How to Turn Your Sunday School Class into a Small Group

Last night I had 14 young adults from my Sunday School class in my living room. Last week God impressed on me to invite 12 people to my house. My class averages 20-24 students. Sunday we had 40. Everyone showed up. So, when at the end of the class I passed around the list. I told the class to sign up if they would like to come over and eat, build relationships, and receive coaching on the spiritual life, sign up. All 14 showed up and life transformation happened in my living room. We allowed an hour for eating and fellowship. Then we spent 2 and a 1/2 hours answering these questions: small-groups-community-life“What’s your name, your life story, and where you are on the spiritual journey?” I can’t tell specifics of course. But my wife Jeana summed it up like this: “Each of you gave a piece of yourself to this group.” It was awesome. It was what it’s all about. 

What people need are relationships. They don’t need more content and classes. That can help, but first people need friends. Most of our system in the west is built to foster only short term superficial relationships (Larry Osborne @ Sticky Church Conference). You don’t really need Larry to tell you that though do you? You realize the lack of any real relationships in the church don’t you? Sermon based small groups push relationship first, then content. Content in groups will take care of itself from the pulpit and the process of being in a sermon based small group. 

There’s something that happens in a living room that you cannot reproduce in a class room on campus. So, what do you do when you can’t make a shift to small groups? 

1. Create a culture in your class that makes it have a context that feels like a small group. Talk about the need to be a part of a “smaller” community. Talk about your participants’ need to “walk with God.” Talk about the need to invest in people and build strong relationships in the church and community. circle-of-chairs

2. Use Acts 2:42 to create a teaching outline on the basics that lead to ministry and missions

  • Use 4 C’s: Confidentiality, Community, Commitment, Consistency
  • Apostles Doctrine: spend time in the word as the map for your life
  • Fellowship: Need to be a part of the biblical community and participate in it (Phil. 1:5)
  • Breaking of Bread: Keep your eyes on the cross consistently by taking the Lord’s Supper
  • Prayer: Develop and maintain a vibrant prayer life

3, Use a mass email to communicate with your class twice a week. Email them once on Saturday to reinforce attending Sunday. Use My Space and Face Book too. If you have people on Twitter, use it. Text message people when you can. 

4. Once you hit 24-30 people in class, pilot a small group out of your class. Let people sign up at will and see what happens. Fellowships in classes are good, but they only foster superficial relationships. Everyone is an acquaintance, even after years of attending. The small group is a part of the class. It’s an extension. Yes, it requires more time and work. BUT, who is going to ask the people in your class, “Tell your story! I care about you.” They won’t get asked in Sunday School. You must add to your class, not change it. Changing it is too much and most churches are unwilling to do what it takes. And it takes too long.  The small “life group” does not have to go year round. 

5. Pray for an apprentice and train that person. Set a target date to birth a new class, usually a year out. Then, train your apprentice by planning backwards. Your apprentice will keep the class while you take 2-3 people with your to start a new class. 

6. Reproduce small groups in your class. The groups need to meet weekly.

7. Clarify the win with your fellowship philosophy. A monthly fellowship will only perpetuate short term, surface relationships. Instead of monthly fellowships at a home, plan a real social activity like a movie or putt putt golf, or bowling. If you’re going to have a fellowship event with a crowd larger than 12-14, don’t fake it. Don’t assume biblical community and life transformation happen in groups larger than 14. People don’t know you care because you invite them over. They know you care because you invest in them at a personal level. 

9. Introduce small groups in your large groups Sunday School Class. Use horse shoes and have discussion leaders in each horse shoe. Make your class discuss the text or application in groups of 7 or 8. question-mark1Use questions with precision. Transformation happens when people begin to discuss a biblical idea. A Christ follower moves from passive learning the active learning when an idea is discussed, performed, or taught. If they are only listening, they will only retain 10%. 

10. Use multi-media and a fill in the blank outline in your class. It will revolutionize your class. Of course, use keynote on mac instead of power point if you can. Use pictures in your presentation. Put only the outline in the presentation. You’ll be surprised how your class motivation will change for the better. 

If making disciples through a relational process is your thing, add a personal element to your Sunday School model.

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