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Sunday School - On Purpose!

Tue, 30 Nov 2010 - 1:53 PM CST

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By Tom Bougher, Adult Resource Consultant

You read it right … Sunday School -On Purpose! This article has been written for the express purpose of getting you to re-evaluate your discipleship processes and weigh the advantages of a Sunday School ministry. That’s right Sunday School – the on campus, same day event, that has the whole family enrolled in classes that encourage spiritual growth, godly choices and hearing from God.

What is it about Sunday School that makes some people cringe? Are Small Groups the same as Sunday School? Should I consider having Sunday School AND Small Groups? What do people become who attend my church? How often do we evaluate the effectiveness of our ministries?

10 Reasons for you to reassess Sunday School

  1. It reaches every age group with edible portions of spiritual food.
  2. It stretches people to move forward in their Christian walk – maturing in Christ.
  3. It helps define Biblical truths for personal application.
  4. It models a real relationship with Christ through the life and family of a teacher.
  5. It establishes real connections with other Christians on the journey.
  6. It teaches personal discipleship habits through Bible Study, Prayer and Daily Devotions.
  7. It allows people to discuss and think through their actions and reactions to the Word of God.
  8. It helps people use their giftings - finding places to get involved, taking the spotlight off of the individual.
  9. It gives life purpose through class participation in serving activities to the community. (They are equipped to serve.)
  10. It happens “On Campus” - this is economical for the family and it is a very effective use of time, space and energy for the church.

The Small Group Fad

I have seen a real upswing in using Small Groups as a mode of discipleship and I want to clearly state that I am not against Small Group ministries. I don’t want to get these groups to stop, I just want churches, pastors and people to consider the benefits of an effective Sunday School ministry and then evaluate. For some there will be evidence to improve their current processes and for others to add SS back into theirs.

Some Small Groups are deficient in Children’s Discipleship

I am also aware that we are still looking for effective ways to include children in our Small Group ministries. That concerns me, because we could be losing a generation through anemic discipleship efforts. Many of our Small Groups relegate the children to a back room, where baby-sitting is the norm. Then the nagging questions arise: Are kid’s ministry videos the best way to disciple our children? What are the long term effects?

10 Things Sunday Schools can learn from Small Groups

  1. Fellowship is important (Be aware that the temptation exists for fellowship to overshadow the study of the Word)
  2. People enjoy informality
  3. Including everyone creates family
  4. Bible discussion helps people think through their own lifestyles and actions
  5. It is not easy to get everyone involved
  6. Good Questions are the key to Good Discussion
  7. Smaller groups make it harder for people to hide and not participate
  8. Caution: Groups can become exclusive (Be aware that groups may plateau and die unless they have an outward focus)
  9. Reaching our neighbors/Evangelism must be a priority
  10. Biblical truth challenges people to learn God’s ways

Strategic Planning Required

May I remind you that not everything that works for one church will work for another? (Read: One Size Doesn’t Fit All by Gary McIntosh.) As I share this information about Strategic Planning, PLEASE note that the most important strategy you can learn will come from a direct connection with your Heavenly Father. So PRAYER and TIME in His presence is REQUIRED!

Stephen Blandino says Strategic planning is the process of determining ministry identity and developing a clear strategy to see vision fulfilled under the leadership of a well-organized team in partnership with God. - Sounds like a well designed, well prepared team of servant/leaders to me.

Dad’s Old Table Saw

Let me take you into my shop and make some comparisons. My dad gave me his old table saw and now my son is using it. It is an old Sears - cast iron model. Heavy, strong, stable and somewhat difficult to move, yet still very usable. It has built stages and sets, cabinets and tables. It was well used! When my son took possession of this tool, it needed a new handle, a new belt and a new blade. The handle allows you to adjust the angle of the cut; with a broken handle only one cut (90 Degree) was available. Though old, the motor still works great, yet, through time and use, the belt has stretched. The saw was of little value with a slow running motor (due to the stretched belt) and a dull blade. It had been neglected. And the saw was often unused because of the broken handle.

