Sunday School is an important component of your church’s ministry, and it should be.
- Sunday School is the largest ministry organization in your church.
- Sunday School is the only ministry that affects every single person in your church.
- Sunday School is usually done during one of the most prime hours of ministry in your church.
- Sunday School is still the most effective way to provide care for people, pray for specific needs, mobilize them for ministry, and help them form quality relationships.
Sunday School fills numerous other needs in your church as well. It only makes sense that we should want to develop an intentional strategy for how to use this incredible tool. While most agree that Sunday School provides an effective vehicle for carrying out God’s purposes for His church, studies reveal that many churches do not have an intentional strategy for doing so. A study conducted by LifeWay Research in March 2008 revealed that only 29 percent of smaller church pastors strongly agreed that they had a clear plan to accomplish what God had called them to do.
Source: “LifeWay Research Finds Poor Planning Hinders Small Church Progress” by Mark Kelly on Lifway.com
This is tragic! It is worth taking the time and making the effort to put together an intentional strategy for your Sunday School. This article is about Six Steps that every intentional Sunday School strategy should contain.
What I cannot do is tell you what the strategy should be for your church. I cannot know that because every church is different. Your churches are from different communities, with different leadership structures, different past experiences, different ministry strengths and weaknesses, all of which will contribute greatly to the specifics of the strategy that will succeed in your church.
What I can do is give you some steps and questions that will be necessary no matter what your situation. I can point out a process that will result in your being able to identify the specific strategy that anyone can use. If you follow these steps and commit yourself for the long term you will end up with a great strategy:
- Your strategy will be fully customizable . . . it will be made to fit your church.
- Your strategy will be comfortable . . . it will fit in to your personal ministry philosophy and goals.
- Your strategy will be easy to communicate . . . you will have come up with the ideas and terms.
If you have wondered where to start on how to get your Sunday School moving, these steps will give you a good place to start.
Let’s start at the bottom of our staircase and work through the steps together.
Step 1: Expectation
Key Question: What are you depending on only your Sunday School to do in the ministry of your church?
You need to ask this question for several important reasons:
First, it will give you Direction. When I meet with pastors, ministers of education, or other staff people, they will have some kind of other question that they want to jump to without answering the expectation question. For example, one Sunday School leader wanted to know what kind of curriculum I would recommend for their Sunday School. If you know what the expectation for your SS is, it will help answer that question. If you depend on your SS alone for strong, systematic Bible teaching, you will want a curriculum that is designed in that way. If you depend on your SS alone for building community, you will want a curriculum that encourages a great deal of learner participation.
Second, it will give Focus. This is a parallel benefit in that once you have identified some key expectations, you will be free to focus on them and let go of some other things. You may discover that there are lots of resources being committed to a part of your Sunday School that you really don’t see as being a vital part of that ministry, or is being duplicated somewhere else.
Third, it will give you Unity. Defining expectations will help the entire church and staff be “on the same page” when it comes to what is supposed to take place during the Sunday School hour. Let’s look at an example of this:
LifeWay Research did a survey among adult ministry leaders to ask them what they considered to be their top objectives for their Sunday Schools. Here are their results:
- Bible study (64%)
- Intentional Disciple Making (13%)
- Relationships/Community/Fellowships (10%)
- Worship (9%)
- Outreach/Evangelism (5%)
- Ministry Service (2%)
Now here is the potential for a disconnect between pastors and lay people. The great majority of SS leaders (over 75%) said that the main purpose for Sunday School is Bible teaching and Disciple Making. They put Outreach/Evangelism and Ministry Service at the bottom of the list . . . even below worship.
Pastors on the other hand do not likely see Sunday School in that way. Pastors are more likely to view Sunday School as a prime opportunity for evangelism, as a main vehicle for outreach, and as the only organization of the church capable of providing a place for community, relationships, and fellowships. They will view their preaching as the prime source for Bible teaching.
