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FIRST-PERSON: Sunday School as discipleship

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Are all the learners in your Sunday School class at the same place spiritually? Of course not. In fact, they are not even at the same place in terms of attendance patterns. That’s one of the great things about Sunday School.

Since we practice open enrollment, it’s easy to get on the ministry list (class roll) and hard to get off of it. Since we practice the concept of open groups, we have an intentional mixture of believers and unbelievers, regular and irregular attendees, biblical experts and novices. While that is cool, it also presents us with one of our major challenges: How do we move everyone along a path to maturity and ministry? Here are a few ideas I hope you’ll find helpful.

— Moving prospects to attendance.

For the sake of this column, let’s assume that “prospect” refers only to someone a class member has identified as a person they want to inspire, invest in and invite. They have committed to pray for that person, inspire them by the way they live, invest in a relationship with them through kind words and deeds, and eventually invite them to Bible study and church. That’s the goal: to have them respond positively to an invitation. But they can become learners before they ever attend.

You can give them a copy of the Bible study material your class or group is using along with a testimony about how it is helping you. That should certainly be a standard practice when God opens up the opportunity for an invitation. “I would like to invite you to be a part of our Bible study class. Here is the material we are studying right now …”

Just that simple act may provide the confidence a new person needs to make them more comfortable visiting the class. Your goal for prospects is to move them to attendance as a guest.

— Moving guests to enrollment.

Guests — or as some still call them, visitors — are checking out your class. You can make them feel more welcome in many ways. (For ideas, check out “The 3D Sunday School, which is available for download at LifeWay.com/SundaySchool). At the very least, you will want to provide every guest a copy of the Bible study material your class is using. Your goal for guests is to move them to enrollment as a member of the class.

— Moving members to maturity.

Once someone enrolls in your class, they are not just added to the ministry roll. They become your discipleship responsibility. You want to help them encounter the truths of God’s Word in a comprehensive and systematic way appropriate to their stage in life. LifeWay curriculum covers 15 biblical concepts (eight in preschool, 10 in children and all 15 in student and adult). “Bible Teaching for Kids” (preschool and children) and “Bible Studies for Life” (students and adults) are built around a three-year plan that provides a balanced treatment of key Bible concepts, characters, stories, etc. You can view the plans as well as sample lessons at LifeWay.com/SundaySchool. Your goal for members is to move them to active attendance and spiritual growth.

— Moving active members to ministry.

The next goal is to move members to ministry. A great first step is to enlist and train them as Care (or Connect) Group Leaders. The job: Make a weekly contact with five to seven members assigned to their group. An advanced step would be to become an apprentice to the teacher, outreach leader or inreach leader. For more on the apprentice concept, see the bonus chapter of “The 3D Sunday School” book.

— Moving ministers to missionaries.

In an adult class, the ultimate goal is to send members out of the class to serve in preschool, children or student departments and classes or to start another adult class. Typically called “associate members” or “members-in-service,” members who serve in the other age groups should be celebrated by the class as missionaries. Put on the wall a digital photo of all service members, perhaps showing them teaching in their classrooms. Invite them to every party. Assign them to the best care/connect group leader.

The other group of missionaries is those who birth a new adult class. I call this process “The two marks of an adult 3D class,” and you can read more about the two marks, “release” and “reproduce,” in the bonus chapter of “The 3D Sunday School.”

Attendance. Enrollment. Maturity. Ministry. Missionary. You can probably come up with a better plan. The important thing is to have a process, be able to communicate it clearly and have an intention to move people through it.
David Francis is director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • David Francis