Back in the day (yes, I’ve lived long enough to use that phrase now), I learned the six pillars of Sunday School in my courses at Southwestern Seminary. I could recite them in my sleep. They helped me as an education staff leader to keep groups focused on these core tasks. The six pillars are exactly that – pillars that provide strong support for the ministry of Sunday School. They strengthen the work of Bible study groups by helping group leaders stay focused on the essentials. As Vince Lombardi once said about football, “Football is nothing more than blocking and tackling.” He was an expert at keeping his players focused on the basics of the game. That’s what the 6 pillars of Sunday School do – they keep group leaders focused on the basics.
The 6 Pillars
If a group is being led to do these six things, you’ll find a healthy, balanced group. Chances are, though, your group does better at about 3 of these six pillars. It is rare to find a group that accomplishes all six pillars effectively, but that’s the goal. So the challenge becomes shoring up the ones in which your group doesn’t excel. That means getting more people involved in the leadership of the group, and giving them responsibility to help accomplish the six pillars. For more on the topic of calling people alongside you to serve and help, see chapter 3 of the book David Francis and I co-authored, 3 Roles For Guiding Groups.
Pillar 1: Reach – The group that reaches others operates as an open group – open to the possibility that new people might be present any time the group comes together for Bible study. It acknowledges that one of the primary tasks of groups is to act as missionaries to the culture. A welcoming environment is intentionally created, and guests are treated extremely well by group members.
Pillar 2: Teach – Most group leaders are going to give themselves high marks in this category. It is exactly what it appears to be – how well the teacher of the group leads his members to engage in Bible study.
Pillar 3: Witness – Evangelism. It’s something most groups could stand to do better. If your group isn’t seeing people saved on a regular basis, perhaps you could brainstorm ways to share the gospel in practical ways. If we don’t take the gospel outside the church walls, we are “fishing in a bathtub.”
Pillar 4: Worship – The things that take place in a Sunday School class should lead people to worship the Lord both publicly and privately. And Sunday School can be a place to prepare people’s hearts for a worship experience, or it can be the place to continue a worship experience, depending on your church’s Sunday morning schedule. But at the end of the day, as we learn more about God’s Word and obey it, our obedience becomes an act of worship to the Lord.
Pillar 5: Care – This pillar has to do with the ways group members demonstrate Jesus’ love to one another in practical ways. Some group members actually drop out of groups when they believe their needs have not been met by the group. It is important for groups to be sufficiently organized to provide care to hurting members. Has your group lost anyone lately because they felt neglected during a crisis? Are they hurt because no one has contacted them during a time of extended absence?
Pillar 6: Fellowship – Here’s another pillar that most groups do well. Fellowships should be regular, and they should always include associate members and potential group members. If the core members of the group are the only ones getting together, you’ve probably got a clique on your hands. Not good.
Which 3 of these six pillars does your group do well? Focus on the remaining three pillars, then, and strengthen them so that you have equal, balanced support that your group needs.