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7 tips offered to bring dead classes back to life

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–If it’s dead, bury it.
That’s Randy Millwood’s tip No. 1 for bringing dead Sunday school classes back to life. The assistant professor of Christian education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary led a July 16 seminar on the topic at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center. The session was part of the July 13-17 National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference at Ridgecrest.
“The number one reason dead classes continue on and on is because class members won’t accept the fact that they’re dead,” Millwood said. “Sometimes you just have to kill it, rebuild and move on.”
Millwood had the dozens of church staff and lay leaders attending his seminar brainstorm the most likely causes of death for Sunday school classes. Making their list of killers were: pride, poor teaching, inability to change, apathy of teacher and/or members, failure to promote, being more loyal to the teacher than the mission, failure to evangelize, poor organization and cliques.
“You have to know what the problems are before you can fix them,” Millwood said, which brought him to his second tip: evaluate, then fix it.
“What’s important is the mission,” he said, adding anything which takes away from that, including the teacher, is fair game for elimination.
Millwood had five other tips for teachers interested in bringing a dead class back to life:
— Get to know folks and build relationships. “This is sometimes harder at church,” Millwood said. “Why? Because many of us put on our church face, our religious masks.
“We have to deal with this sin of pride and learn to be honest with each other about our struggles. That doesn’t mean we share all our dirty laundry; it means we have to start being real.”
— Go informal. “Relationships are seldom built in settings of formality,” Millwood said.
— Move from Bible teaching to Bible study, i.e. involve class members in the lesson. “In Bible teaching, the focus is on you. In Bible study, you are moving the ‘a-ha’ moment from you to them,” he said.
— Become an equipper, not a doer. An equipper does four things: 1) envisions people not as they are, but as they can be, i.e. as God sees them; 2) enables people to be all they can be; 3) empowers people for ministry; and 4) encourages people with credible compliments, i.e. praise that is specific, thought out, believable and correct.
As an illustration of the empowering people to the tasks God has called them to (not the teacher), Millwood had seminar participants sign their name on a sheet of paper as they normally would. Then, he had them use their other hand to perform the same task. When asked what it was like to use their “wrong” hand, the church workers said it was awkward, harder, slower and they felt less satisfied with the results.
“That’s what it’s like when we try to squeeze people into a role in Sunday school that they’re not cut out for,” Millwood explained. “They feel awkward. They work harder. They work slower. And they feel less satisfied with the results.”
— Become an evangelist. “There is no better way to bring new life to a dead class than to lead someone to faith in Jesus Christ. That’s what it’s all about.”
The National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference was sponsored by the Sunday school division at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Chip Alford