MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–In most churches, Sunday School is called, well, Sunday School. But some churches use terms like Bible study, Bible fellowship and life study. In most churches, it happens on Sunday morning, but other churches may have Sunday School on Thursday night or Saturday morning.
What all these names and times have in common, however, is that they are gatherings of believers and nonbelievers focused on studying God’s Word. Their aim is to be accepting of new people at any time and to care about each other.
Sunday School should be three-dimensional, says David Francis, director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In his book, “The 3D Sunday School,” Francis writes that in a balanced, three-dimensional Sunday School, members 1) invite unchurched friends, relatives, associates and neighbors; 2) create small group experiences in which people discover the great truths of the Bible and hear the faith stories of other believers; and 3) seek to connect with people through fellowship and ministry.
The three parts are equally important, with Francis noting, “The three dimensions get out of balance when one dimension becomes more important than the others.”
One church that successfully practices the 3D Sunday School model is Vaughn Forest Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. As Francis put it, “If you want to see Sunday School done right, go to Vaughn Forest.”
‘LIFE CHANGING’ FELLOWSHIP
Vaughn Forest calls its Sunday morning time of Bible study and fellowship Life Changing Bible Fellowship (LCBF). One of the strategies to its success is people never get too comfortable in their classes.
“We are always moving people around from room to room and multiplying –- we don’t say dividing –- classes,” said LCBF leader Daniel Edmonds, who also directs the office of Sunday School for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. “No one feels ownership of a space around here and they think it’s normal to constantly be creating new classes.”
The church began two LCBF times on Sunday mornings earlier this year. Growth in the classes, coupled with lack of space, demanded it. “Our members knew we were bursting at the seams in all our classes, so the need to move to two LCBF times was not a huge surprise to anyone,” Edmonds said.
Because of the emphasis on serving, the second LCBF hour was not short on workers. Every adult class has a teacher in training waiting in the wings to begin leading a new class. “We just never let our classes become stagnant,” Edmonds said. “They are always changing and growing and multiplying. Our folks think that’s normal.”
Pastor Lawrence Phipps said, “The ultimate success of a class will not be measured in how many people can be put in seats, but how many people the classes place in service and the classes’ ability to start new classes. Our goal is not to get people to show up, but to grow up and go out to serve in existing classes or to start new classes.”
Phipps and Edmonds created and self-published a resource titled “Growing Sunday School TEAMS: A 5 Step Practical Guide to Growing the Church through the Sunday School.”
“TEAMS is an effective tool that God can use in a church that is committed to reaching and building lives through the Sunday School,” Phipps writes in the book’s opening chapter.
All of a church’s adult Sunday School classes potentially can have TEAMS, an acronym standing for Teacher, Evangelism leader, Administrative leader, Ministry leader and Service leader.
Ideally, a class at Vaughn Forest will be large enough to have several members in each TEAMS area. The teacher team includes a teacher who regularly leads the class study; a teacher in training who works under the leadership of the teacher and teaches about once a month; and a discipleship coordinator who works in the class to promote the studies in the church’s Discipleshiplife University.
The evangelism team has an evangelism coordinator who keeps evangelism the focus of the Bible study class; an evangelism leader who leads the class in an systematic evangelism outreach strategy such as LifeWay’s FAITH Sunday School Evangelism Strategy; and, if using FAITH, FAITH learners who will serve on FAITH teams and work with the leader to identify, contact and enroll prospects in Bible study.
The administrative team has an administrator who keeps the class organized and on task; a prayer leader who leads and coordinates class prayer support; and a class secretary who completes class records, paying special attention to having the current contact information of new members and guests.
The ministry team includes a ministry coordinator who ensures all the care groups provide effective ministry; care group leaders who make sure everyone in the class has a place to fit in and receives care and love; and a fellowship coordinator who plans and organizes class fellowship activities.
The service team consists of a service coordinator who encourages class members to use their spiritual gifts in the Sunday School ministry; a new class leader who helps the class move toward multiplying itself; and a class missionaries’ leader who helps the class stay in touch with and minister to individuals who leave the class to serve in the preschool, children and youth areas. These missionaries are prominently featured on a bulletin board in their corresponding classrooms and are remembered in prayer during class prayer time. Class group leaders make certain they are included in all fellowship opportunities.
Vaughn Forest knows a thing or two about doing evangelism in connection with Sunday School. The church served as one of the 28 FAITH originator churches in 1998. LifeWay used a Phipps-designed prayer partner card as the model for the FAITH prayer partner cards. Vaughn Forest is in its 25th semester of evangelism-discipleship, beginning with Evangelism Explosion in 1994, transitioning to FAITH in 1998, and changing to It’s LIFE, a ministry they developed in 2003.
But what happens after the people have been reached, evangelized and invited to church? What does the church do then? As Vaughn Forest exemplifies, going the extra mile makes for a great first impression.
First-time guests at Vaughn Forest have plenty of clearly marked parking places near the front door. A welcome desk is front and center, staffed with smiling people ready to help guests locate an appropriate Sunday School class. Then, someone escorts guests to their class and introduces them to a welcoming class member who will introduce them to the rest of the class. Since most class members wear nametags, guests feel comfortable wearing one too. A class member often walks to the worship center with the guests and sits with them in the service. Guests are seldom left alone from the time they enter until they leave.
“Historically, most churches tend to make it harder to join a Sunday School class than to join the church,” Phipps said. “That’s backwards! It’s silly that we want people to come three Sundays in a row before we’ll enroll them in a class. Then if they are out three Sundays in a row, we want to take them off the roll. To join the church, all you have to do is show up one Sunday, walk down the aisle at the end of the service, shake the pastor’s hand, and you’re a member.
“It ought to be a lot easier to become a member of a Sunday School class,” Phipps said. “It’s through the Sunday School that people will form the relationships that will keep them involved in the church. Most of the people who join a Sunday School class will wind up joining the church. I believe if new members form relationships with others in the small group setting, we’ll lose fewer members through the back door.”
LifeWay Christian Resources offers National Sunday School Directors Seminars for local church leaders, with sessions slated Oct. 13-14 in Baton Rouge, La., and Oct 27-28 in Brentwood, Tenn. For more information, go to www.lifeway.com/events, click on the Leadership link, then click on Sunday School.