Updated: Aug 19, 2021
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 Fellowship Strategy
Sunday School is the best strategy for helping members establish and build enduring relationship with God and one another.
1. Whereas church membership is closed, Sunday School membership is open. Therefore, Sunday School is the fastest way to help guests (and new members) build relationships with church members.
2. Sunday School creates an environment of grace, acceptance, support, and encouragement through ongoing Bible study groups.
3. Sunday School provides opportunities to interact with God’s Word, the class leaders, and one another both on Sunday mornings and through ongoing social, outreach, and ministry activities throughout the week.
4. Sunday School maintains contact with members and visitors who may be out-of-town, ill, or unable to attend church services.
Diagnostic Questions for Your Group
Is our class gracious and accepting of all people?
Do we provide opportunities to build relationships outside of the narrow schedule of Sunday mornings?
Do I encourage class members to take the initiative in establishing friendships with other class members (and prospective class members)?
Do we keep up with class members who are away?
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.
Relationships are best built over time in a small group. Your church needs to emphasize that guests should visit a Sunday School class. If that's not an emphasis, or if it could be emphasized better, work with leadership to make that happen.
Assimilation works both ways -- yes, the church should encourage people to get involved in Sunday School, but each Sunday School class should also encourage its members to get involved in the church. This can be done by promoting churchwide events and ministry needs and by participating in those things as a class.
Fellowship is not the controlling factor in a Sunday School class. Classes that overemphasize fellowship tend to stagnate because "being comfortable with one another" starts to take priority over reaching out and growing.
Great Commission fellowship means "having all things in common", and that is not by coincidence but by intention. Those kinds of relationships don't just happen but are cultivated by spending meaningful time together and working side-by-side to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity. As much as we might like to think that people naturally take it upon themselves to make (and be) friends, that's simply no longer the case in our country. We need to schedule "fellowship events" (like meals, game nights, or outings) that give members a chance to get to know one another.
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.