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March 25, 2006

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Basics of Sunday School Work

This page is intended to summarize some of the basic concepts of Sunday School work. If you are new to this area, hopefully you will find some ideas here to help out. See also the Resources section for some books and other sources that have been helpful to me.

bulletPhilosophy of Sunday School work
bulletObjectives of Sunday School work
bulletTasks of the Sunday School program
bulletOrganizing for Sunday School work
bulletResources for Sunday School

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Philosophy

The basic concept of the Sunday School is to provide an organization to carry out some fundamental ministry tasks on behalf of the church. These include Bible study, ministry, outreach, and fellowship, all of which can be accomplished more effectively and more personally in a small-group setting, rather than in the larger congregation. Our Sunday School is organized to meet life needs of all age groups, babies through senior adults, in settings and using learning methods appropriate for each developmental level.

My personal philosophical and theological background is evangelical Christianity (with strong leanings toward Calvinism). My church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the only major denomination which has consistently increased in Sunday School enrollment over the past several decades. However, I am convinced that these basic organizational and relational principles, firmly founded on Biblical guidelines and on current knowledge about such areas as group dynamics and educational psychology, will work in any denominational setting.

Bible Study

The most obvious point is that Bible study is central to the growth of an individual Christian. We take the Biblical revelation as inspired and normative, so that our approach is not to argue over relevancy or implications--we assume the truth of the Bible and head for the application to current living.

While personal, private Bible study is invaluable for Christian growth, participation in a group which studies the Scriptures in a systematic way, with learning guided by trained teachers, in a small group setting which can serve as a support and accountability group is what Sunday School is all about.

Sunday School is a lay movement, with volunteer workers serving in every area of the organization. Funding comes from the unified church budget, subscribed by tithes and offerings of the church members. The church is responsible for enlisting, training, and encouraging the faculty, and for providing the curriculum materials, supplies, and adequate space and learning environment for each class.

Ministry

If I were to describe the mission of the Sunday School in one word, that word would be ministry. People have all kinds of needs; the Sunday School, with its small group orientation and its foundation on sound Biblical teaching, is structured to deal effectively with emotional needs (such as self-esteem, search for meaning), social needs (such as loneliness, rewarding service opportunities), and physical and financial needs (as the church uses the Sunday School as a channel for benevolence ministry). Most importantly, however, the Sunday School is an effective arm of the church to meet spiritual needs, which the church is uniquely qualified to deal with.

The organizational structure of the Sunday School can readily provide an effective and efficient system of communication, accountability, and distribution to provide effective ministry in all of these areas. An organization which has a place for everyone and assigned responsibility for each person is ideally situated to identify and meet people's needs.

Outreach

The organization of the Sunday School provides an assigned class for every individual. This same organization provides an ideal foundation for reaching prospective members for the Sunday School and for the church. A class provided with a list of prospects can put its Christian teaching into practical application as they pray for, contact, minister to, and visit the prospects with a view toward enlisting their participation in and eventually becoming a part of the class.

Evangelism

Where the word of God is taught, lives are challenged and decisions are made. The Bible confronts individuals and calls for a response. The diligent teaching of the Bible calls people to saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The environment found in a small group of caring individuals who meet regularly to encourage and exhort one another, centered on the Bible, provides the best possible setting for the work of the Holy Spirit in conviction and regeneration.

Assimilation

One of the most difficult problems in today's churches is to assimilate new members into the congregation, providing the kind of bonding with other members which will support and nurture Christian growth. Studies show that a new member who has not formed at least some close relationships within the first four weeks in a new organization is essentially lost to the organization. Assigning new members to a functioning Sunday School class in which new friendships can be formed easily and mentoring occurs naturally is an ideal structure for encouraging bonding. Making this work takes some training and dedication on the part of class members and leaders to actively seek to bring new people into the fellowship of the class.

Objectives

The objectives of the Sunday School must be derived from the objectives of the church. In my view, these are clearly defined by the Great Commission: "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20). This passage is summarizes the New Testament teachings of the purpose of the church.

The Sunday School is the entire body of the church, including members, non-members, children, and adults, administratively organized with definite responsibilities for teaching, outreach, ministry, and fellowship. Thus the Sunday School is simply the church organized to carry out the Great Commission.

As such, the Sunday School is directly responsible to the church (by whatever polity the church operates) to accomplish these goals. At the highest level, the objectives are:

"teach all nations" outreach and education
"baptizing them" outreach and evangelism
"teach them to observe" education and application

From another perspective, the objectives of the Sunday School are to provide a comprehensive organization with assigned responsibility to reach all prospects for the church; engage members in regular, meaningful, relevant Bible study; equip the organization with resources and leadership for effective ministry, and lead members to salvation and development in their Christian life.

