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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Use a spiritual scavenger hunt to boost relationships

Tuesday’s are for teaching tips, and today’s teaching tip is all about using a spiritual scavenger hunt to boost relationships among group members.

Create a grid with 5 rows and 5 columns. Write something in each square that group members must have another group member sign if it applies to them. This will keep your group members moving around and meeting one another, learning things they might not know otherwise. For instance, here are some things you could put in those scavenger hunt squares:

  • Someone with the gift of mercy.
  • A person who has shared Christ in the last 30 days.
  • A person who can recite the books of the NT in order, from memory.
  • Someone who has traveled to the Holy Land.
  • A person who has a worship bulletin in their Bible from the last 4 Sundays.
  • Someone who knows what “agape” love is.
  • Someone who went to another continent on a mission trip.
  • A person who can quote their favorite Bible verse.
  • Someone with the spiritual gift of helps.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Be creative! Fill up those squares, make copies, and give one to each person in your group. Set the timer for 10 minutes and turn your people loose to get acquainted with their fellow group members. Call on a few to tell some funny stories about things they discovered during the hunt!

The Value of Personal Study Guides

Today’s blog post is an excerpt taken from the book One Hundred by David Francis and Michael Kelley. It’s a book that is intended to help the smaller church move past the 100 barrier and reach new people.

In this brief excerpt, Francis and Kelley help us understand the value of providing printed curriculum for group members. An unfortunate trend today is that churches are decreasing or eliminating this valuable tool from their teacher’s toolboxes. I wish it wasn’t so, and not just because I work for a company that produces Personal Study Guides! I’m a group leader like many of you, and I’ve seen the value of Personal Study Guides in my adult Bible study group. We use them weekly to guide our study time. Here is what the two authors have to say:

It’s a good and right thing to expect members to come prepared for the class session. That’s one advantage of providing inexpensive printed curriculum materials…Along with your invitation (for guests to come back)  you can provide a copy of the study material you are using. If you are using what we call “ongoing” material at LifeWay, you can say something like, “Here’s a booklet with the topics and Scriptures we’re studying in our class right now. Before you come, you might want to take a few minutes to find the study for that weekend in the book, and read ahead. …By that simple act, you’ve removed the number one barrier for adults: thinking they know too little about the Bible to participate. (pp.24-25)

Personal Study Guides cost about $2.50 each, which boils down to a whopping $.19 a week (they contain 13 Bible studies). For less than a quarter a week, you can put God’s Word into the hands of members and guests, and you will have a more robust Bible study when everyone has had the chance to read ahead and study on their own.

Another advantage to using ongoing curriculum is that you don’t have to stress out about what your group is going to study every 4 to 8 weeks! The scope and sequence is predetermined by teams of experts who carefully craft the materials and choose topics and passages to be studied. It relieves me of that responsibility as a group leader, and it frees up my time to focus on meeting the needs of my group members as a teacher-shepherd.

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Friday Hot Links – May 13, 2017

This past week, 74 new people subscribed to the blog! That includes some new friends at Versailles Baptist Church in Versailles, KY. Thanks, Jonathan Berry, for being a great host and having me come up and train your group leaders on Thursday night!

Here are some links to posts and podcasts from trusted sources. I hope these will help you as you continue to lead your group or your church’s entire groups ministry!

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken Braddy

Posts You Might Like:

Podcasts you might like:

4 things not to say to a grieving group member

Sooner or later, death will come to someone in your Bible study group. I teach a group of empty nest adults, and most of us are dealing with aging parents who are dying. This past year alone, 5 of my group members lost a parent to death.

But death comes to younger adults as well. Grandparents die. A baby is stillborn. An accident happens unexpectedly. What are you to say to your grieving group members to help them while they are suffering? Here are four things that you shouldn’t say – just strike these from your mind and your vocabulary:

  1. “He/she is in a better place.” This may pr may not be true, but don’t presume to know the spiritual condition of the person who has died. Instead, say “I’m really sorry you are hurting right now.”
  2. “I understand exactly how you feel.” You may or may not know exactly what the grieving group member is feeling and experiencing. Most grieving adults are going to quickly discount this and will not believe that you have walked a mile in their shoes. Resist the urge to empathize so closely with the grieving member that you lose your credibility with them.
  3. “How can I help?” This sounds innocent enough, but it’s hard for a grieving person to answer. Their mind is numb and they most likely feel overwhelmed. They can’t articulate how you can help them. It’s better to simply go into action – take food to them, show up and cut the grass, or do some other tangible ministry that meets a need they have in a practical way.
  4. Nothing. Many people are uncomfortable around death. They never reach out to the surviving partner because they are uncomfortable and would prefer not to address the topic of death at all. Saying nothing may wrongly communicate that you do not care. Share a good memory of the deceased with your surviving group member – take a walk down memory lane.

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: Rotation Stations

Here’s a fun twist your group members are guaranteed to talk about for weeks! It’s called Rotation Stations, and it’s easy to create. Hang 4 wall-size Post-It Notes in all four corners of your room. Create 4 different activities for group members to do (in groups of 3-4) at each station (you write instructions on the Post-It-Notes before group members arrive). For instance:

  • Station 1:  Look up Scripture verses you have written on the Post-It-Note. Note similar words or phrases.
  • Station 2: Discuss a question written on the Post-It Note.
  • Station 3: Using another Post-It Note, butcher paper, or posterboard, create a picture that relates to an aspect of the Bible study.
  • Station 4: More of the same!

The idea is to be creative and have fun with this. Group members will need to be placed into 4 groups (have them number off 1-4, or come up with another way for them to get into 4 groups). Allow no more than 10 minutes per station, then call time and have groups rotate until they have accomplished the task at each of the 4 stations.

Quickly debrief the 4 stations and make application.