GROWING YOUR CHURCH: GROWING SUNDAY SCHOOL REVISITED

I will be on vacation next week and in Romania training Pastors the first week in December. I will send the next blog on December 9th. Here is a blog worth revisiting:

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37 NIV)

I don’t know of any Pastor or Minister of Education who wouldn’t like their church to grow both spiritually and numerically. As a former pastor, I wanted to see the church grow in both ways. The truth is many pastors and churches have bought into the myth that changes in worship style will be the answer. The truth is: Bible study is still the key to bring about spiritual and numerical growth.
The fact is that a new Bible study class for adults will bring ten new people to Bible study (whether it is in that class or adding new people to children and youth who come with parents.) As David Francis would say, “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 the saved in service, and mobilizing the local church for ministry.” Sunday School (people meeting in a small group for structured Bible study more than simply a worship service) works to bring people to Christ and/or helps new members stay involved. It begins with a recognition that persons called out to a new class are missionaries. They are trying to reach people for Christ and make disciples. So how do we begin a new Bible study class?
Identify target groups for new classes. Look in the pews during worship, persons in the community, special events like VBS or even a place like a community store (remember “Biscuits & Bible.) Keep in mind Bible study is a mindset and not a Sunday morning only experience. Look at inactive members, members who cannot attend on Sunday morning and prospects and decide which class to start and when the class should meet. Be in prayer as you consider a remnant group to start the class. Some of my most successful classes for reaching the lost and encouraging members took place on a Friday night at my house or on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. at a restaurant!
Begin to communicate a vision and plan as you consider teachers and a couple of members to start the class. Allow persons in the church to know what to be praying about and how they can help. People get excited about reaching people for Christ when they know there is a plan. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, every teacher should have an apprentice who is ready to start a new class. Be praying for persons who can be an apprentice to start a new class or take over an existing class. Enlist at least three persons to begin the new class: a teacher and two care group leaders. (Message me your e-mail about an organizational page for care groups, and I will send it to you.)
Begin preparing a list of prospects for the class. Set up a list of persons to begin inviting to the class as mentioned earlier. Set a date for the class to begin and an outreach/social event to kick it off a couple of weeks before. There may be an existing class willing to plan the social for you.
Have support to help the class grow. It is true that a class that is already two years old or older in existence will have difficulty in reaching new people. Encourage people in the pews and prospects/unchurched to try the new class. Existing classes may pick up a few new members along the way, but new classes provide the best venue for new people to bond in a community of faith. The church and staff should have the new class on their prayer list and find ways to encourage the remnant who will start it.
Prepare training opportunities for the remnant/missionaries who are starting the class. Medical professionals, lawyers, teachers and many other workers are expected to take continuing educational classes to grow and learn. Do we expect anything less from persons who are teaching the Bible…which has eternal implications? I am committed to helping you with ongoing training opportunities. E-mail me at tony.brooks@vbmb.org if I can assist you in training.
In the meantime, I will be praying for you as you seek to start new classes. Keep me posted on what happens, so we can share how God is working.

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Caring for members in the Hospital

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:13-15 NIV)

I am writing this early because I have a close family member having major surgery next week. In preparation, I thought about the importance of Sunday School/Bible study classes in ministering to persons in the group. As I have mentioned before: “Teaching the Bible is like gardening…cultivating and nourishing the soil is just as important as planting the seeds.” People need to see you care for them in order for them to be open to the Spirit and God’s Word in community. Here are some ideas:

Care Group leaders need to be sensitive to the needs of their group. (I have shared this organizational structure for care groups. If you don’t have the document, e-mail me at tony.brooks@vbmb.org.) Call and check on members who are absent to make sure they are okay. When you hear one is going in the hospital, here are some practical ways to help:

Pray! This is the most important thing we can do! Ask permission to share their name on the prayer list. Ask them what they would want you to share about the prayer concern. They may not want information shared. (Churches have been sued by members for adding them to the prayer list without permission.) If they are open to sharing the prayer concern, take time to pray with them, and have the class be in prayer as well. Start a prayer chain if you don’t have one already! If they are in class the week before the surgery, surround them at the end of the study and pray as a class. Share the concern with the Pastor and staff (with permission of the member.)

