Sunday School & Small Groups Revisited

After a great week with State Sunday School Directors last week and our discussion about small groups matter from Sunday School and beyond, I was reminded of a blog last year. Maybe it is time for your church to revisit the value of both. As I mentioned last week: After five years, 83% of new members who participated in both worship and Step 2 group (Sunday School and/or Small Groups) were still active. Only 16% of those who attended worship only were.


Recently I had a conversation with a pastor of a church who said they did not have Sunday School. Instead they had small groups that met him homes. I inquired further and discovered his small group was my idea of Sunday School.

First of all it would be good to talk about the difference between small groups and Sunday School. Small groups (whether in a home or at church) is a closed Bible study group. The group compilation is decided before they begin meeting and often is set with a curriculum that builds from one week to the next. It would be impossible for a person to catch up if they joined in week three. On top of that, the group by their common experience and language is less open for newcomers. Small groups are necessary for spiritual formation/discipleship, but not Sunday School.  

By definition, Sunday School is an open group Bible study where anyone can join at any time. As I talked more with this pastor, I discovered that his small groups were really Sunday School in disguise! They were open Bible studies at members’ houses that newcomers were welcome and invited to attend.  They were actually doing Sunday School in ways that many churches can learn from! Here’s how:

Bible study does not have to take place on Sunday morning. As I have mentioned before, we have 20-40% of the adult population that work on Sunday morning. If we do not have Bible studies at other times, we are basically saying we don’t care. Make plans to start a Bible study at another time.

Bible study at a place other than church is less intimidating for the non-church goer. Setting up Bible studies in homes or in public arenas are much more likely to succeed for non-church goers. Pay attention throughout the week where people gather. Is it possible to start a Bible study there? (Remember Biscuits & Bible- earlier blog)

Bible study in a home or other place provides a unique learning advantage. Typically we have to rush through a lesson on Sunday morning because people are late, or trying to catch up with fellowship and some leave early to pick up children or go to choir. Having it at another time and place may give you an opportunity to continue the study longer as the Spirit leads to delve deeper with life application.

Furthermore, persons may be open to share more intimately what is going on in their lives. (In previous churches with home Bible studies, I found the environment opened up further discussion and more application to life.) Adding a meal is a good way to bring even more intimacy and trust. It even sounds Biblical!

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42 Give it a try. You may discover the Spirit breathing new life into our Bible studies and churches!

About tonystopic

Seeker and connector to the abundant life as a husband (to Katrina), father (to Tara & Joseph) and Field Strategist/Sunday School Specialist for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
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