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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New Beginnings

New Beginnings. — For many, September marked the beginning of a new Sunday School year including new leaders, new groups, and possibly new resources. Now is an important time to check with your leaders to make sure they are off to a good start and solve any problems that might exist.
1. Call every new leader. Visit with them about their experiences during the past month. Ask how you can be of help. Offer to help them solve any issues.
2. Visit every new group. Hopefully, you were able to begin some new groups in September. If you did, make an appointment with the leader of each group to visit their group, express your interest, and encourage them.
3. Answer questions about resources. Many leaders may be using new teaching resources or the resources that have had improvements. Check with your leaders to make sure they understand how to use their resources. If they have any questions or concerns you cannot answer about a LifeWay resource, you can secure an answer from LifeWay Customer Service at 1-800-458-2772 or customerservice@lifeway.com.
4. Evaluate. Evaluate your Sunday School organization now that it has functioned for a month in the new year. Are more groups need? Is every group staffed adequately? Begin making plans for new groups and leaders needed for groups to be launched in January.

Prepare for November and December. – The Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year provide great opportunities for encouragement, building relationships, ministry, and reaching new people. Plan ahead for these actions/activities during November and December.
1. Plan a Thanksgiving Thank-You for Sunday School leaders. Use the time to express sincere appreciation.
2. Encourage leaders to coordinate activities for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
3. Encourage groups to hold Christmas events: parties, caroling, and/or fellowships built around ministry. Encourage the groups to invite lost, unchurched, or unenrolled people to their Christmas events.
4. Encourage groups to use the New Year as an occasion to make new commitments to read the Bible daily.

Wayne Poling
Senior Sunday School Specialist
LifeWay Christian Resources

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One Thing by Reverend Tommy Speight

There is an individual from another church who comes by my office about once per month looking for our devotional literature which we give him. His church is small and he was a deacon candidate. But before elected, he had to teach a class, or Sunday School lesson. His text, which was assigned to him, was John 3, the encounter of Jesus and Nicodemus. He had several months to prepare. How he did on this “lesson” would determine if he would be elected as a deacon. The problem was he had never been a Sunday School teacher.

I asked him how his preparation was going. He seemed frustrated and said he had been studying a lot but there was so much information, so many themes, there was no way he could get it all in. So I suggested that he select one thing. What do you feel is the most important thing, or the thing the Lord lays on your heart in the text to teach? His face lit up & he smiled as if he had just made a grand, new discovery.

One thing. Gal 3:2 (NIV) says: I would like to learn just one thing from you… As a teacher you may be frustrated that there is not enough time to complete the entire lesson. There is too much good stuff you want to cover. The solution is choose one thing. There is genius in zeroing in on one thing, making it simple and easy to understand and remember in order to make application.

Every teacher needs to ask a question when preparing their lesson: What do I want the class to come away with? When they walk out the classroom door, what do you want to accomplish or how do you want them to change? Is it that their faith is increased, they are a better witness, they pray more often, they are better stewards, they are able to forgive a wrong, they love one another, they are assured of their salvation, or to follow Jesus even in difficult times, …….. ? What one thing do you want them to come away with?

If your class came away with only one thing, 50 times a year, you would be considered an excellent teacher! You would be in the top 5% of all teachers. Take the one thing from the text and make it plain & simple. Then make practical application: how do you put it into practice daily and apply it to you life? Then spend time praying about it in class. Ask the Lord to give you strength and courage to make the necessary changes. If you could only accomplish one thing today – what would it be?

PS – The man did well on his lesson, and is going to be elected as a deacon.

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Art, Drama & Sunday School Revisited

From Daniel, to Joel, to Acts and the Book of Revelation we see the desire to dream and see visions of what might be. As we lead out as teachers sharing the Word of God, we need to recognize the value of imagination and visual arts in learning.
Children’s teachers have known for a long time the value of art and drama in teaching a lesson. With their crayons, markers, art work, pipe cleaners (There is a technical term for them, but it escapes me!), Play Doh, role playing and other tools they are able to help the children create and imagine the Bible stories as they learn. With videos and drama they experience the Bible story coming to life! Edgar Dale did a study on learning and retention levels that demonstrate the need to move past lecture to a more holistic learning process. Here are his results:

 Lecture 5%
 Reading 10%
 Audio Visual/Video 20%
 Demonstration 30%
 Discussion Group 50%
 Practice by Doing 75%
 Teaching Others or Immediate Application 90%

It may be quite shocking for some teachers. I am guessing most of you simply learned from a mentor who taught the same way! Today we need to recognize that most of us learn visually. Most of us have not known a time before television. Whether good or bad, we need visual stimuli as part of our learning. More than ever we need visual stimuli and arts in all of our classes. Instead of simply stating practical application we need to share the Biblical story through arts, drama and storytelling and allow participants to discuss practical application for their lives. Allow me to share some examples:

