Let’s Talk Honestly About Sunday School

by: Rev. Ed Schneider

Many of our Sunday Schools and Christian Education departments are in need of a BIG transformation from what “was” into what “needs to be.” Sunday School must become relevant in today’s environment.

SS picNow that I have stated this belief I also must acknowledge that some of the things that worked well in the 1920’s and 1950’s will and do work even today. However, make no mistake, Sunday School as it has come to be understood and implemented must change to better reflect the realities of current children and youth as well as the families they are connected to.

A few of these areas include teaching, working for life-change, reaching out through technology, when and where to meet, apprentice and new class multiplication, and goal-setting.

One important distinction from what “was” and what “needs to be” concerns the new model a teacher at a local church should employ with their students. Teaching must move away from the expert model and more toward the facilitator model.  Also, for the Sunday School to be revitalized, teachers should actively and intentionally strive to facilitate an encounter with God in His Word. By having this attitude and goal the end results very easily can lead to a worship experience. In addition to this attitude, Christian education, in general, and Sunday School teaching, in particular, must be more

(1) learner-focused, addressing the real needs of learners and leading learners to critical thinking,

(2) self-evaluation,

(3) commitment to change,

(4) action plans for life-change, and

(5) willingness to be held accountable. 

Every one of the previous 5 goals must be approached not in an authoritarian environment but rather a loving display of “let’s walk this faith journey together.” Reaching out to current and future participants must transform from a “waiting mode” for guests to show up and moving into a “pursuing mode” while building relationships with existing and potential students where they are; at work, at soccer games, a basketball game, skate park, swim meet….   where ever they are….we must pursue.

We must offer multiple and a wide variety of Bible study and Christian growth activities at times and places that are open and relevant to all people, both the ones we already know and the ones we haven’t met yet.

Teacher Helping Students With SchoolworkWe must be more intentional about multiplication of our classes and new leaders (apprentices). Here are two important question to ask. What if every class was given 12-18 months to train an apprentice and multiply itself? While there might not be 100% success, there just might be more successful attempts than we ever dreamed. What if we actually set goals for our revitalization program and began to urgently and intentionally work to accomplish them?

  • What are the changes necessary for Sunday School to be effective in the twenty-first century?
  • What does the Revitalizing Sunday School need to include?
  • What goals do you need to set?
  • Where do you need to start?

Before any group of Christians set out to accomplish any level of needed transformation be sure you review the following categories of importance prior to launching this much needed effort.

  • PRAYER/VISION. Lead change out of prayer and vision. Time spent in prayer is never wasted, and leading out of a relationship with our Lord will ensure greater success. Share the big picture regularly. Call Sunday School and church leaders to join you in prayer. Don’t rush!
  • COMMUNICATION. Multiple communication is necessary. They say you have to tell most human beings things at least six times for them to hear it. This takes time. Involve leaders in the communication. Listen to them. Seek their input–this is essential for buy-in. Be willing to adjust. Remember that the “why” and “what’s in it for me” are significant pieces of the communication process.
  • RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships take time to develop. Trust is essential for leadership to be effective and change to be smoother. Trust happens over time and interactions. Spend time getting to know Sunday School leaders and key church leaders before you lead change. Then, when change is needed, you will have the “relational change tokens” needed to accomplish the change.
  • ASSESSMENT/PREPARATION. Do your homework. Research. Look at statistics. Talk with church and community leaders. Listen. Ask questions. Evaluate. Weigh options. Before heading down the road of change, be prepared for as many questions as you can anticipate.
  • MAKE IT SIMPLE. Too often change is complicated. Work to simplify the communication and process. Make it understandable. Make it able to be explained quickly and simply. Reduce unneeded steps. Seek input about how to simplify. Again, this takes time, but it is worth it!
  • BE FLEXIBLE/ADJUST. Adjustments are not unusual in the process of leading a change process. Be flexible. Keep moving forward in the change process while making any needed tweaks to the process that will enable success. Again, adjustments may add extra time to the change, but they may be the steps that make the change permanent and successful.

  Revitalized Sunday School Teacher Skills Leadership is essential in revolutionary Sunday School. Without leadership, people are not reached, assimilated, and cared for. Without leadership, lives are not changed, needs are not met, and people are not mobilized into ministry. Without leadership, mediocrity is accepted, goals are not pursued, and change is refused. Without leadership, vision and God’s will may be ignored.

Five skills of effective leaders-teachers need to practice.

