Over the years, the church has seen many church growth strategies come and go. I’d read and studied many of them in detail—I even have some of the t-shirts! I’ve seen some plans succeed and some fail. I’ve seen some work well for a season (like the bus ministry), only to lose momentum and eventually fade away, at least for most churches. But I have been, and continue to be, convinced that one of the greatest evangelism/discipleship/ministry tools of all time is the Sunday School and it continues to be at the heart of my ministry strategy as a pastor. There are several reasons for that conviction.
Sunday School gives the ministry to the people. Many church growth strategies are based on a “come hear me preach” philosophy. That is, people are saved, discipled and ministered to by the professionals, and the willing, gifted members of the congregation are basically reduced to inviters. Such a strategy doesn’t line up well with Ephesians 4:11-12 nor the Great Commission.
Sunday School is not a new program with built in resistance and hesitance for “buy in.” Most churches do not need to be convinced that Sunday School is a viable ministry. We don’t need a consultant to come and convince the people that this will work if they are willing to embrace it as a ministry. It may need revitalization in some cases, but it doesn’t need to be sold to the people.
Sunday School is consistent with the New Testament model for ministry. Clearly the early church used small groups for ministry. Before the days of church buildings, meetings were held in homes as church members ministered to one another. Through the hospitality of the small groups, the Bible was taught, fellowship deepened, ministry took place and people were reached.
Sunday School does not rely on people outside the church for its success. We don’t have to schedule a revivalist to do Sunday School well. We don’t have to hope someone new will join the church who has the special skills or gifts required. Our people may need to be mentored and trained, but they have the ability to love people and give of themselves to see people discipled.
Sunday School uses the power of God’s Word. We all know that the Word of God is powerful to transform lives. Guess what—the Bible is the Sunday School textbook! The scriptures in the hand of a spirit-filled teacher who really loves people is a powerful tool.
Sunday School is a ministry strategy the Holy Spirit can bless. The Spirit is not grieved by Bible study. The spirit is not quenched by people loving one another in practical ways. The Holy Spirit enjoys blessing people in Christian community with one another.
Sunday School recognizes the need to minister at various stages of life and levels of learning. It is difficult for a six-year-old to understand the value of the pre-millennial view of eschatology. The Bible needs be taught on a six-year-old level to six-year-olds! The Bible is always relevant, when it is taught well, and good Sunday School ministry is graded appropriately.
This may sound strange, but maybe we need to start challenging the modern church to think inside the box! Sunday School has a proven track-record for doing the things we say are important to the health and success of the church. It hasn’t been around as long as the wheel, but maybe we don’t need to re-invent something that does what Sunday School already does. Maybe we just need a fresh vision for the potential of something we already know and love.