Sunday School in the 21st century

This month, our church is taking a new direction in our Sunday School. For the last two years, we’ve tried an “elective” format with limited success. We had some great teachers and offered some outstanding classes, but the idea just never really took off with many of our members, and the quarterly elective model did not lend itself to building a deeper sense of community.

In some ways, we’re moving back to a more traditional Sunday School model, but with a twist. Our focus will shift from strictly teaching toward fellowship (sharing in common). About 2/3 of our time will be spent in interactive, verse-by-verse Bible Study, while the other 1/3 will be spent in prayer. Time for socializing and evangelism will also be encouraged as the small groups develop.

Thom Rainer, Director of Lifeway, admits that Sunday School has lost the “coolness factor” and fallen out of fashion in many churches across the country. But statistics show it still has value:

Do you realize that a person in a Sunday School class is five times more likely to be assimilated and discipled in a church than a person who attends worship only? Did you know that Sunday School increases biblical literacy and encourages personal Bible study? Are you aware that churches with the healthiest Sunday School organizations are likely the healthiest churches evangelistically?

And what makes a healthy Sunday School? Rainer explains,

For one, it is the priority of the leadership of the church, particularly the senior pastor. And the plan of study or curriculum is not haphazard where all are doing their own thing. What takes place in Sunday School is no less planned than what is preached in the pulpit.

A healthy Sunday School is an open group, where anyone can attend at any point. A healthy Sunday School has the best teachers who are trained and capable. And a healthy Sunday School is well organized and given a prominent place in the life of the church.

We at First Southern are not ready to give up on Sunday School yet. Times have changed, and our tactics for discipleship must change. But we believe Sunday School still has big potential. People are already traveling to our church campus for Morning Worship, so why not seize this opportunity to build deeper relationships, small group Bible study, and prayer? There’s the added bonus of having a good program available for the kids.

Since the focus of our new Sunday School program will be on fellowship and relationships, we will be phasing out the name adult “Sunday School” and replacing it with “Life Groups,” which we hope will better capture our purpose.

I join Rainer in the conclusion of his article,

I pray that the small group Bible study called Sunday School will begin to be embraced with similar fervor. I’m not hung up on the name assigned to it. I just pray that men, women, boys and girls will return to the experience of regular group Bible study. It’s the trend of some of the healthiest churches in America. And that’s really cool.


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