Can you see the disconnect? If Sunday School is going to be as effective as it could be, everyone involved needs to have unity concerning what must be accomplished through its ministry.
For most churches, it has been a long time since anyone considered why Sunday School exists in the first place. This important question reveals the core shared expectations of this ministry in your church. What part of the outreach and maturity process are you depending on your Sunday School to accomplish? What will be done through Sunday School that cannot be duplicated at another time?
What part of your church’s mission will be deficient if not fulfilled through the Sunday School?
Discovering the answers to questions like these is the starting point for the intentional Sunday School strategy you will implement.
· Spend some time examining all facets of ministry at your church to determine what you are depending on Sunday School alone to accomplish.
· Put together 2 or 3 primary purposes, in priority order, for your Sunday School. The highest priority item should be something that is not being duplicated in other ministries of your church.
· Involve key leaders from your church in this process. It is wise to meet with people who you know will ask hard questions. You will want to include people who you know may see things differently than you do, as long as they do so with a spirit of cooperation, have a growth mindset for Sunday School, and a vibrant personal walk with Christ.
· Consider using someone from outside your church to facilitate the discussion. This could inclue your Associational Missionary, an ABSC staff person, or another SS resource person.
· Take plenty of time to formulate your set of goals and expectations for your Sunday School, as this is the foundation for everything you will do throughout the next stages of the process.
· Cover the process in prayer. Enlist your prayer team to pray and make sure that in your own meetings that much time is given to seeking God’s heart and direction.
Step 2: Explanation
When consensus about the purpose of Sunday School has been reached, you will want to share these ideas throughout the church. The church family should understand the unique role that Sunday School has in the church’s mission. Sunday School will be a sensitive area, and some may perceive any proposed changes as criticisms against their personal ministry. Take time to highlight areas that are thriving as well as aspects that need attention. If changes are forthcoming, it is crucial that people understand why they are necessary and how they relate to the mission of the church.
Here are some tips for the explanation process:
· Keep it simple
You will not need a list of 8-10 purposes to communicate to the church; narrow it down to 2-3 as it will be difficult for you to excel at any more than that. Use simple language so that the people can remember and restate them.
· Use plenty of information
Share with them how you and others arrived at the purposes. Provide them with community demographic data, church ACP data, noted Sunday School research, and other information that will be useful in the explanation process.
· Use a “smaller to larger” approach
Meet with smaller groups first before going before the entire church. One approach might look like this:
- Staff members
- Sunday School leaders
- Ministry Groups (Parents of Children/Students, Adults)
- Segments of Church Family (holding different listening sessions)
- Entire Church
· Seek official church approval
In some way, get the church to formally approve the commitment to Sunday School. You may want to have a formal vote in a business meeting. Or you may just want to have a voice or standing affirmation. However is best in your church, it needs to be adopted as the direction of the body.
· Involve other people in the presentation
Don’t be the only person to explain and defend the direction of the Sunday School. When the church hears from other leaders who have served for years in Sunday School, it will give great credibility to the direction you are proposing as well as create new momentum. This strategy will also alleviate any kind of an “us vs. them” situation between pastor and church.
· Give time for open question and answers
Since this is part of the discovery process, it is wise to have opportunities for people to ask questions and receive answers. Consider putting a description of the key points and information in print to distribute a week or two prior to the discussion time. People will want to feel that they fully understand and have participated in the process, especially if some of the changes are major ones.
· Strengthen the Process with the Word
Consider a sermon series, Bible study, or other seminar that will undergird the church’s new commitment to your principles and purposes for Sunday School.
Step 3: Execution
The execution phase does not mean that you will eliminate those who are not as thrilled with the new vision for Sunday School as you are! Rather, the execution phase is where details emerge concerning how the expectations will be pursued. Time after time, a football coach who has just lost a game has been approached by the sideline reporter and asked about what happened on the field. The coach will often shake his head and say, “We had a good game plan . . . but, we just didn’t execute”.
