Poll: What Is The Purpose Of Sunday School?

Last week, I asked you to help me design a poll about the purpose of Sunday school. After some good feedback, I’m ready to open it up for voting.

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Something Else To Talk About

  • What steps can be taken to reach these goals through Sunday school?
  • How many purposes are realistic for Sunday school?
  • Is you think Sunday school doesn’t work, what are some alternatives?
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14 Responses to Poll: What Is The Purpose Of Sunday School?

  1. Tim Morrison says:

    It’s interesting to note that the primary reason Sunday school was instituted was to teach children to read by using the Bible. It was a method of evangelism in the church. Now, however, it’s morphed into a time for small groups to become insulated unto themselves and have lost the entire focus of evangelism. I do agree, though, that the SS should primarily be a place for Biblical instruction. We should not divorce the idea of Biblical instruction from evangelism. So many want to do that today, and thus they give up one or the other. More often than not, at least in my experience, the Biblical instruction is given up to provide a more appealing or comfortable atmosphere.

    We do need to be conscious of the fact that people need fellowship, as well. The SS can be a great place for this to occur which, in turn, will also make evangelism easier due to the friendliness (hopefully) of the environment.

  2. Matt Svoboda says:

    I think the best alternative to Sunday School is in home small groups or ‘house churches.’
    1) They are a better atmosphere for relationship building: assimilation and fellowship.
    2) You also still have Bible instruction that is equal with Sunday school, at least you can.
    3) It is also a more comfortable atmosphere for evangelism. It is less intimidating for a lost person to walk into a house rather than a church.
    4) Family worship in small groups also occurs more naturally in home groups. Usually churches split up the family in a ‘traditional Sunday School’ structure.
    5) Accountability is also a great plus with in home small groups. Usually in these groups there is more time than 60 minutes.
    6) There is not such an inward/’feed me’ focus in a house group. Each person is more active in the house group rather than coming to Sunday school and get taught again(just like every other church activity).

    Those are the six most basic reasons I feel Sunday School is not the best approach.

    Matt

    Matt Svobodas last blog post..Profile of the Lukewarm

  3. Todd Benkert says:

    I do not think in most cases that “seminary education for lay people” is ideal in the Sunday School setting, nor are our current SBC curriculum options suitable for this purpose. Rather, Bible Study in the SS hour tends to be more application oriented. If SS is used for in depth Bible Study and doctrinal instruction then, IMO, the other purposes you mention will need to take place in a different forum. There is only so much you can accomplish in an hour.
    — Todd

    Todd Benkerts last blog post..My Ministry Core Values

  4. kschaub says:

    Hey Tony, I voted for three different options. However, since there is a lack of support in the voting, I think there is a need to explain why promoting the family is important even in Sunday School. At our blog, Drew has posted about how we categorically tend to separate the family at church, and separate age groups for the sole purpose of dividing those groups according to age.

    Though I expressed certain reasons for the practice in the comment meta, I do understand that there is something to supporting the family even in Sunday School. So when I voted, I voted #1 for Bible Instruction, #2 for fellowship and assimilation, and #3 for intergenerational instruction. With those things in mind, I think our churches should re-think SS to meet those needs. What needs to be changed in SS to make sure those who come are learning the Word? What needs to be changed in SS to make sure those who come are learning about the church and how to be a part of the church? What needs to be changed in SS to make sure the family is instructed together?

    To read Drew’s post concerning things like this: click here. Thanks for offering this post.

    Kevin Schaub

    kschaubs last blog post..Poetry, Politics, Pride and Self-Concept

  5. Matt Svoboda says:

    Kevin,

    Changing Sunday School to in-home small groups of ‘house churches’ can answer your great questions! Why are we so stuck on keeping the traditional structure when most admit it isn’t working? Why not leave program-driven consumerism behind?

    In-home small groups can accomplish all that we want SS to accomplish and it strongly encourages priesthood of the believer. Not only do I prefer this over SS, I would go as far as to say it is more biblical. I think we would be more faithful to the example left to us in the NT church if we switched from SS to in-home small groups.

    Matt

    Matt Svobodas last blog post..Profile of the Lukewarm

  6. Timm says:

    I think we are creating a false dichotomy: “SS” or “no SS” in our churches. Most people spend an inordinate number of hours infront of the TV, online, at the movies, et. al. This is not to lambast the rapant depravity of our culture and lament the Judeo-Christian ethic from its historical place of authority in U.S. culture (though it is an issue and such depravity is deadening to the soul), but to acknowledge that people are influenced by what they see and hear. Thus, my first point: the churches that already have SS are a BLESSING to ministers of the gospel. As one preacher told me, at the very least it’s an extra hour the church has to sway members away from the allures of the world. Further, such a church typically has a church culture that expects attendance in SS– recognize what that means: people EXPECT to go/be at/attend a church service. This is the kind of problem I’d like to have. Plus, such churches ought NOT to toss out SS because you have a ripe opportunity for some serious ministry to a group of people already predisposed to recieving it (generally speaking).

