We have said that Sunday School (and all of the small group Bible studies that are in its orbit) is foundational to the health and future of any church.
Sunday School is the foundational strategy in the local church for leading people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and for building Great Commission Christians through Bible study groups that engage people in evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and worship.
Let's pick out those five strategies and learn more about them.
Sunday School as a Ministry Strategy
Sunday School is the church's comprehensive strategy for organizing, equipping, and mobilizing church members for ministry.
1. Sunday School identifies ministry needs more quickly (because it engages the most church members) and informs people of ministry opportunities more effectively than any other part of the church.
2. Sunday School organizes and trains members for effective ministry to members, guests, and extended family through mentorship and practice.
3. Sunday School provides training and guidance in effective ministry through ongoing, directed Bible study (for example, of spiritual gifts).
4. Sunday School involves individuals and families in ongoing outreach/visitation for the purpose of ministry and prayer.
Diagnostic Questions for Your Group
Is my group made up of caring ministers?
Are we aware of ministry needs, and do we work toward meeting those needs?
Do we have a system of identifying and tracking those needs?
Do we encourage participation in churchwide ministries? Are my group members actively participating in those ministries?
Do my group members actively visit and contact one another for the purpose of ministry?
Does my group engage in effective intercessory prayer (that emphasizes prayer and not gossip)?
Does my group intentionally minister to specific groups within our church and community?
Simple Tips to Make It Happen
In addition to using those diagnostic questions as a checklist. These simple points will help guide you the right direction.
Sunday School provides the most members opportunities to lead and exercise their spiritual gifts because it can create the most opportunities (through ministry projects and even just talking about needs).
Sunday School helps members identify specific ministry needs in the course of group discussion, and it can help members realize that they are the best person to meet that need, not someone else.
The relationships in a small group and the atmosphere of Bible study and prayer are the best tools to enable one church member to help another church member realize how he/she may be uniquely suited to meet a ministry need. It also provides the safest environment for follow-up and accountability.
Sunday School offers regular opportunities for meaningful, intimate, intercessory prayer. However, it must be remembered that sharing prayer requests is not the same thing as praying. And praying is not the same thing as meeting a need (when it is clear that a person in the group has the ability to meet that need).
A Reminder about SHAPE
Here's a fun topic that combines fellowship, ministry, and discipleship: SHAPE! SHAPE stands for Spiritual gifts, Heart passions, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences. Those things about us help us understand:
How we build relationships,
The kinds of people we most easily connect with,
How we learn,
The ways we are most comfortable serving.
A super-helpful thing would be to have your class go through the SHAPE exercise. We have our entire church class online:
Now let's be honest -- you probably have a decent idea about your class members' personalities and gifts. You've spent time with them and invested in them. So this would be more about them learning about themselves (and maybe each other). This kind of knowledge can be helpful to you in working out how to help your class build connections with each other (through fellowship). What kinds of things do they enjoy? What kinds of activities? What kinds of people might they connect with? Maybe you will be surprised about some of your class members.