RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Sunday School is alive and well. It just needs a wakeup call, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer said.
“God is not done with Sunday School,” Rainer told attendees at the 2006 Sunday School conference at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.
“The rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated,” he quipped.
“It’s not that Sunday School is not working -– it’s that most churches are not working Sunday School,” Rainer said, citing research he has led which found that Sunday School is the number one outreach and evangelism tool and the most effective assimilation arm of the church.
The June 30-July 3 “Sunday School in 3-D” conference underscored a three-dimensional approach of “Invite, Discover, Connect” -– three crucial aspects of the Sunday School mission outlined by LifeWay’s director of Sunday School, David Francis.
“It’s about helping church members as well as leaders … understand their class can be a safe place to come and discover Bible truths, share faith stories and connect,” Francis said.
Although Sunday School numbers hit a plateau over the past 10 years, Francis said the Sunday School movement is being rediscovered across all denominations.
Rainer, quoting from Zechariah, said God’s one instruction to the remnant that had returned to Jerusalem was to rebuild the house of God.
“This text speaks to us today because, quite frankly, across America, it’s time to rebuild the house of God,” Rainer said.
“Do you know that over half of Southern Baptist pastors have not talked to anyone about Jesus in the last six months … that the majority of Southern Baptists will go to glory without ever having shared their faith one time?” Rainer asked. “Across America it takes 86 Christians a year to reach one person for Christ … and 94 percent of churches are reaching less than their community is growing. In other words they’re losing ground.
“Sunday School began to grow across America when God’s people began to be burdened about lost people and began inviting people to Sunday School,” Rainer said. “It’s easy to play church instead of having a passion for those who are out there.”
LifeWay senior Sunday School leadership specialist Wayne Poling told conference participants, “You must teach for transformation, not just information.”
In his “Learn to Teach the Way Jesus Taught” seminar, Poling pointed out that “Jesus was the master teacher. But you can use the tools He used.”
“It’s not just a matter of getting through the lesson,” said LifeWay Sunday School specialist Wayne Etheridge. “It’s: What have we done and how do we address the need for spiritual transformation? For some of these folks, maybe they’ve sat and soaked long enough. Now it’s time to go serve.”
LifeWay leadership specialist David Apple, in a “Mobilizing Your Sunday School for Spiritual Warfare” session, said the way to guard against the destructive -– but inevitable -– attacks that come whenever something worthwhile begins is to remember God is stronger.
“We have reduced the Sunday morning experience to the point that it is no longer a threat to Satan,” Apple said.
Conference attendee Birch Jones said he lived with that mentality for years.
Jones, 36, said he grew up attending Sunday School yet never grasped that he was to put into action what he learned.
“I never got that,” said Jones, now Sunday School director at Cedar Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. “Sunday School is not an end. It’s a means. It’s right in the Great Commission. It says go and make disciples -– not just converts.”
Jones said that is one of the reasons he’s selecting LifeWay’s new Bible Studies for Life curriculum series. With an emphasis on life applications, the studies are organized by adult life stages instead of age groups, with specific lessons for young married adults, parents of young children, empty nesters and retirees.
“What we are trying to do is get people to do something,” Jones said. “Eighty percent of the people sitting in Sunday School class have been in church their whole lives. The Bible Studies for Life series really pulls the application out of the Scripture and says, ‘Do this.’ It’s easier for my teachers. It’s not as detailed, but without watering down Scripture, the authors at LifeWay actually get you to what you need to do.”