Sunday School is a lot like that old table saw. That saw has the ability to cut large pieces of wood into just the right size and it has a fence and a miter gauge that allows the wood to be cut square every time. With that saw, many valuable items can be built, things that will improve the quality of life.

  • SS cuts the Word into right size pieces for the student’s age and ability.
  • SS uses the Word of God to establish boundaries, and build character that will shape lives.
  • With SS valuable disciples are built - that will improve their spiritual life and the spiritual life of others they will influence.

It’s time we dusted it off and got the parts needed to make SS the effective tool that it can be.

What are we making?

In Junior High, I was able to attend a shop class for woodworking. In that class we were required to make a small book case, a checker board and a wooden bowl on the lathe. Challenging? Yes, but I learned a lot. And if you didn’t make the items … you flunked. In the church today …What are we making?

The only scripture that I can find that gives us instructions about what we are to be producing is found in Matthew 28:19-20.

Here it is: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. That is what Jesus instructed us. I see three things here that are required:

  1. Make disciples of all nations
  2. Baptize them 
  3. Teach them to obey God’s commands

I wonder how many churches are producing what Jesus requires? Are any flunking?

Heaven may have some surprises - we may find that some unknown, small church pastors were the ones truly discipling people, and we’ve been here on earth waving the flag for churches with the greatest numbers of attendees! We don’t have a spot on the ACMR (our church statistics yearly report) for the number of people discipled this year, but we really should!

What do YOU think is more important: the number of attendees or the number of people discipled?

  1. Where are you in the discipleship process?
  2. Where is your church in the discipleship process?
  3. When was the last time you stopped to evaluate your discipleship processes?

Did you know that there is a great little tool to help you access where your people are? Check out “The Spiritual Health Planner” GPH Item #02-0937 (I know this is an ad, but this planner really works and you need this!) This assessment tool includes a self test with 8 questions in each of the 5 areas of The Acts 2 model: Worship, Connect, Grow, Serve and Go. After taking the test, the user is then given prescribed steps to help move them forward in their Spiritual Growth. It even contains a test for a friend or a companion to take the test for you and then you can compare the results. (Sometimes we over rate ourselves!) This is an effective tool to help people get moving in their spiritual life.

The Acts 2 Process

A2_Diagram

Alton Garrison developed the Acts 2 plan to help us motivate people in becoming more Christ-like. The 5 colored spheres show the areas where people may link up with the body of Christ. Note: There is no correct direction to move or a single starting point. But there must be continued movement through the process and balance in all areas. That is the goal for every spiritually aware person. We are living in a time when some people may want to “Belong” before they “Believe” so, we’ve got to find ways and places to include them.

What areas are you effective in? What areas have you overlooked? When was the last time you held an event that built up your teachers and volunteers? In a recent article by Lee Sparks, titled The State of the Volunteer Ministry, Sparks says that 63% of volunteer leaders say they want training on how to equip those they lead.

Why Sunday School has Failed to Impress

Sadly, the reason many churches have left SS labeled as an old ineffective method, is due to teaching style and lack of life application during the class times. Too many teachers simply put together a lesson of material and try to download it all in 45 minutes. There is little discussion, little ownership, little application and little or no outside the classroom experiences. During our Teacher Enrichment Clinics, I try to impress the need of including all of the students through Learning Styles and the One Third Rule: 1/3 Informational, 1/3 Discussion and 1/3 Application. Teachers who have not been given adequate training will lean back on their own experiences and personal Learning Styles. Did you know that most teachers are Auditory in their learning style?

From one of our live webinars (discipleship.ag.org)I shared these statistics:

LEARNING STYLES

  • Seeing (Visual: 40%)
  • Hearing (Auditory: 20%)
  • Touching (Tactual: 15%)
  • Moving (Kinesthetic: 15%)

If a teacher is limiting their teaching method to the one style that reached them best (Auditory – Hearing AKA Lecturing) they are only reaching 20% of their audience. That means that 80% of the students are not being reached! No wonder so many people feel that SS is boring and out of date.

