Reading the article (shared below) for the first time yesterday once again confirmed my personal conviction and passion for Sunday School (or whatever you choose to call it). A structured tool for learning the Word on a regular basis and “sharpening iron” with other believers is crucial in the life of a disciple. Having this type of class in place is the second most important element in our decision making process when it comes to choosing our next church home (which I think I’ll be able to share with you soon!)
Thom S. Rainer, a prominent Christian author, speaker, and researcher, shared the following in his article entitled “High Expectation Churches”:”In the 1980s I had become a certain Sunday School skeptic. Though I did not try to dismantle the Sunday Schools in the churches I pastored, I certainly was not a leader in making the organization stronger and more evangelistic. If anything took place, the Sunday Schools of my churches suffered from pastoral neglect.I was not alone in my sentiments. Many of my peers were like me, enamored with some of the latest methodologies and innovations to help a church grow. Sunday School just seemed a bit old-fashioned compared to the “cutting-edge” information we were receiving from a plethora of sources. Indeed I had my doubts that Sunday School would be a viable growth and assimilation tool in the twenty-first century. But two developments led me to see my biases in a different light.
One would think that I would have no surprise when the strength of Sunday School became evident in yet another research project. This time, however, the overwhelmingly positive response regarding the Sunday School surprised me. No assimilation methodology came close to Sunday School in effectiveness. No methodology was deemed more effective than the Sunday School in retaining members.Sunday School is neither neglected or accidental in the churches that are closing the back door. To the contrary, the churches that we surveyed were highly intentional in their approach to Sunday School.I recently interviewed the pastor of a non-Southern Baptist church in the Washington, DC area. His testimony on the rediscovery of Sunday School is not atypical of other comments we heard.”A few years ago,” he told us, “I was ambivalent about Sunday School. I did not plan to eliminate it from our church, but I certainly was not giving it a priority.” But, in 1994, he began to read and hear about churches that were rediscovering the strength of the Sunday School.”I guess you might say I had a wake-up call,” he told us. “I realized that our church had been evangelistically apathetic, and that our back door was wide open. I began re-thinking my lack of priority about Sunday School. Then things began to change as our church made some intentional efforts to revitalize this ministry.”The Doctrine Factor
A few studies have established the relationship between doctrinal understanding and assimilation. For example, a study of the churches in the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination found that younger generations tend to leave the church within about twenty years if the church has a low view of biblical authority, and if the doctrine of the church is not communicated clearly.Two questions may surface immediately. How is doctrine related to the closing of the back door? Why has the relationship between doctrine and assimilation been mentioned so infrequently?The issue of doctrine and the closing of the back door is closely related to expectations and assimilation. The clear teachings of biblical truth are demanding and convicting. The Holy Spirit speaks through God’s Word in such a way that the cost of discipleship is understood. No higher expectations could be placed upon believers than these truths of Scripture. And, as we have seen throughout this study, high expectations are clearly related to assimilation.The Evangelism FactorOne of the reasons I visited the non-denominational church in the Orlando area was its remarkable evangelistic record. The church had grown from less than 100 in attendance to nearly 300 in just two years. And most of the growth had come from conversion of adults.The first question I had to ask the pastor was: “How is your church reaching so many people for Christ?” I had examined the demographic data of the church’s community, and the growth potential in the area was modest at best. How had the church baptized nearly 200 people in two years?The pastor could best be described as easygoing. His mannerisms and words reflected someone who was definitely not in a rush. His answer to my question was straightforward: “Sunday School,” he said.Wait a minute, I responded. You simply do not hear of churches today using Sunday School as their primary evangelistic arm. “We do,” the pastor deadpanned.I arrived at the evangelistic Sunday School at 9:00 a.m. since the scheduled beginning was 9:15 a.m. Much to my surprise, not only was the teacher present, but nearly half who would attend that Sunday were already in attendance. No one arrived later than 9:15.The class was a bit large; approximately twenty were in attendance. But I learned that the class had started with an average of twelve in attendance at the beginning of the year, and that two new classes had been started from the class in the past eighteen months. I was impressed!Equally impressive was the fact that two-thirds of the Sunday School class members had been trained in personal evangelism in the context of their own class. On the day I attended prayer concerns began with prayers for lost persons to whom they were witnessing. Most of these persons were co-workers or neighbors. I would discover at the end of the class that two non-Christians were present the day I attended. When I asked the teacher how those non-believers felt with so much evangelistic emphasis, the response was: “Why don’t you ask them?” Indeed the teacher called the two to join our after-class conversation.Somewhat hesitatingly, I asked the two non-Christians if they felt uncomfortable in the class today. Their response was so quick that it caught me off guard. One quickly said, “Not at all! We know these people care for us because they show their concern every day. The reason we attend is because of the love they have shown toward us.”We have known that Sunday School is a vital component of the past for American churches. Its history is almost as old as our nation itself. But more and more the research indicated that Sunday School is not only our past, it is our future as well. And we who are leaders in the church will ignore this reality to our churches’ peril.”