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New Bible study curriculum approved as part of LifeWay’s 21st-century plans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources approved Feb. 9 a strategy for Sunday school in the 21st century which includes the launch of a new “flagship” Bible study curriculum.
Beginning in September 2000, LifeWay will introduce “Family Bible Study,” a new series containing a core curriculum for all age groups based on a common Bible study theme and, as often as possible, using the same Scripture passage. In addition to the new series, Bible study options will be offered for each age group. For example, the Explore the Bible Series will continue to be available for adults. At the same time, however, the Life & Work Series, Youth Explore the Bible Series and the Family Bible Series will be discontinued. Since the latter series is being deleted, LifeWay will also pull out of its involvement in the Committee on the Uniform Series, which coordinates lessons for several denominations.
As evidenced in the subtitle for the new Family Bible Study — “Building the Family of Faith to Live by God’s Truth” — one of the goals of the new series is affirming the home as the center of biblical guidance.
“If we’re going to make any real difference in our culture, we have to get parents more involved in teaching their children biblical truth,” Bill Taylor, director of LifeWay’s Sunday school group, said. “We’ve got to help families study God’s Word and apply it to their everyday lives.”
According to Louis Hanks, associate director of LifeWay’s Sunday school group, the new Family Bible Study will champion the Bible as “the inerrant and infallible Word of God and as absolute truth and authority.” The series also will provide:
— a more intentional focus on evangelism, including support for the FAITH Sunday school evangelism strategy.
— lessons that encourage individuals to study the Bible at home during the week.
— increased accountability for the Sunday school leader and learner.
— increased use of interactive, age-appropriate resources and learning activities for distinctive age groupings, generational preferences and all sizes of churches.
— translation options for all age groups in either the King James Version (KJV) or New International Version (NIV).
— a variety of pricing options based on churches’ needs and budgets.
“While we’re eliminating two series, we’ll actually be providing more Bible study options for churches to choose from,” Hanks said. He added Family Bible Study “incorporates into one plan some of the best features from Life and Work and the Family Bible Series, such as contemporary application and common Bible study passages for all age groups.”
According to Taylor, the “sweeping changes” in curriculum are being made in response to cultural trends, the expressed needs of churches garnered from four years of market research and a sense of the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
“We’re not talking about reclaiming Sunday school. We’re not talking about reinventing Sunday school. We are talking about revitalizing Sunday school,” Taylor said, adding: “I truly believe the future of the Sunday school movement as a relevant strategy in the churches is at stake.”
The curriculum changes, Taylor said, are part of a larger strategy called “Sunday School for a New Century.” One of the goals of the plan is changing people’s view of Sunday school as a Sunday morning Bible study class to a ministry that impacts lives seven days a week and leads to the spiritual transformation of believers. It includes the following new definition for Sunday school:
“Sunday school is the foundational strategy in a local church for leading people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and for building Great Commission Christians through Bible study groups that engage people in evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, ministry and worship.”
Gene Mims, president of LifeWay’s church resources division, said the new Sunday school strategy addresses three significant problems:
1) The lack of a biblical worldview and godly character among believers.
“Christians today think a lot like non-Christians,” Mims said. “The differences between the two have grown smaller and smaller, if not indistinct.” As evidence, he cited studies showing an increasing biblical illiteracy among believers accompanied by a decline in personal evangelism. Equally alarming, he said, is the failure of many Christians to embrace the concept of absolute truth. He cited a recent conversation with pollster George Gallup Jr. in which Gallup said the percentage of divorces taking place among church members is growing at a faster pace than the divorce rate of the general population.
2) Churches’ loss of focus on Sunday school as an effective strategy for evangelism, Bible study and ministry.
While the Southern Baptist Convention has reported increases in Sunday school enrollment in recent years, Mims said Sunday school attendance has remained “essentially flat” for two and a half decades. In addition, he said approximately 70 percent of SBC churches remain plateaued and declining and baptisms have been on a downward spiral since 1971.
3) A 20-year trend of declining sales in dated curriculum.
Addressing these concerns won’t be easy, Mims said, adding, “It’s never easy when you take on a culture that is bent on destroying itself. … But I believe we have a ministry design which will equip people to be Great Commission Christians and send them out to be part of God’s work in transforming individuals and cultures.”
David Stokes, a LifeWay trustee and pastor of Norwich Baptist Church, Brunswick, Ga., agreed.
“I believe we are making a statement that the status quo is not acceptable,” Stokes said. “I really sense that this new strategy is a God idea, not a man idea. It addresses the core issue in our churches — the need for spiritual transformation in people’s lives.”
To help communicate the curriculum and ministry changes to churches, Hanks said LifeWay will launch an extensive field service and marketing campaign to help leaders and laypeople understand the new Bible study options. Sample products also will be made available so churches can evaluate the new design before making ordering decisions for the Fall 2000 quarter.

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  • Chip Alford