An effectively trained teacher will use as many Learning Styles as possible with each lesson to try and include all of her students. (FYI: The front of every Radiant Life Curriculum - the Teachers Edition includes information about Learning Styles.) Here’s some real help for you and your church:

Teacher Enrichment Clinic

These clinics are usually held on Saturdays and are especially designed to improve your teacher’s skills and offer them multiple ways of effectively reaching their students. There is a minimal cost per attendee, but the information and resources are well worth the fee. The four or five hours spent in this seminar will re-energize your teachers and sharpen their skills. It is so easy to host one at your church! Churches all around the state will join you. The attendees will learn about learning styles, learning centers and so much more. Check out the details at TEC@ag.org (Teacher Certification is also available at a TEC. Over 4000 teachers have now been certified!)

Did you know that according to Spark’s statistics, 20% of leaders invest ZERO hours per week in training volunteers? Ouch! And ONLY 62% of leaders surveyed said they invest one to three hours a week in training volunteers. We want and need effective volunteers, but what are we willing to do to prepare them? Why not call today and host your own Clinic? (Call Daniel Guy 417.862.2781 ext. 4013)

Top 10 Reasons YOU need a TEC in your Church.

(TEC = Teacher Enrichment Clinic)

  1.  Hosting a TEC in your church makes it easy for your teachers to attend.
  2. Big benefits for small efforts, at little cost.
  3. You are showing value and appreciation to your workers.
  4. It’s good to be smarter than a 5th grader.
  5. Training makes a Strong Teacher.
  6. Strong Teachers make Strong Disciples.
  7. You are investing in the Great Commission.
  8. TEC’s include ideas to give practical answers to real classroom dilemmas.
  9. TEC’s make teachers excited about teaching.
  10. Darth Vader’s SS Teacher read directly from the quarterly.

This will give you an idea of some of the information that we might share at a Teacher’s Enrichment Clinic. It is a Retention Rate Chart from William Glasser:

Retention_Rate_William_Glasser

Glasser is telling us that we must use multiple methods of teaching so that the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to use what the students have heard to bring about conviction and then life change. Did you notice that the greatest way we can get students to retain information is to get them to teach it to others? So, why not ask some of your students to retell the story, using your props, flannel graph or white board? We also encourage the teachers to get the students involved in “out of the class” service events. (Be sure and get your leader’s permission first and follow all of the church protocol.) These types of events take the spotlight off of me and opens student’s hearts to the hurting people all around the community. (Practice by Doing = Serving)

A Sunday School Secret: TDP+SP= INVOLVEMENT

Let me share with you one special secret to discipleship success with a SS format. The most effective Sunday Schools across the nation have Top Down Promotion and Staff Participation. What is Top Down Promotion? TDP means that the Lead Pastor is always promoting the need for every age person to be Learning to Live the Life through Sunday School. And SP (Staff Participation) means that the church staff either leads or personally attends a class themselves. This is a simple truth, if I believe in the ministry of SS, I will participate in it.

Why YOU need Sunday School

I used a simple survey to evaluate the beliefs of a few churches while I was a GPH Field Rep in the South East. The survey had questions that were then rated by the believer/attender with 3 choices:

(a) Important (b) Tradition/Optional (c)Not Important

Here are a few samples:

  1. (  ) Jesus was born of a virgin
  2. (  ) Belief in the inerrancy/accuracy of the Bible
  3. (  ) Guarding your entertainment selections

These surveys caused many pastors to evaluate their sermon topics and midweek teaching as well as point to the need of an effective Sunday School ministry. The sad truth is that the majority of our attendees do not have a Biblical world view and the world has colored their understanding of the value of God’s Word. This survey put a spotlight right on their misunderstanding and gives you a starting point to begin your teaching.

(BTW: That survey is available for free at discipleship.ag.org.)

Many of our pastors are seeing new believers as well as people from other denominations moving into their churches. We know that not all evangelicals believe alike. I interviewed a pastor regarding his discipleship processes and he informed me that all the discipleship his people needed, they received from his Sunday morning sermon. If you believe, as he did, that sermons alone are enough, you can stop reading this article now and save yourself some time!