Provide care for their family. Line up meals to help the family during the crisis. See if they need help with childcare and/or transportation for children during the hospital visit. Don’t just say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” Give some practical ways you can help. They may need someone to take care of a pet as well. They may need some yard work done before they are able to do it themselves. If it is a large family and a long surgery, provide some snacks for them or money to cover a meal that day.

Start a class fund to help with care. A men’s class from a previous ministry would give a dollar every Sunday to a class fund to provide flowers, cards, financial help or meals for their members.

Go with your Pastor, staff or a deacon to visit them in the hospital. They need to see laypersons that care. They expect the staff to visit, but your presence can make a big difference to them!

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The Second Half of Life and Sunday School: Revisited

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)

I am very thankful for a mom who believed in this Proverb. She began teaching me in the cradle about God’s love, God’s Word and living for God. Many SS teachers, pastors, family members and other church leaders did as well. I memorized Scripture, participated in sword drills, learned Bible truths, and in my teenage years began reading the Bible through many times. The foundation was set and I am grateful!
Preschool, children’s, youth and young adult teachers have the potential for a lasting impression and impact on your students. You are building the foundation for your students to grow in faith, wisdom and knowledge that will last a lifetime. They learn about unconditional love from God, the importance of self-discipline as a disciple and their purpose in using their gifts for God.
So what do we teach persons about the second half of life? We have the foundation. Hopefully, we have been self-disciplined in living out of God’s Word. So what now? Is there a shift that needs to take place? If you are teaching persons who are Baby Boomers (Born between 1946-1964) or older persons, we may need to think about a new paradigm of what it means to be a disciple in the second half of life.
I have to admit that this is a lesson God brought to me by a layperson at FBC Altavista recently through his readings from Richard Rohr. It was timely as I considered the second half of life (I turned 50 today.) Here are some lessons to consider:

It is not what you know, but who God is that prepares you for the second half of life. The more I know about God’s standard, and my mistakes, the more I need to lean on God’s grace. Of course this requires me to be vulnerable to the truth, and have a willingness to confess my failures and naiveté. As I do, I begin realizing just how great God is. I see that God is more interested in a relationship with me than anything else. Like my children when they make a mistake, I want to encourage them, challenge them and inspire them to greater things, but mostly, I want to go deeper in a relationship with them as young adults. My relationship with them changes as they get older.

Letting go of the world’s standards and living a simpler lifestyle leads to true freedom in Christ. I can honestly confess that in the first half of life, I sought to fill a void with prominence with my competitiveness in athletics, academics, accumulating accolades, and things. I placed a lot of importance on Christmas presents, birthday presents and stuff. (Katrina is anxiously searching for a birthday present for me even as I am writing this blog. It is what we do for persons we love.) Though there are moments when I still wish for something, I am learning the value of letting go of things. These days I find real joy in giving things away. I honestly believe this is at the heart of what Christ would want. In the second half of life, we need to let go of prominence, power and control. We need to let go of things that we don’t need, and seek to help those who are in need (See Blog “Groundhog Day” for more.)
One of my professors tried to teach me this lesson just before I graduated from college, but I wasn’t ready. Dr. Bill Cowley, retired missionary from Nigeria, told me one day that his wife was so excited that she found bread at a day old bakery much cheaper than at the store. It wasn’t to save money for them and their wants. It was to send more to the mission field! They had learned to live in the second half of life. It is about letting go of things and investing in God’s kingdom.

Trusting and leaning on others is essential to live in the second half of life. Katrina and I have been discovering this lesson more each day with new health issues and living in a new place. I find this to be the most challenging one for me. We are taught to be self-reliant and make our way. There will come a day, like Peter, when:

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18 NIV)

Unless we begin teaching older adults about the second half of life, they will be frustrated when the time comes to allow another to dress/lead them.

