Over the years, I have been in many churches. They have ranged from a new start to hundreds of years of history. They have had between a handful and thousands of people. Some had lots of buildings, some meet in homes, and some meet in rented space. Churches have had between zero and hundreds of Sunday School classes/small groups. In fact, I have helped some churches without Sunday School to successfully launch such a ministry.
As I have encountered and observed the Sunday School ministry in these churches (primarily in Kentucky), I have noticed major differences. At the beginning of sharing my observations, I should note that the vast majority of the Sunday Schools I have visited have been due to the invitation of a pastor, minister of education, or Sunday School director. That I was invited, by itself, is a positive and hopeful reflection on the Sunday School and church.
Nevertheless, the state of Sunday School ranges from abysmal to awesome. Some Sunday Schools have been on a perpetual “en-small-ment” campaign for several decades. Some buildings, ministries, and the people involved have been neglected for years. On the other hand, there are Sunday Schools that care about members and prospects and are growing deeper and wider in their care. They have been in intentional “enlargement” efforts for years. Many have moved to multiple Sunday School and built additional space in order to accommodate more people.
What is the difference? What is the difference between Sunday Schools in the two extremes? Allow me to share three imperfect, but descriptive snapshots which may help you to determine where your Sunday School falls allowing you to take further steps. Consider these snapshots:
- MAINTENANCE SUNDAY SCHOOL. In these Sunday Schools, there is no leadership of the total Sunday School and very little leadership in the classroom. Frequently the pastor is busy with other duties and priorities and often has no training about organizing and leading the Sunday School. The Sunday School director (if there is one) delivers curriculum and not much more. The tendency is simply to maintain the status quo. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t do anything new. Do only what is absolutely necessary. Order only the absolute minimum of supplies and curriculum. Budget as little money as possible. Do no planning, goal-setting, training, or calendaring. Prayer is primarily for those who are ill or grieving. Expectations are usually very low or nonexistent. Teachers and workers are hard to find resulting in cases of “warm-body” enlistment. No one notices when people drop out. No one notices when attendance declines and classes end or are combined.
- MANAGEMENT SUNDAY SCHOOL. This is often Sunday School which is interested in doing things well. The pastor and/or director care about the numbers and quality of what is done. They are glad when numbers go up and upset when they go down. Affirmation of successes takes place–but it is more out of surprise than intention. Planning and training takes place so that people can be cared for and ministry done well. Facilities are often kept in good shape. Prayer focuses on spiritual needs and growth of people in the classes. Curriculum and budget are in greater supply but regularly adjusted to make sure there is as little waste as possible. But seldom are new classes started. Expectations are higher but tend to be inwardly focused. Teachers and workers are a bit more plentiful but often only enlisted when there is a vacancy in a current position. Absentees receive follow up, but seldom do efforts to follow up guests extend beyond a few days.
- REVOLUTIONARY SUNDAY SCHOOL. One big difference here is leadership. It is more than maintenance or management. It is expecting growth to happen and lea ding the organization to take s teps to bring it about. Goals are set and plans made, and leaders regularly check on progress and hold teachers and workers accountable to reach their goals and accomplish plans. The vision and potential for Sunday School is clearly painted as a reality. Prayer for God to work and use the Sunday School is common. Expectations are high and motivating. The unchurched are cared about, prayed for, and pursued. New classes are started regularly. Plans for more space have to be adjusted often. Teachers and workers are regularly training apprentices and releasing them to start new classes. Even though workers are busy, they eagerly anticipate training because of how it motivates and helps them do their jobs. Dropouts, guests, and prospects are prayed for, cared for, and pursued as long as it takes. Members are expected to serve. Lives are being changed. Leaders are stepping forward. Sometimes facilities are used so much that they aren’t maintained excellently. Because of growth, sometimes needs surpass financial resources. But hope and expectancy of God’s blessing prevents discouragement. Flexibility is the order of the day.
What descriptive elements would you add to each of these snapshots? Where is your Sunday School? Do you have some of the elements of one snapshot and some of another? Which of these elements are preventing your Sunday School from growing toward being revolutionary? What can you do to help your Sunday School take steps this month in that direction? Begin praying now. Pray for boldness. Be a leader. Be revolutionary!