I read a recent article entitled How to Increase the Health of Your Sunday School by Steve Gladen who is the Pastor of Small Group Community at Saddleback Church. While Saddleback has small groups rather than Sunday School, Gladen wants both to be healthy. In the article, Gladen shares ten practical steps for maximizing the health of your Sunday School class.
In Part 1 of this two-part series, I will share the first five of Gladen’s ten steps in all capitals followed by my commentary. Consider these suggestions:
- STRATEGICALLY SET UP YOUR ROOM. Gladen encourages sitting at tables or in circles or horseshoes. While rows can seat more people in a space, circles and horseshoes encourage relationships, discussion, and communication. Since 93% of communication is nonverbal, rows cause many to miss much communication that is facial expression and gestures. While Gladen is thinking more of large churches with large Sunday School classes, this also works in smaller churches and classes. In most cases, I would discourage use of table due to the amount of space they take.
- UNDERSTAND RATIOS. Gladen focuses on enlisting class leaders to help attenders “take their spiritual next step.” He suggests enlisting table leaders. I have encouraged enlisting care group leaders (which could serve as table or circle leaders). Divide the class session for at least part of the time and give caring and teaching assignments to the table or care group leaders. This develops relationships, makes learning more personal, and gets more people involved. It also develops leaders and increases care. Along the way, you will see spiritual progress.
- BUILD CONSISTENCY AT THE TABLE. He encourages table or circle groups to stay together. I have suggested assigning care group leaders and having the groups sit together. This helps with relationships, prayer, accountability, and trust. He suggests starting a new table or circle when new people come. This is true because when guests join existing groups, their addition will likely cause conversation to stay “surface level” for a while until everyone gets to know and trust one another. But many people come to our Sunday School classes because we have invited them, so guests would likely prefer to join the group with their friends. It might be that the presence of guests may mean that it is time to start another group with the guests, their friends, and another couple.
- SET THE TABLE FOR EVANGELISM AND IT WILL BUILD ATTENDANCE ACCOUNTABILITY. I like Gladen’s suggestion here. Don’t let the table or circle groups get full. If the table or circle seats eight, leave two or three seats open “and ask class members who they could invite to fill the table.” This encourages conversation, noticing when people are missing, and inviting people to fill the open chairs. When a group fills, it is time to start another table or circle with four people.
- KNOW YOUR SHEEP; HELP YOUR SHEEP KNOW THEMSELVES. Teachers and table/circle leaders benefit from getting to know their group. Help them assess personal spiritual progress. Gladen encourages taking Saddleback’s Spiritual Health Assessment to “see which biblical purpose (Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, Evangelism and Worship) is their strength and which area they need to grow in.” The table groups can then encourage each other to grow. Make lesson assignments. Encourage application of each lesson. Check on progress each week at carrying out commitments made. Encourage spiritual disciplines.
Which of these five suggestions could help your class take steps toward greater class health? How could you get it started? When could you begin? If you have had success or struggles in making any of these transitions in your class, press Comments below and share your story. Help someone, or get help from the Revolutionary community.
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