NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Too many churches operate like a Department of Redundancy Department. Often several overlapping ministries compete for members’ time and leaders’ energies. These various ministries also typically compete for resources and sometimes even for announcements.
When the Sunday School is viewed as the hub of “the church organized,” many of these issues can be solved. Sunday School typically has more people enrolled than any other organization. Even a church with no activities other than worship and Sunday School can accomplish all five purposes of the church: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. For those who would add prayer as a sixth purpose, it can help accomplish that, too.
Historically, Sunday Schools have accomplished these purposes even if there was no worship service. In fact, even today Sunday Schools continue to be organized in villages, on ranches and multihousing complexes where there is not yet a church or preacher or worship service. Can Sunday School itself do everything a church should do around those purposes? Of course not. However, it can do each of them in a foundational way, introducing members and guests to the mission of the church, whether they know it or not.
Here are a few ideas for leveraging Sunday School to support the mission of the entire church:
— Sunday School and worship. Sunday School is the perfect partner with worship for the optimum weekend experience for the entire family. A high percentage of people will attend a Bible study group before or after the worship service. All worship service guests can and should be assigned to a Sunday School class for follow-up.
— Sunday School and fellowship. Sunday School is unparalleled as an assimilation strategy. In fact, many people will enroll in Sunday School before they make a decision for Christ or church membership. Asking them to enroll says: “We want you to be a part of our fellowship.” Those enrolled in Sunday School are many times less likely to become dropouts than those who attend worship only. Sunday School Bible study provides fellowship around the Word of God. Some churches even call their Sunday school classes “Bible fellowship” groups.
— Sunday School and discipleship. Sunday School Bible study provides foundational discipleship. Can people become devoted disciples of Jesus Christ if their only small-group experience is Sunday School? Probably not. But they can get started and then be encouraged during Sunday School to take advantage of other discipleship opportunities.
Some Sunday School classes enlist a discipleship leader who will make sure the class knows about such opportunities. A few churches actually organize smaller discipleship groups that are subsets of the Sunday school class. Five couples or eight single adults form a typical group that meets weekly or twice a month for deeper discipleship study.
— Sunday School and ministry. The care group structure in Sunday School provides a great organization for ministry to people. It also provides a structure for a prayer chain without having to create a separate organization. If adult care groups are men-only and women-only — as I advocate — you’ve also got a built-in communication link to the church’s men’s and/or women’s ministries. Sunday School provides people with an opportunity to serve, both within the class and in preschool, children and student classes. One mark of a ministering class is that it releases members for service and keeps up with them after they leave to serve.
— Sunday school and evangelism. Sunday School remains the most potent organization in the church to reach out to others. Most people say they would attend a Bible study group if someone invited and accompanied them. What better place to do that than Sunday School? Recently, a couple visited our church and placed their daughter in the 8 a.m. pre-K class that my wife and I teach. On Monday, the girl told her mom, “Ms. Barbara (who relieved us at 9 a.m.) asked me to come back to Sunday School; can I go today?”
This girl eventually will make a decision about Christ. Her experience in Sunday school will be foundational to that decision. A growing number of churches are encouraging each class to adopt a missions project, expanding the Sunday School’s role to include evangelism through missions. Many enlist a missions leader to guide this effort.
At its best, Sunday School is much more than a collection of Bible study groups that meet one hour each week. It is a robust strategy that can undergird and strengthen virtually every aspect of a church’s mission.
David Francis serves as director of Sunday school for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.