Sunday School is a perfect time to allow those Biblical discussions about eternal security, healing, and spiritual gifts to be aired. Hey - SS was small group, when small group wasn’t cool! Before the worship experience, between the first and second service, wherever SS is used with trained, Holy Spirit filled teachers, the spiritual life of individuals is challenged and improved. On campus classes allow the whole family to be discipled during the same period.

Here are Three Hurdles that we must overcome

  1. Ineffective, untrained teachers have inadvertently given SS a bad name.
  2. Unwise leaders have allowed people to assume that SS was ONLY for CHILDREN.
  3. Past experiences with boring Sunday School classes.

How to Jump those Hurdles

  1. Train your teachers – Host a Teacher Enrichment Clinic. Have a monthly teacher training time. For super ideas for your monthly meetings, use the SS Administrators Manual. GPH Item # 71TW4520. Also available in Spanish!
  2. Intentionally take the time to promote Discipleship through Sunday School. Make it the normal thing for everyone to be involved in a discipleship class. Continuous learning - This is what we expect of all Christians.
  3. Take time to share testimonies of lives changed through the SS experience. Have people write down their stories and edit them before sharing them with the congregation. Share stories often. With every story you are implying that this is what God does for people who truly follow after Him. These are lessons learned that helped real people make it through the storm.

Curriculum is your Guardrail

Do you really know what your Small Group leaders and SS teachers are teaching? Curriculum is a great road map that helps you stay on course. And it offers some guard rails as you head down the road. It is simply the Bible cut into the right size bites for the level of the students. It also makes sure (through scope and sequence) that all parts of the Bible are explored. It is simply a recipe. And like a recipe, a teacher should know her students and with the help of the Holy Spirit adjust the ingredients to enhance the taste.

Repetition is your Friend

Did you know that due to divorce we are seeing more children only half of the time? Check your own statistics. Repetition gives us the opportunity to help the message sink in. This maybe a struggle for some teachers, but we must remind them that the lesson is for the student.

Listen to this information from Presentation-pointers.com: Why do you have to be so repetitive? Simple...if you want the audience to remember the important points in your message, you have to make each point in 3-6 different ways. According to one study, if you make a point only one time, at the end of your presentation, just 10% of the audience will remember it. If you repeat a point six times, retention jumps to 90%. Without repetition, 40% of your audience will forget virtually everything you said within 20 minutes of your conclusion. Within 24 hours, 70% of the audience will forget almost 100% of your message.

A pastor friend who had shut down his SS ministry due to multiple services, went around after church and asked the kids coming from children’s church, a question. He asked What can you tell me about Daniel and the lion’s den? He was so disappointed to hear their uninformed answers. (His church has now reinstated a Sunday School ministry.) Without a plan, we can easily forget a story and unintentionally leave Biblical truths untold.

Do you Evaluate your Curriculum?

When was the last time you sat down with all of your leaders and evaluated your teaching materials? Does the Lead Pastor regularly review the materials and evaluate the outcome of their use?

Are you teaching Pentecostal truths? Are you teaching the whole Bible? Are they selected by need, topic or the latest Christian writer? Who chooses what the body needs? Is prayer being offered and modeled? Are all age groups being discipled? Fellowship is great, but all disciples need to learn how to use the playbook for life. All disciples need to learn how to pray, how to listen, and how to let God lead.

T-Ball and the Rule Book

A few years back, I served as a coach for my son’s T-Ball team. Most of the little guys knew very little about baseball. When they finally hit the ball off of the “T”, running to first base became a real adventure. They didn’t know first base from third base and could easily run the wrong way. Foul balls, batter’s boxes, home plate, and baselines were all new words – these guys were clueless. New terminology and rules had to be learned. Those early practice days were pretty chaotic. But we had a league rule book and specific kid-level information that helped them become aware of what baseball was all about. And it worked, through repetition, information and practice they learned about baseball.

