There are advantages that Sunday School classes have to offer that small groups don’t. On the other hand, there are advantages that small groups have to offer that Sunday School classes don’t. But many of the best attributes of one should be present in some form in the other.
For instance, many leaders emphasize the value and work of relationships in small groups. But I will be quick to point out that Sunday School classes will invite, learn, and connect more when relationships are strong. Some will focus on teaching as a high priority for Sunday School, and I will be quick to point out that an encounter with God in Bible study is essential for life-change and connections in small groups.
So what can we do to bring some of the best ideas, perspectives, and practices of small groups into our Sunday School classes? I read a great article by Alan Stoddard entitled How to Turn Your Sunday School Class into a Small Group. In the article, Stoddard shares ten ways you can make your classes feel more like small groups “when you can’t make a shift to small groups.” In Part 1, I will share the first five of his ten ways in all capitals followed by my commentary:
- CREATE A CULTURE IN YOUR CLASS THAT MAKES IT HAVE A CONTEXT THAT FEELS LIKE A SMALL GROUP.Lift up the values of smallness and small groups (without being negative about Sunday School). Focus on connections, relationships, and doing life together. Focus on life-change, obedience, abiding in Christ, and accountability. Focus on service and touching the lives of unchurched people all around them. Talk about commitments and covenants to each other.
- USE ACTS 2:42 TO CREATED A TEACHING OUTLINE ON THE BASICS THAT LEAD TO MINISTRY AND MISSIONS.Stoddard includes a great list of basics for teaching the class to think “smaller” which flow out of that verse: apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. He mentioned the four C’s of small groups: confidentiality, community, commitment, and consistency. Develop a biblical basis for your group focusing on a smaller feel. Use this passage or others.
- USE A MASS E-MAIL TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CLASS TWICE A WEEK. Stay in touch. Use every means available. E-mail is a great way of connecting for announcements, prayer requests, reminders, and more. Class blogs can be great central locations for communicating content on an ongoing basis, even summaries of lessons for those who were absent. There are so many tools available today that were not available ten years ago: blogs, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so many more. My class gets an e-mail every Monday listing class guests, prayer requests, upcoming fellowship plans, and more. We get additional e-mails when additional prayer requests occur between Sundays and when we need reminders about a fellowship or to bring something on Sunday. Stoddard included the suggestion of e-mailing the group on Saturday to reinforce being in class on Sunday.
- ONCE YOU HIT 24-30 PEOPLE IN CLASS, PILOT A SMALL GROUP OUT OF YOUR CLASS. A group is no longer small when it gets to 15-20. From the beginning of a class, begin preparing an apprentice teacher. When your class reaches 15, begin leading them to pray and prepare for launching a small group out of your class; introduce the leader for the new group; and the apprentice should begin enlisting the seed group of 1-5 others who will go to help start the new group. When the class reaches 20, announce the date and place the new small group will start. Launch the new class with a time of prayer and fellowship.
- PRAY FOR AN APPRENTICE AND TRAIN THAT PERSON.This process begins with prayer for Go d to show you His choice rather than yours. Observe. Give assignments and watch how they respond. Ask for him/her to help you with teacher reaching, teaching, and caring. Is he/she dependable? How do people respond to the person and his/her leadership? I have written about his process before. Prepare to release him/her. Coach him/her as the new class begins. Check out Secret of Sunday School Growth: Multiply Units; A Simple Two-Part System for Getting Sunday School Class Ministry Done, Part 4; Coaching a Successful Sunday School Teacher Apprentice; Your Sunday School Class Can Reach Hundreds in Ten Years; and How You Can Train (Apprentice) Potential Sunday School Leaders. I like Stoddard’s suggestion: “Your apprentice will keep the class while you take 2-3 people with you to start a new class.” Training an apprentice makes the class feel smaller because more leaders are caring for the people.
In Part 2, I will share the final five ways Stoddard shares for helping your Sunday School classes to feel (and act) more like small groups. Look back over the list above. Which one(s) could you lead your class to begin implementing this month? Grow your class by making it feel and act smaller. Launch new small groups. Be revolutionary!