Tasks of the Bible Teaching Program

The basic tasks of the Bible Teaching Program (of which the Sunday School is the ongoing permanent organization) are:

Reach People for Bible Study

This is the basic task of the Sunday School. You simply cannot teach people unless you first reach them. The Sunday School is the most likely arm of the church for outreach because of

bulletIts organization, which provides specific responsibility for reaching each prospects in a grouping consistent with their developmental and social needs;
bulletIts meeting time; Sunday morning remains the best time to reach the majority of people (although provision of alternative times is important as well)
bulletIts content; the Bible is the basic curriculum of the Sunday School, and provides an anointed vehicle for meeting people's spiritual needs.
bulletIts focus on fellowship and ministry, which are basic to meeting the felt needs of individuals

Teach People the Bible

This is the task which most associate with the Sunday School. The Bible is God's revealed truth, and must form the basic content of the Sunday School curriculum. God has promised to bless His word as we teach it; He has not promised to bless our opinions or arguments. The Bible, taught with due emphasis on application, allows pupils to achieve an encounter with the Living God which will make all the difference in attaining the abundant life which Jesus promised..

Lead People to a Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ

Evangelism is the natural consequence of faithful attention to the first two tasks. It is really the priority task in fulfilling the Great Commission, but quite often the first two tasks can be more urgent as we reach out to an individual and involve him or her in regular study of God's word.. The close fellowship of a Sunday School class is a perfect environment to support the Holy Spirit's work in conviction.

Minister to Members and Non-Members

Ministry simply means to meet people's needs. The Sunday School class can become a cohesive unit in which individual needs of all kinds are recognized and dealt with in a context of rich relationship. Benevolence, social, physical, intellectual, and emotional needs, as well as spiritual needs, can often be met most effectively through the Sunday School class. Of course, there are times when referral to other church agencies are required as well.

Lead People to Worship

One of the natural outcomes of weekly study of the Bible is dynamic encounter with God. Of course, the Sunday School supports and encourages participation in the worship service. The class is also in the best position to encourage and support personal and family devotions as well. Excellent support publications are available to help people in these areas, which can be provided through the Sunday School class.

Fellowship with People

The open sharing of personal issues and honest discussion of life questions is a great foundation for developing strong bonds and relationships which can be tremendously enriching. Such relationships form the basis for an extremely positive learning environment as the Bible is opened each week in search of guidance and direction. On the other hand, the fellowship of a class must never be allowed to grow too inward to the point where new members cannot readily establish new relationships and become a vital part of the class. Fellowship must be in balance with outreach.

Organization

The purpose of the organization of the Sunday School is to provide an appropriate place for each individual, of every age, sex, and marital status, in which that individual can be taught with developmentally appropriate learning materials and methods, in an environment of support, encouragement, and exhortation. This organization must be comprehensive (in that it must provide a place for anyone), balanced, and manageable. The driving principle behind implementing a particular Sunday School organization is to organize to best meet people's needs.

The only viable approach to Sunday School organization that I have seen succeed is to grade by age or school grade. Further groups may be provided as numbers increase to meet groups within your congregation with common life needs. However, the basic grouping and grading by age comes the closest to providing homogenous small groups which can form a common bond supporting outreach, teaching, ministry, and fellowship.

Four major age divisions are generally recognized as the initial layer of organization: Preschool , Children (grades 1-6), Youth (school grades 7-12), and Adults. These major divisions provide the highest level of developmental distinction.

My own church, Jersey Baptist Church of Pataskala, Ohio, has an enrollment of 1800 and an average attendance of 600. We support two main hours of Sunday School organization, at 9:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings. Each hour provides equivalent classes for adults, children, and preschool, with all the youth meeting at the 11:00 hour. Most of our adult classes are co-educational, with the exception of one men's class and one ladies' class provided for those who prefer a single-sex learning environment. We offer a number of coeducational classes for single adults, again only at the 11:00 hour. A typical adult class will be listed as "Coed Adults, birth 1940 through 1946"; we encourage people to attend the appropriate class as much as possible, but obviously permit deviations to occur.

For more information on Sunday School Organization, see that page..

See Also Resources Page

See also Sunday School Bookstore

 

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Thomas J. Cook, Webmaster
Updated: Saturday, March 25, 2006
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