    Second, the issue is not really SS, but what to do with that “pre-worship service service.” Call it whatever you wish: bible study hour, SS, etc. The real question is what do you DO in that hour? The evangelists say make it an open-group study that is evangelistically focused. Ok, great—now what about the 30yr-old-in-Christ? I’ll gladly preach the gospel to anyone, but the “evangelistic” lessons often found in SS materials are a lousy diet for mature believers—the church can and must do better.

    Consider also the headlines reminding us that most Christians do NOT know their bible very well, at all. Brothers, we MUST improve the general bible knowledge of the congregation, lest the day come even more quickly wherein believers are more ignorant of the bible than nonbelievers.

    Which leads to my third and main point: what churches need, especially those that already have SS, is a church structure wherein the “small group” experience is NOT on Sunday mornings on the church premises, but at someone’s home during the week. True fellowship is more conducive in a living room than a generic classroom (though it can happen in any room, technically speaking). It is more fruitful and in-depth and—dare I say it—can take as much time as is necessary to apply the gospel to the lives of those present (God save the bible lesson that runs late, be it SS or a sermon!). And do not miss the significance of meeting in another’s home: this breeds church community and unity as members gather in Jesus name in an intimate environment to share life, be held accountable, and grow in grace under the intimate lens of the gospel being worked our in every facet of life.

    What becomes of SS?? This becomes the place for Christian education. Call me old fashion, but we do call it SCHOOL, so let’s act like it (a little bit). We have a growing Biblical knowledge problem in the church, but churches with SS have a gift-wrapped opportunity every Sunday morning to correct that problem. Let’s turn our SS into a classroom (NOT a small group) and actually teach factual data about Scripture, but let us do so transformationally, so that it does not become solely an academic experience (I’m thinking of Warfield(?), who said that to study Scripture is always an act of spiritual discipline and transformation).

    For general theology, get a class(es) up and running through Erickson’s much smaller sys. Theo text (it’s written at a high school level) or “Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine” by Wayne Grudem. Another class could work through the BFM 2000 (there’s plenty of study guides). Concerning OT and NT, there are numerous survey books that would provide simple course material for SS—brothers, look at your Intro to OT/NT class syllabi for ideas. I believe Capital Hill BC (Dever) has a pretty solid system down, though I’m not sure I’m ready to take it as intense as they do. Or, you could begin writing your own material for your church (that’s how I am solving it—to whom much is given, much is required). Regardless, the intent is to get our people educated during Sunday School so they are better equipped to receive the gospel, understand sermons, and advance the Kingdom of Christ as informed, mature, and faithful members of Christ’s Kingdom. Hopefully these are some helpful places to start for those interested.

    Finally, the first complaint I invariably hear from people is this: Who is going to teach all this? How do we train teachers? My reply is the same: Pastor, shepherd the flock. Teach your people how to teach… and give them some time. Jesus took +3yrs and only got 11-12, so don’t expect a miracle to happen during the Fall quarter (then again, God can do the impossible). Further, there’s bound to be at least one or two men in your church already capable, just not inspired and/or properly equipped (i.e., resources and support) to bring such a vision to fruition. Even in churches where there literally is nobody capable of teaching, the pastor surely must be—start this out with a “pastor’s class” and begin a staged transition from whatever it is you’ve got.

    Pardon my pontifications, but the preacher in me couldn’t read this one silently.

    In Jesus Christ Alone,
    TIMM

  7. kschaub says:

    Matt, I agree with Timm more than I would agree that SS should be dropped for in home small groups (though small groups certainly serve a purpose).

    Timm, I agree. Since you covered the seminary education for lay people side of things, I would add: offer courses on parenting, courses on marriage, and courses for the whole family together along with those Bible instruction courses.

    Kevin Schaub

    kschaubs last blog post..Poetry, Politics, Pride and Self-Concept

  8. Kevin – I like your idea of the family integration of sunday school. I think we have lost the idea of mature Christians teaching the younger Christians as well as the children how to live according to the gospel in this world.

    Timm – I agree that their should be a “seminary education” for all people in the SS system. We have such a huge problem of ignorance in our churches today. As a former youth pastor, I found that my biggest challenge with the youth was getting them to understand what they believe and why they believed it. The other problem was helping them to articulate what they believed to others.

    Terry Delaneys last blog post..Nine Hours With Timmy Brister

  9. Phill Crust says:

    I do think that many churches need to rethink what they do during that hour that is typically dubbed the Sunday school hour. Here are the thoughts that came to my mind as I read the comments

    1. SS does not have to come before the main worship service. We quadrupled our SS attendance by placing it after our main worship service.

    2. It seems advantageous to call our church members to attend and be involved in both in home small groups and SS. Both have advantages and disadvantages and we are not forced to choose one over the other.

    3. People are generally less educated in the scriptures and theology than they were 60 years ago. Therefore, to combat this we should use every means possible to increase the knowledge of the people we care for in our churches.