(1) If I was teaching a lesson about Zacchaeus, I would encourage going outside (if it is a
nice day) having someone dressed in the clothing of Jesus’ day up in a tree who would tell the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. I would then have the class discuss what it must have been like to be hated and an outcast. Who would be the outcasts in our community? How could we minister to them as Jesus did to Zacchaeus?
(2) If I had the lesson on Matthew 11:28-30, I would give each person a rock as they walked
in and ask them to share in small groups times when they felt regrets about decisions they made, burdens they face and times they failed to do what God wanted them to do. I would have a burlap bag full of rocks (See Max Lucado and “Sack of Stones” sermon) and share my own regrets, burdens and failures. I would have artwork of Jesus carrying heavy loads or a cross up front. Towards the end of the lesson, I would have each person bring their rock to Jesus or the cross as a sign of forgiveness/restoration or giving up a burden, and have them pick up an index card to write one thing they can do to move forward in their lives. They would share with one other person in the class and pray for each other.
(3) If I was doing a lesson on Matthew 25: 31-ff., I would show the video “Get Service”
(from God Tube or YouTube) as a way to discuss: “Who are the least of these in our world?” I would then ask, “How we can be more sensitive to others?” Have partners talk about ways to be more sensitive.
(4) I would use Play Doh to discuss the potter’s house in Jeremiah 18. As each person molds
the Play Doh they think about what areas of their lives need to be molded by God and share with a person next to them as music is played- (Steve & Annie Chapman’s “Change us Lord” would be good.) Have them pray for each other and share ways they can encourage each other during the week.

Hopefully you see the potential by now with just these few examples. Give arts and drama a try and see how it helps your students learn God’s Word and how to apply it!

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Why Sunday School?

I believe everything has a shelf life. That is why there are dates on food labels. That is why you cannot find 8 track tapes, dial up telephones, or typewriters any more. The paper mill in our community, which produced the best quality grade of writing/typing paper in the world & employed more than 2,000 people, has closed down. Why – people are storing things on computers & flash drives. Paper is becoming a thing of the past. You are reading this online, not on paper. Smart phones are replacing computers. Someone shared with me recently that thy wanted to buy an old type flip cell phone – not a smart phone, only to discover they do not make them anymore. A salesman went to the back & pulled one out of the trash and gave it to them. Things come and go and things change. Has the time of Sunday School reached its shelf life?

If you want to increase overall attendance, connect people, help them learn the Bible, grow as mature Christians, increase offering, or see your total church grow – the answer is Sunday School. But I said everything has a shelf life – what about Sunday School? There will always be a need to teach the Bible, bring people together, and connect folks. That is what Sunday School is all about! Maybe you need some fresh ideas or new expressions for SS to make it more effective?

As you read these ideas, you may think, “that would never work in my church or Sunday School or folks will never go for that.” So is your class “stale”? Someone once said, if you keep doing things the same way you can always expect the same results. Do you need or want different results?

How about getting your class to pray for your teacher & class members- for more life, excitement, enthusiasm & people? Or having prayer partners to ask God to intervene & re-energize your class?

How about making it a point for everyone to invite someone new to your class every week? When was the last time you had a guest or new member? What are you doing to bring them in? When was the last time you invited someone?

Why not do some type of social event with your class like go out to a restaurant together or have a covered dish? It could be as simple donuts & coffee. Always invite someone who is not in your class to join you.

At a former church, our Sunday evening event had gotten down to single numbers in attendance. There was a restaurant close by that had sparse attendance in the winter months. During
Jan – March we met at the restaurant, sat in booths or tables for 4. They would order from the menu (and pay for their own meal.) While they were waiting for their food & even after it arrived, they had a sheet of paper with a scripture passages and questions that they were to answer & talk about together. The group loved the concept & grew to more than 40. And they studied the Bible. Who said it had to be at 10:00 in the educational building for Sunday morning?

Some of the most insightful questions are related to why someone would want to come to your Sunday School class? Do you go out of your way to make them feel a part or special? Do people talk to them & introduce them to others? Will someone sit with them in church showing your appreciation for them being there & how special they are? Is the lesson prepared well so that the class is engaged & encouraged? How do you connect the passage to everyday life? The shelf life of Sunday School is not over, however there may need to be some tweaks or adjustments or changes needed to make it more effective. What would make your class better & involve more people? Maybe your class can talk about that one Sunday soon.

The guest writer this week is the Reverend Tommy Speight, Pastor of Courtland Baptist Church in Courtland, VA.

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