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Sunday School/Bible Study and Thanksgiving

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)

Gratitude to God and others in our lives is a way to open our hearts and move us past a focus on self. It allows us to see the big picture and recognize how God and others have made a difference in our lives. We will do well to give thanks to God and persons who have mentored us. Here are a few thoughts on how to do that:

SS Directors, give thanks to your teachers. The teachers are missionaries and disciple makers. This is a good time of the year to send them a thank you card to let them know how important they are in molding lives. Send them a card in the next couple of weeks.

Ask them how you can be praying for them throughout the year as well as remember their birthdays and other special occasions. Bob Dale once said, “You can’t make a bean plant grow by pulling on it.” Teachers need to know they are important. They are volunteers and sometimes need to see someone appreciates their ministry. You are the care group leader for teachers! Minister to them throughout the year and show them they are important.

Teachers, show appreciation for your outreach director, secretary and care group leaders. This is a good time to send them a thank you card for their ministry. Ask them throughout the year how you can pray for them. Offer words of encouragement for what they do to get people involved in Sunday School/Bible study.

Pastors/Ministers of Education, show appreciation for your SS Director, teachers and other officers in Sunday School/Bible study. You are the one to model the importance of Sunday School/Bible study. Use some of the ways above to thank and pray for your SS workers. It would be good to have one of your regular meals be in honor of your Sunday School/Bible study workers to show appreciation sometime this month as well.

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Sunday School: The Saving Arm of the Church

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? (Luke 15:4 NIV)

I was reading this week the following book: What Every Pastor Should Know About Sunday School by Elmer L. Towns and Stan Toler. In it they suggest (and I would agree) that Sunday School is the Saving Arm of the church. Unchurched persons who attend an open small group Bible study are more prone to become Christians and stay active in a church. Here are their points:

Urge everyone to attend Sunday School. Sunday School is the best option for spiritual growth. As mentioned above Sunday School members are more active and tend to remain active more than just worship attenders. Give Sunday School prominence in your church. As they would say on page 19, “Organize it, advertise it and emphasize it.” Pastors should regularly encourage persons in the pew to be in Bible study.

Promote the use of Sunday School for evangelism. Teachers need to understand the evangelistic purpose of their ministry. I would go one step further and suggest we need to train teachers in how to share the Gospel in a manner that focuses on lifestyle and hospitality evangelism every day. I would also suggest they understand the “why” of Sunday School. Go back and look in my archives for the Why!

Celebrate Victories. Share with your leaders when one comes to accept Christ through Sunday School efforts. If you want to take it a step further than Towns and Toler, invite the teacher to be in the baptismal pool with the person coming to be baptized! This will inspire your teachers, classes and help them to recognize part of the “why” of Sunday School.

Of course I would take it one step further. We are to make disciples and not just converts! I have been amazed over my years of ministry when teachers recognize this fact. Children, youth and adults are mentored after they accept Christ, and the ministry is multiplied as new converts become disciple makers! Many have accepted their call to ministry in vocational and lay ministry because of teachers who are intentional about disciple making. I pray you will do the same!

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Sunday School- Prepared For and Cared For Part Two

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:14-16 NIV)

I mentioned last week that Dr. Bo Prosser (Minister of Education at a church and is now Coordinator of Organizational Relationships for CBF) shared a quote that stuck with me- “People go where they know that they have been cared for and prepared for.”

Last week we focused on preparing. Now let’s focus more on caring! How do you show that you care for your class? Each person needs to feel: they belong, they have something to offer and they matter to the class. Here are a few ideas:

Make caring intentional! I have shared the purpose of care groups. Care Group leaders are like deacons in the family ministry plan. They check on a list of members and prospects on a regular basis. It is still true that someone who misses your class for three weeks in a row is fifty percent more likely not to come back! We need to have a regular contact with them to make sure they are okay and know how to minister to them. (As mentioned in earlier blogs, e-mail me at tony.brooks@vbmb.org and I will send you an organizational chart with care groups along with a document on an idea a month to contact class members for care group leaders.)

