I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. (Psalm 119:16-18 NIV)
As I pondered my son’s recent graduation from Maryville College (May 17, 2015), I remembered a SS blog I did in May of 2012 soon after my daughter graduated from college. I think it is time to revisit it with some new reflections (in italics.)
In the past two weeks, we have sold our house, been involved in planning and leading our signature event called the Leadership Gathering and celebrated with our daughter, Tara, as she graduated from Emory University on Monday. (I am now in San Jose, California for a State Sunday School Directors meeting.)
As I reflected during my all day trip to California, I pondered my daughter’s graduation and remembered my own as I prayerfully thought about a disturbing trend in Sunday School and this question: When did adults begin to think they had graduated from Sunday School? (Feel free to remind adults that graduation from Bible study is possible when we breathe our last breath here on earth!) Many adults equate Sunday School as a great place for children and youth to learn about the Bible, but feel as though they graduated. Once they reach adulthood, they heard the stories as a child and no longer feel like they need to be there. For us to help adults return to Sunday School, there are a few things we need to consider:
First, it may be time to recognize our own fault in their misperception about Sunday School. Most churches do a great job celebrating the milestones of childhood and adolescence in Sunday School. We have a Promotion Sunday where we recognize persons being promoted to the next level. We help first graders by providing Bibles and share how this is a book they will continue to learn from and grow. We help our children moving into the youth group with fellowship events and ministry to connect them to others who will be in the Sunday School class.
What do we do when they graduate from high school and college to keep the excitement and connection to others in the class? How do we communicate the importance of being a part of the small group (community of faith) we call Sunday School for adults? (Of course, that is why I am adamant about ministry care lists, service projects and fellowship events through Sunday School classes as a way of connecting!) Highlight an adult SS class once a month in your worship bulletin and in the service with information about the class, what they are studying and things they enjoy doing. Celebrate milestones in the class and service projects that they involved with.
Second, typically Sunday School teachers for children and youth are more creative in using learning styles and teaching methods. When persons move to the adult classes, they discover many are lecture based and less dialogical in nature. We need to help our teachers become more innovative in teaching adults for transformation and not just knowledge. I heard a few years ago our now retired Children’s Ministry Specialist for Virginia Baptist, Diane Smith, suggest that Sunday School for young adults needs to be more like children’s classes in their teaching styles and methods. I would agree! Using music, video clips and discussion groups will enhance Bible study for adults which will increase your chance of getting adults back.
Third, it may be time to move past calling it Sunday School for adults. One of the churches in my region has an adult class of 40-50 people every Sunday with ages ranging from 20 to 60. They call the class, “The Gathering.” It is a master teacher model with art, music and Powerpoint. Persons in the class do not invite friends to Sunday School, but to “The Gathering.” It takes away the stigma of the name, but functions like a Sunday School class. Some churches are calling their classes: Life Groups, Bible Study Groups or Small Groups. I have heard numbers increased with some churches’ SS when they changed the name and announced this new paradigm from the pulpit!
Finally, find other times to have open Bible studies instead of just Sunday morning. I have already suggested this idea in another blog, but it is vital for the church to reach people outside of Sunday mornings. Adults’ perception of Bible study at other times may not carry the stigma of Sunday School on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. Many adults have to work on Sunday mornings as well. Plan to start a small group Bible study at another time and place.
How are you planning to enhance Sunday School to reach adults? Let me know what you think.