Shifting sands: Making Sunday School viable
I was reading the most recent Willow Creek magazine that was all about “ministry shifts” and I discovered Missouri deep in its pages. No one can deny that the pace of life is moving at “warp speed!” I haven’t discovered the pastor or leader in a local church that has indicated that they wish there was more to do each day. We are so busy “doing church” that we are failing to recognize what is happening in our own back yard. There are “shifting sands” that need to be dealt with in a constructive manner. To ignore them will bring slow and sure ruin through ineffective ministry to the local communities our churches serve.
Timm Boyle wrote an article entitled “The Shifting Small Groups Landscape” and he identified seven shifts that small groups are experiencing today. I looked at the list and I found our Missouri Baptist churches in the midst of the shifting sand. I will share the first four now and the remaining three in my next article. The first shift is “From a Program to an Environment.” Sunday School is not designed to be a program. Sunday School is an ongoing ministry in the local church where the five functions (evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, ministry and worship) should occur. Sunday School is designed to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). Programs are designed to maintain; environments are dynamic in nature and provide the planting bed of a healthy approach to the ministry. Our Sunday Schools need to discard the “country club” mentality and they need to be about the business of fulfilling the Great Commission. A positive and nurturing environment allows the five functions to flourish.
The second shift is “From Having Meetings to Building Community.” Many of our Sunday School classes are “going through the motions,” meeting because that is the thing to do. Sunday School is the connecting point in the life of the church. This is where the opportunities to build relationships exist. You can’t build relationships in the worship service. You build relationships and create community in the small group ministries of the church and Sunday School is the small group ministry that touches every member and prospect of the church. Every Sunday School class should have a fellowship get-together once a month. Every class member that attends, that is on the roll but does not attend, every prospect, and every “member in service” (those serving elsewhere in the church on Sunday morning) should be invited. This is where you build a foundation of trust and relationships flourish.
The third shift is ”From Small Groups as a Church System That Delivers Church Programs to Groups Practicing a Lifestyle.” The “shift” here is more subtle and yet it is just as important to understand as the other “shifts.” Our Sunday Schools do provide a platform for evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, ministry and worship but these functions happen because there is a lifestyle in the Sunday School that encourages those ministries. Let’s just say that Sunday School classes should be living out the biblical principles they discover every Sunday in Bible study in the community they call their church field.
The fourth shift is “From Content to Process.” This shift reinforces the third shift. The author states, “This is a move from Bible study for the sake of study to practicing the truth.” Yes, Sunday School needs to be studying the Bible, but of equal importance is the fact that we must be putting into practice what we learn. Jesus tells us at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that when we hear His words but do not act on them, we are like foolish men. I know that is not the desired outcome of Sunday School class members.
If you look carefully, these first four “shifts” point to the need for Sunday School ministries across our state to get back to the basics of effective Sunday School ministry. In summary, we need to move away from the “program mentality” and move towards a ministry mindset. We need to make the Sunday School the “connecting point” in the life of our church, a place where guests can begin the process of developing relationships. We need to practice what we learn. We need to get into our communities and make a difference. If you want to discuss this article or the principles presented in it, contact me at 1-800-736-6227 Ext. 410 or firstname.lastname@example.org. (Bruce Morrison is the MBC’s director of Sunday School / discipleship ministry.)