Remember birthdays and Grief Anniversaries. I know this may sound like a simple thing, but showing care on birthdays and anniversaries during grief is important. It would be good for the teacher and care group leader to contact members during these times. As you contact members about birthdays, you can also ask if there is anything I can be praying with you about. (Remember to ask them later about their prayer concern.)

Make connections to other members. You should have greeters in every class. These are persons who love to meet new people. Besides welcoming them early to class, they are responsible to connecting them to other people in the class and church. One of the things I like asking people are about their hobbies/passions. For example, if a greeter finds out that a person likes to play golf, I want them to connect that person to three other people in the church who like the same hobbies. Hopefully one of those persons will invite them to play golf that week. You may be amazed at how well this helps persons to feel cared for.

From the last blog as a reminder:

Does everyone feel that they belong? The Millennial Generation wants to belong before they will commit! Are you providing an environment of authentic community where people can share their concerns without risk of confidentiality issues? Are people open to talk about doubts and fears? Is the class focused on what God is doing now? Years ago I taught a young adult men’s class where five grew up in the same high school and five were transplants because of work. I would often catch the five who grew up together reminiscing about their high school days in the midst of the discussion. Subconsciously, they were telling the other five, “You don’t belong!”

Do you involve every person in the class to serve in some capacity? Do they have gifts to enhance community in the class? Does the class have an ongoing service project that encourages every person to be involved? Persons who feel they have something to contribute will be more involved with the class.

Caring teachers and care group leaders leads to community. Take seriously the importance of caring for every person in your class. Nest week we will discuss caring for inactive members.

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Sunday School- Prepared For and Cared For Part One

READ Romans 12 for a great Word on Preparing and Caring

Many years ago Dr. Bo Prosser (Minister of Education at a church and is now Coordinator of Organizational Relationships for CBF) shared a quote that stuck with me- “People go where they know that they have been cared for and prepared for.” It is a quote that every SS teacher and worker should memorize and use as part of their ministry!

Do the persons in your Bible study class feel prepared for and cared for? Here are some areas to evaluate whether it is true for your class:

Are you present and ready to teach ten minutes before class starts? One of the most horrifying experiences in my years as a Minister of Education was walking into the youth SS room a few minutes before the class was to start, and discovering the lights were not on, the teacher was not there, and the only person in the class was a visitor! This person did not feel prepared for and cared for!

Does everyone feel that they belong? The Millennial Generation wants to belong before they will commit! Are you providing an environment of authentic community where people can share their concerns without risk of confidentiality issues? Are people open to talk about doubts and fears? Is the class focused on what God is doing now? Years ago I taught a young adult men’s class where five grew up in the same high school and five were transplants because of work. I would often catch the five who grew up together reminiscing about their high school days in the midst of the discussion. Subconsciously, they were telling the other five, “You don’t belong!”

Are you doing everything in your preparation to share God’s Word and facilitate discussion? I have many horror stories about teachers who read the lesson “word for word,” and then asked if there were any questions. I have been in lecture only classes. (Only 5% will be retained by the students.) I have seen classes talk about everything under the sun until there was twenty minutes left and the teacher did not have enough time to help the students get to life application of Scripture. If that is the case the teacher has failed to be a conduit of transformation for the class!

Do you vary the learning approaches based on your class or stick to what is familiar with you? Preparation requires knowing everyone in your class and how they learn best. Too often teachers will focus on how they learn best. If you would like a Learning Approaches Inventory to know how your class learns best, e-mail me at tony.brooks@vbmb.org and I will send an inventory for you to share. Preparing requires knowing how your students learn best and using these techniques as part of the class.

More to come about caring in the next blog!

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