Your expectations will determine what you are trying to execute. For example, if you expect Sunday School to be the means for contacting prospects and guests to your church, there must be a specific plan with the details for the time, place, and method for doing so. If you expect Sunday School to be the primary time for people to learn and apply God’s Word, this should be reflected in your plan for curriculum and teacher training. If your church expects Sunday School to be primarily evangelistic, there should be a detailed intentional strategy for inviting lost people, using salvation testimonies, and sharing the gospel in each class session.
Regardless of what your strategies reveal, there are some essential details that must be completely thought through in order for your Sunday School to thrive.
· Who is responsible for overseeing each component of the Sunday School ministry? There may be different levels of responsibility given to a Minister of Education, Sunday School Director, Department directors, Teachers, Outreach Leaders, etc. The main thing is to have names to go with the responsibilities.
· What specifically are you asking each person to be responsible for doing?
· The question the disciples asked of Jesus . . “When will these things take place and what will be the sign of their coming?” . . . it will need to be incorporated into the church calendar/schedule and given good, solid time.
· What changes will be necessary in the current schedule/calendar, etc?
· Will there need to be changes in the curriculum? New classes? New locations?
It is also important to remember that detailed does not mean complicated. Your strategy must remain in a format that can be easily communicated, understood, and retained.
Step 4: Equipping
Sunday School is dependent on volunteers, many of whom have little experience. Even the most faithful leaders need to be refreshed and resourced for the next season of ministry. An intentional equipping strategy will include opportunities to train leaders in the specific ways that the stated expectations will be accomplished. This may happen at a regular leaders’ meeting. You may provide resources through e- mail, your church website, or another internet based location. Arrange for your leaders to attend a training conference or work with your association to host an event at your church. Consistently pass along a recent article, helpful website, or book excerpt. While busy schedules are always a challenge, consistent equipping is your best ally for recruiting and retaining new leaders, curbing fears of inadequacy, building a cohesive Sunday School team, and helping each class stay on mission.
Step 5: Evaluation
Good leaders constantly evaluate what is happening. For an evaluation to be consistent with your intentional strategy, it must link what defines the success of your Sunday School with the expectations that have been set. Are unchurched people being actively identified, invited, and included? Are leaders participating in equipping opportunities? Is there a more noticeable evangelistic effort being made in classes? Though perhaps not initially, a part of your evaluation will ultimately be how many people are attending, participating, serving, and responding to Christ through the Sunday School. Including the perspective of leaders, class members, and other church staff will also prove valuable in the evaluation process.
Step 6: Evolution
No strategy can remain exactly the same forever. Along the way, you will find it necessary to make adjustments, particularly in the early months of the process. There will be some incidents that you had not envisioned and weaknesses that you had not anticipated. There may also be parts of the strategy that grow at a faster rate and require additional support. If significant changes to the large structure have been implemented, be sure to allow plenty of time for them to settle into place before making impulsive judgments on their effect. During this time, it will be especially important to stay in close contact with leaders and to keep the expectations affirmed by the church for Sunday School in front of the people. From year to year, the entire process will be revisited as the Sunday School grows and reveals new needs and expectations that require attention.
Six Steps to An Intentional SS Strategy for Your Church
Expectation – What are you depending on your Sunday School to do that is not being duplicated in any other part of your ministry?
Explanation – How are you communicating the purpose for and importance of Sunday School in your church?
Execution – What are the detailed plans and strategies for how you will meet your expectations? Who will be responsible for doing what? When and how will this happen?
Equipping – What training and resources will be provided for those who will lead? How will you deliver the training and resources to them?
Evaluation – How will you know if your expectations have been met? What will be the measure? Evolution – As you see what worked and what didn’t, what adjustments will be made? What was unnecessary or contributed little? What was a weakness or gap that needs to be addressed? How might the expectations be adjusted for the next period of time?
For more information, contact David Bond on the Evangelism and Church Health Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention
(800) 838-2272 firstname.lastname@example.org