    4. How much is too much for a SS program to handle well that depends on time. The SS classes in our church meet for 1 and half hours. 45 min. are devoted to teaching through the Bible. All Adult classes will get through the entire Bible in 7 years. We pray for about 10 min. We also devote 15 min. of time to evangelism and outreach. We use this time to train encourage and plan for evangelism and outreach. All of this leaves about 15 min of planned time for food and fellowship.

    5. Are we attempting too much? Probably but for the most part it is working better than what we had before. Our system is far from perfect and is very leader intensive each class has 4 leaders. Further, we do not address many good things which we want people to know for example we do not teach any thing close to systematic theology. I do think however that we should raise the bar for SS. And we should think about how our SS fits the overarching theological education our churches are offering. I fear that for many Churches SS is the only Biblical/theological education the church offers.

    Phill Crusts last blog post..Southern Seminary

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  11. blackhaw says:

    I agree with Timm a lot. I put Biblical instruction, Community service, and relationship buidling. I almost put the last one but I do not know if small home groups do it better or not. I also put having SS go at leat 90 minutes. I really enjoy SS. My SS is great. We have a big group time then small class time. I think in that kind of format 90 minutes is needed to really get in the word. That is if you spend a good amount of time with prayer requests/ prayer.

    I would enjoy pretty much what Timm said. Have 60-90 minutes on Sunday after service mainly for instruction. I think it could also be a place where we get together and have service and evangelistic projects and so forth. But the BS would be mainly instructive biblical knowledge.

    I would also have small groups. One could do it with some or all of the same group one meets with on Sunday. This would be more of a time for spiritual formation. (I could nto think of a better way of saying it). But the focus would be more applied than on knowledge. i know all of this is somewhat of a false dichotomy butr again it is what it is.

    I really do not think though that most adult SS should be primarily about evangelism. That should mainly be done outside of the church (although it cna be done inside) as people go out. People should be evangelizing those they come in contact with on a daily basis. I think focusing so much on evangelism makes SS not very useful for those older in the faith. For instance I think the Lifeway stuff is usually a joke. But it might be better for those who are younger in the faith. But I do not know about that.

  12. The question seems to depend on how one structures Sunday School. I vote for “It depends on…”

  13. Timm says:

    Thanks to all for the words of affirmation & clarifications. SS ought to be complemented with small groups, the one feeding the other. However, I would qualify that by saying that small groups are the foundation upon which one builds up an SS program as I’ve proposed it– spirirtual maturity grows outside a classroom moreso than in it.

    I’m not entirely convinced that there is an “absolute purpose” that all SS in all churches must subscribe to in order to be Biblical. Jesus, James, John, Paul, et. al. didn’t lead SS classes nor insist upon them, but pre-Pentecost Jesus does say to make disciples (Mt 28:18-20) and post-Pentecost Paul does admonish Timothy to entrust these words to faithful men (2 Tim 2:2).

    In short, I think that the purpose of SS is somewhat flexible to the issues presented to the local church. However, the driving motives behind SS must remain the mission of the church: to make disciples. That said, I think the purpose of SS is to train in righteousness (2Tim 2:1-15; 3:10, 16-17; 4:1-2).

    Brothers, I have to make a confession: I get real fired up when we start talking about evangelism as something separate from discipleship. What is the difference between the two? Simple: in evangelism we share the gospel with unbelievers, in discipleship we share the gospel with believers. Unbelievers are receiving the gospel and taking upon them Christ’s righteousness, believers are working out the already/not yet of this reality in EVERY facet of life. And separating E from D dangerously undermines what we are telling church members about the gospel, that it is only for unbelievers. Though more can and should be said, I’ll save that for another time. The point I wish to make is that good discipleship is evangelistic in that good discipleship is calling upon all to listen to the gospel of Jesus Christ and be changed—whether it’s to new life (unbeliever) or allowing the gospel to transform yet another facet of who you are already/not yet in Christ (believer).

    Such a structure/orientation can be a means of getting believers to share the gospel, for I would hope that we see that disciple-making is a cyclical process. When we don’t discriminate who we teach the gospel to (believers or nonbelievers) we are in effect “evangelizing” as we disciple. Mr. Smith brings his friend to small group, where they’re reflecting on the (gospel-centered) sermon. People are talking about how they need to/have already/can’t seem to/wrestling with how to live differently because of it—in short, real-life, real-time application of the sermon. The benefits are too numerous to count, the least of which being spiritual accountability, intimate gospel-sharing to the nonbeliever in a truly substantive way, and many more.

    In Jesus Christ Alone,
    TIMM

  14. Matt Svoboda says:

    I think this poll shows what is wrong with our churches today. I obviously feel that all of those can be done better done without traditional Sunday School. But let’s imagine that was not an option.

    What happened to family-based ministry. When do you have families learning and interacting together. Is Sunday School no tthe best place? Are you atleast teaching parents how to disiple there own kids and leading family worship? Intergenerational instruction seems to be the most biblical picture, if you have to have traditional Sunday School…

    Matt Svobodas last blog post..Profile of the Lukewarm

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