The GPS for Life

Can you really help people grow in the Lord without using the Book of Life? Can you truly establish a balanced Christian life without some Biblical plan of action? AKA Scope and Sequence? Will people learn Bible Truths without finding opportunities to serve others? You have to answer those tough questions. (I still believe that Sunday School is our best tool to deliver the message and model the process.)

When do I start?

In Parental Eye Magazine – September 2009 they said:

Did you know that:

Research studies consistently find that the first three years of life are critical to the emotional and intellectual development of a child. During these early years, 75% of brain growth is completed. Conversely, a recent study discovered that the brains of teenagers are not yet mature when it comes to emotional development, which is why teenagers appear to act like adults one moment, then switch to child-like behavior the next.

Early in life (in the womb, and for the first 18 months of a baby’s life), the brain seems to undergo a pruning process that follows the principle of ‘use- it- or- lose- it’: those neural connections (synapses) that get exercised are retained, while those that don’t are lost. A similar process seems to happen in the teenage years.

These statistics tell you to start NOW with the very youngest attendees and don’t stop.

Wild 3rd Grade Boys

A group of misbehaved 3rd grades boys arrived in Brother Newton’s class for the first Sunday. The boys thought it was just perfect … no girls = no cooties. As they entered the SS class, the boys were welcomed with hugs and questions about school and what happened this week. Brother Newton always took the time to get involved in the little boy’s lives and would even show up at their school events. The boys loved baseball and when Brother Newton found out, there were packets of baseball cards, gloves and bats used as motivation to get them to bring other boys into class … and it worked. His one special assignment for all 3rd grade boys was for them to be able to quote John 3:16. And when they did, Brother Newton handed that boy a Bible personally signed by their teacher. He also taught them to listen for the voice of God, because like Samuel, God wanted to speak directly to them.

I was one of those misbehaved 3rd grade boys, I still have that bible and I’m still learning to know God’s voice!

Do I believe in Sunday School? You better know it! You may have to change the name, don’t let that stop you. You may have to improve your curriculum, encourage your staff, train/re-train your teachers – all of that can be accomplished! But don’t overlook one of the best methods of helping your people become Christ-Like … we still call it Sunday School!

Your 2011 To Do List:

  1. Take time to pray about your discipleship processes
  2. Evaluate and consider the advantages of an exciting, new and improved Sunday School ministry
  3. Host a Teacher Enrichment Clinic for your church and the churches in your section
  4. Check out discipleship.ag.org for Sunday School articles and helps (FREE stuff!)
  5. Go to gospelpublishing.com and examine The Spiritual Health Planner and The SS Administrator’s Manual (Order these Valuable Resources!)
  6. Contact us - live people ready to help you. Don’t forget we are here waiting to help you by phone, by e-mail and in-person. We are your Discipleship Ministry Team. Call us at 1.417.862.2781 ask for Discipleship Ministries
  7. Repair the balcony rails
  8. Change the sign – order new letters
  9. Order paper products
  10. Paint class rooms
  11. Re-carpet hall way
  12. Install paper towel dispensers
  13. Sell piano on Craig’s List

Conclusion Sunday School -On Purpose has been written for the express purpose of getting you to re-evaluate your discipleship processes and weigh the advantages of a Sunday School ministry. Sunday School is the on campus, same day event, where the whole family is enrolled in classes that encourage spiritual growth, godly choices and hearing from God.

You may have been blessed with so many people that multiple services are your norm. Why not offer discipleship classes during some of those services?

You may have decided to try Small Groups, a great ministry! But why not keep Sunday School as an additional form of discipleship, another connecting point for the entire family?

You may think that the name Sunday School is ancient and antiquated … go ahead change the name! But don’t lose the opportunity to disciple whole families while you already have them on campus.

Your classes may need some updating, your teachers may need some training, and your people may need some persuading, but Sunday School is a ministry opportunity that you should not overlook!

We are here to help. Please call, write or Email us. The Discipleship Team is your team. We will assist you in finding usable resources and connect you with other developing churches.

417.862.2781 is our number. Just ask for Discipleship Ministries. We are here to serve you!

Authors: Tom Bougher