How to Keep a Small Group Sunday School Class Vibrant

Why does your class exist? Why do you go and sit there every Sunday?

Sunday School (SS) as an idea started as a way to educate kids. It was built on the British model of education. (Ten Best Practices to Make Your Sunday School Work, Ken Hemphill). One thing I remember of Dr. Ken Hemphill’s preaching at SWBTS is his passion for SS as the place for discipleship. For the past 10 months I have been the teacher and leader of a Young Adult SS class at Cornerstone. At first I didn’t want to do it. I was afraid I would not be a fit for the class. I’m on staff and didn’t have to do it. I’ve pastored churches so it was not an ego thing. I guess really I wanted a challenge. I desire to make disciples not just programs. We have had mostly ups and a down or two. Yet for the most part I have developed a real passion not only for SS, but for the people in the class. When I took the class it was averaging 15-20 people. After three months later we lost 6-8 people. As summer arrived, we got an influx of college students home for the summer and then teenagers from the youth class. Our class morale is high. We had 31 people two weeks ago. We had 28 this past weekend. What makes the difference in a class? How can we keep classes healthy and on point? One book that has helped me is Making the Critical Connection: Combining the Best of Small Group Dynamics with Sunday School.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. I must work toward structure in the class. There must be a teacher with at least 3 small group leaders (SGLs) that help with assimilation, ministry, and shepherding. I am still working on this. It seems to be the hardest thing to do.

2. I must communicate with my class using a variety of angles: Verbal in class, Posters, Media, Online Groups, MySpace (teensagers), Facebook (young adults) text message, and the best, Mass Email. Hand written notes and phone calls are crucial but require more time. I send at least two emails to my class a week. One is on Saturday as a reminder to come to class on Sunday. We use a Young Adult Communication card to gather information from every person. We are developing a plan to keep the college students in our loop when they leave for the fall semester.

3. I must lead my class to do ministry projects. Take your class to a local place to serve. In Arlington we have Mission Arlington. We have done this twice. There are two benefits: 1) mentioning this in class provides a ministry and missions focus in the class, 2) doing this moves your people from sitting and listening to doing and being. You can use a life shelter, Angel Tree, Operation Christmas Child, or some other opportunity. If your class is all about the 4 walls, well you know.

4. I must lead my class to have social interaction. This can happen online for some, but it’s not the best and biblical option. At some point, if people are really your friends you will eat with them. Believers, especially new ones, need friends as much they need knowledge. Entertainment can be a way of socializing. Go to to movie or to a coffee shop. Get to know someone is the point. And do it in real life places.

5. I must lead an interactive class time. I do this with classic explanation, Illustration, and application of the text. The vehicles I use are media and questions. To not use some kind of media at this point, for me, is unacceptable . I’ve come to the point: when I preach I must use one video clip (if I can find one that fits). In my class, I use powerpoint and video support. Even a simple interactive outline goes a long way. Questions make the listeners have to participate. Participants have to think an idea through. The email option above can reinforce your lesson beyond Sunday. Dialogue moves people from passive to active learning. Transformation begins to be visible.

6. I must teach with the Great Commission in view. Making disciples is our business. Baptizing is our business. Teaching is our business (Matt. 28:19-20). Teaching a class to have a biblical world view is very important to their growth and kingdom activity. Jesus was concerned for all the world, not just my world (Acts 1:8). Recently I had a young woman in class share about her mission trip to Malaysia. It was powerful, since we are studying Acts.

There are other things, but these are a good start. Coffee and food go a long way in the class. If you do the things above, you will have a vibrant class. You will be happy doing it. Also, change the posters and look of your room often.

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2 Responses to How to Keep a Small Group Sunday School Class Vibrant

  1. Leslie says:

    I agree that the small group is the place for discipleship, and Sunday School can serve as a great small group. Something that is forgotten sometimes is that the teacher cannot do it by himself/herself. Teachers need a lot of help from people in the class that are just as committed to the class as the teacher. As a matter of fact, not having this help can be the limiting factor in terms of growth. Most teachers are volunteers and not working for the church, so it’s crazy difficult to come up with a good lesson, plan social events, handle class communication, etc., all while holding down a full-time job and spending time with family. Identifying people in the class that are ready and willing to help should definitely be a priority.

  2. Leslie,

    You’re correct about additional leadership in the class. Without it, growth is limited numerically, but probably more so spiritually. You just can’t do it all. Teachers cannot do all of it. I’m finding this to be the hardest issue and my weakest so far. But…I’m uping my game and believe God is positioning people for the right time.

    It’s amazing how mass email in a Google has helped me stay connected with the class. We don’t interact a lot, but they do get an email, and for my class, it shows I care.

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