SKILL OF LOOKING. Revitalizing leader-teachers make eye contact. They realize that 93% of communication is nonverbal, so they give attention to people. They watch what happens in class. They observe interactions between members and guests. They notice curiosity, questions, and emotions on attendees’ faces. When visiting in homes, they learn much about attendees from observation in the home.

listen1SKILL OF LISTENING. Revitalizing leader-teachers listen. They listen to God’s still small voice. They spend time in personal prayer and Bible study. They listen to Him for lesson leadership as well as for leadership direction for the class. Revitalizing leader-teachers also listen to attendees. They listen to more than words. They listen for meaning and emotion. They want to hear what members and guests have to say before and after class. They listen to hear needs which can be met through class ministry or through teaching from God’s Word. They listen to class leaders in order to provide support and direction. They listen to prospects during outreach and ministry contacts.

SKILL OF QUESTIONING. Revitalizing leader-teachers know how to ask good questions. When teaching, they ask questions which require more than yes/no or one word answers. They seek to lead attendees to think more deeply, to reflect on God’s Word, and to consider how the truth applies. They care about guests and members and ask questions to lead them to share their ideas, backgrounds, experiences, concerns, and needs.

SHandsKILL OF TOUCHING. Revitalizing leader-teachers touch people. They are not afraid to be close to attendees. They shake hands with members and guests. They comfort by patting. They hug appropriately. Revitalizing leader-teachers know how to give distance when an individual desires it, but they also know how to express care, concern, and attention through a touch of an arm or shoulder.

SKILL OF AFFIRMING. Revitalizing leader-teachers know the power of positive words. They praise and thank God. They know the importance of encouragement of attendees. They know how to recognize personal and class achievements. Revitalizing leader-teachers affirm participation during class. They express appreciation for contacts made, relationships developed, people invited, ministry done, and fellowships planned.

After your leadership has sincerely dealt with the above information it becomes time to identify your priorities. Beloved, verily, verily, I say unto you….consider the following questions:

Time for Change - Ornate ClockMODEL IT. How can you model the change in a way that it will be understood? How can you model it in a promotional/teaching venue as well as in action/practice? How can you model it for leaders and/or members? How can you model it so they understand how needed the change is? How can you model it so that people understand that the change is possible?  Example:  The priority you identified was the need for greeters in all adult classes. Talk about a class that is already doing this. Have the greeter share about his/her experience. (If you don’t have one already at work, enlist one early so you can use it as an example/model.) You can also gather your adult teachers and workers together and do a drama of the responsibilities of a class greeter. You share the drama in worship in order to ask the congregation to pray for those who will be enlisted as greeters. Take a leadership team to another church to see greeters in action. Put together a video presentation of a greeter doing the job well.

TEACH IT. How can you teach the change to your leaders and/or members? How can you teach them to understand the process and elements of the change? How can you teach the change in a variety of methods and venues so that it is reinforced and understood? How can you catch their attention through teaching it so that they get it? Example: With the same priority of greeters, gather your teachers and workers and talk about this important work. Share articles. Talk about it from the pulpit. Talk about it in leadership meetings. Make posters. Send out e-mail information. Write a job description. Print it in the newsletter. Set up training for the newly-enlisted greeters. Gather the greeters a while after implementation to have them share testimonies.

rewardREWARD IT. How can you affirm the early adopters? How can you reward those who implement the change? How can you reward those who have success with the change? How can you bring attention to progress in large venues? How can you reward progress privately? Example:  Again, with greeters, acknowledge classes who enlist their greeters and submit their names on time. Affirm those classes. Thank the enlisted greeters personally. Make name tags for these greeters. Plan a celebration/training time for the launch of these greeters. Catch a greeter doing a good job and thank them privately. Share testimonies of successes in leadership meetings. Share successes in worship as a thank you for the congregation’s prayer.

Model it. Teach it. Reward it. Simple and yet powerful! Identify needs. Prioritize. Make plans to model, teach, and reward the change that is needed.

Don’t go another minute with mediocre Sunday School. Once these new and improved concepts of why and how to express commitment to grow in God’s grace and the power of His Holy Spirit are firmly placed into the culture of your church…. AND YOU …. You can take these same new and improved skills and methods to quite literally all other aspects of church life. Now, get ready to grow and expand the kingdom of God. If you employ the above tools YOU WILL GROW AND YOU WILL GROW FOR THE RIGHT REASONS….and most importantly your church will be able to sustain it.


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