There are some unique opportunities provided by Sunday School. These include opportunities such as meeting connected to Worship, not requiring people to clean or open their homes, childcare/teaching is already provide, etc. In a similar way, there are some unique opportunities provided by small groups. These include opportunities such as not having to provide space or utilities for groups to meet, flexible meeting dates/times, flexible meeting length, etc.
Sunday School and small groups done well can be effective ways of carrying out the work of the church. They can help the church to do discipleship, fellowship, evangelism, and ministry. They can multiply leaders and groups. They can provide encouragement, support, mentoring, and accountability. Both classes and groups function best in an environment of high expectations, goals, training, and coaching.
In order to transition from Sunday School ONLY to Sunday School WITH small groups, it is important to understand why you are adding small groups. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to reach some of the 40% who cannot attend on Sunday morning? Are you attempting to reach those who are more comfortable meeting in homes than at the church? Are you praying for and pursuing some of the 95% of apartment-dwellers who are unchurched? Are you out of educational space and desiring to reach more people? Are you planning to develop a multiplying culture among the groups? These are but a few of the reasons for adding small groups.
Before you do so, I would encourage you to read a Street to the Seat blog entry by Kerry Mackey (pictured above). It is entitled Sunday School vs. Small Groups: Can they co-exist? Mackey has been there, done that. The blog entry speaks from his experience. Today in Part 1, I will share the first three (of seven) areas of preparation for and transition to Sunday School WITH small groups. Mackey’s suggestions are in all capitals followed by my commentary:
SENIOR PASTOR MUST LEAD THE WAY. The pastor’s leadership is vital. He must believe in the transition. He must want it. His influence is important. He must talk about it with significant groups and individuals. He must talk about it in his sermon. But not only are his words important, his example speaks volumes! The pastor’s involvement in a small group will communicate more than his words. I agree with Mackey when he says the pastor “doesn’t have to lead the group but must be in one.” The pastor’s involvement and verbal leadership will convince others to become involved.
STAFF MUST BE ON BOARD. Not only must the pastor lead the way, the staff and key leadership must also buy in. Like the pastor, they need to be involved in a group. If they don’t follow the pastor’s leadership here, some will question whether they should do so. And besides that, the stories they will be able to tell from experience will become natural invitations. I like what Mackey said here that staff “need biblical community and a healthy small group just as much as anyone.” I might say that staff and key leaders probably need biblical community and a healthy smalll group even more than everyone else!
BALANCE & HEALTH IS OUR FOCUS. This transition can be a great time to focus attention on the importance of every person in the church becoming involved in Sunday School or small groups. It can be a great opportunity to focus on raising the level of expectations, training, accountability, and coaching for your current classes and teachers. Have common meetings together (Sunday School and small group leaders) as you launch the small groups. Avoid the “them v ersus us” syndrome. Paint the picture of the kind of person you want to disciple. Paint the picture of the kind of group you want the class/group to be. Help them both to understand the importance of their contribution to carrying out the work of the church.
Next time in Part 2, we will look at Mackey’s second four (of seven) areas of preparation for and transition to Sunday School WITH small groups: leadership structure needs to be consistent, curriculum, childcare, and control. Should your church transition to Sunday School WITH small groups? I cannot answer that question for you, but I can challenge you to pray about God’s leadership. Invite others to join you in praying. Wherever He leads, go! Be revolutionary!