Sunday School That Really Works

Thoughts on how to make this long-standing church institution effective
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"It doesn't work!" I have heard this statement often in my ministry. A leader is doing all he or she knows how to do, and yet the Sunday school is struggling. A Sunday school teacher works hard at preparing and delivering a lesson and wants the class to grow; however, no guests are present. At the same time, hundreds of churches have growing Sunday school ministries.

Dakota tribal wisdom says when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, churches often find themselves trying other strategies. Consider the following 10 ways that churches and organizations deal with the problem of riding dead horses:

10. Provide additional funding to increase the dead horse's performance.

9. Provide training to teach people how to ride dead horses.

8. Appoint a committee to revive the dead horse.

7. Change the person riding the dead horse.

6. Say things like: "This is the way we always have ridden this horse."

5. Appoint a committee to study the dead horse.

4. Harness several dead horses together for increased speed.

3. Pass a resolution declaring: "The horse is not dead."

2. Arrange to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.

1. Buy a stronger whip.

What is a Sunday school that works?

An effective Sunday school strategy can have a dramatic effect on the evangelistic results of the church, and effective evangelism has the potential to impact the Sunday school in a positive way. It is not hard to figure out that as more people are trained and challenged to share their faith, more people trust Christ as their Savior. As more people trust Christ, more people become involved in the Sunday school or the small groups of the church.

Further research has revealed that participation in Sunday school makes a dramatic difference in the assimilation of a new believer. The survey questioned people who had received Christ as Savior five years earlier. Of those who immediately became active in Sunday school, 83 percent were still active five years later. By contrast, only 16 percent were still active if they did not become active in Sunday school immediately after becoming a believer. What a dramatic difference. Commenting on these findings, the researchers concluded: "With this type of data, one might expect churches to give high priority to getting new members involved in a small group immediately. We certainly found the formerly unchurched to have an enthusiastic view of small groups, particularly Sunday school …. The picture is clear: the formerly unchurched 'stick to' a church when they get involved in a small group. Let us pray that more churches will learn this lesson."

Why then are many of today's leaders dismissing Sunday school as a strategy? The reasons that many have done so include the following:

Some leaders have never had a healthy Sunday school experience.

Some pastors, staff members, and church leaders have experienced dry, cold, dull, and academic Sunday school settings and do not feel compelled to endure it since it is a matter of personal choice. However, Sunday school does not have to be that way, and it is not that way in all churches. Some leaders assume that it cannot work if they have not personally seen it happen in their setting. I jokingly say that the number one reason people do not want to go to Sunday school is because they have been. Some leaders have had the same experience and do not have any other context from which to draw their conclusions.

Some leaders have never been taught the principles of Sunday school growth.

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