training your group leaders, you might want to check this one out!

Tuesday Teaching Tip: Use Music to Speak Their Language

“Music is the universal language of mankind,” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Very young children headphonesdance to it. Teens listen to it constantly. Adults create it. Senior adults remember it even as their memories begin to fade.

Music is one of the 8 learning approaches that can be used to communicate with adults, but it may be one of the most infrequently used ones in that group. Because music is a universal language, we should use it more often as we teach God’s Word.

Case in Point

Just a few weeks ago, a Bible study lesson I taught had a singular point: God is our creator – and He knows each of us. I remembered an old Bette Middler song from the 80’s. It was called From a Distance, and its lyrics said that “God is watching us – He’s watching us from a distance.” While I am glad that God’s name was mentioned in a secular song, I realized it was a very deistic song. I downloaded it from iTunes and played it as people arrived for the Bible study. Later in the study, we discussed how off-base the song is theologically. Our God is not just watching us from a distance – He’s personally involved in each of our lives and He knows us, cares for us, and provides for us. He’s very different than the God mentioned in Bette Middler’s song. That’s just one example of how to use music in your Bible study group.

Musically-inclined Group Members

Some of your group members love music. It communicates to them in ways that other methods might not. To appeal to your musical learners, consider doing some of the following:

  • Write new lyrics to familiar tunes
  • Listen to a song or hymn
  • Use a musical instrument as an object lesson
  • Provide hymnals and do a “hymn search”
  • Sing as a group
  • Enlist someone to sing (or a group)