BUILD WITH NURTURED EVANGELISM
BY HAROLD J. WESTING
When I visit a Sunday School to do an evaluation I will first ask what is the purpose for their school. To make it easier on the evaluation questionnaire I simply give three choices: Is it for evangelism? Is it for nurture? Or is it for evangelism and nurture? It may not surprise you to hear that nearly everyone marks the third choice. They do believe that their Sunday School ought to be for the purpose of nurture and evangelism.
When the Sunday School had its origin 200 years ago, it was established primarily for the purpose of evangelism. Robert Raikes was interested in evangelizing and then nurturing the children off the streets in England who needed to find a Savior. Too many schools throughout the years have completely moved away from that purpose.
Once having established the purpose of the school, it is interesting to see whether or not that is really their value. It is not uncommon to find in those same schools that 1/20th of the staff ever bother to talk to their students personally about their need to receive Jesus as Savior. You may be fortunate to find that 1/25th of the teachers ever personally visit with their students outside the classroom. And furthermore, you will look in vain to find any particular outreach program. The only indication you will find that they really believe that evangelism is a part of their school is to note that about 1/4th of the teachers extend an invitation to the class for them to receive Christ as Savior at the conclusion of their lesson.
It might honestly be said then that their school simply has become a maintenance school where they maintain a program for the students who happen to walk in the door on a given Sunday morning. I even question that they could classify this as a nurture program, because nurture has inherent in its concept the idea of evangelism.
I am not suggesting that when a school votes to have as its primary purpose that of evangelism they are making E wrong vote. It’s just that they have not owned that as a value. If you have taken the model of the New Testament church as your example and guide for the operation of your church and school, then you would agree that evangelism should be one of the primary focuses and functions of your church. A church that is following those Biblical directives will have as its major mission that of making spiritually responsible, reproducing saints.
If a church says that its major responsibility is nurturing the saints, then we will need to find out exactly what they mean by nurture. My understanding of a nurtured saint is one who is a learning, reproducing saint, who by the fruits of his life indicates that he is maturing in the Lord. If that is your objective then it is only logical that evangelism is the primary mission of your school. Education without evangelism and evangelism without education are both a contradiction in terms.
Plan for a Nurturing Evangelistic School
Some Sunday School workers have been duped to believe that if a school is given primarily to the task of evangelism, they will neglect the nurture of the saints. There is no need for that, although sometimes you do see it occurring. Certain schools are so keenly given to evangelism that they forget there needs to be genuine discipleship given to those students who make a decision for Christ. My understanding of the New Testament suggests to me that the church as well as its educational program be given to a balanced concept of evangelism and nurture.
This being true, one of the major thrusts of the curriculum plan is to develop saints who are involved in evangelism. If this is true, evangelism will be a major thrust of the staff. Then you will constantly find evangelism mentioned in the staff meetings. You will find it a heavy thrust of the prayer meetings of the church as well as the various times staff people are together for prayer.
I remember visiting the First Baptist Church of Eugene, Oregon, a number of times when Dr. Vance Webster was the pastor of that growing church some years ago. His Sunday School was running somewhere in the vicinity of 1200. He was instrumental in starting seven other churches in the city of Eugene which also were growing substantially. Even though there was a Director of Christian Education and a Sunday School superintendent who were in charge, you would always find the pastor in the midst of the staff meeting. He had reports given from each department about what activity was going on in the area of evangelism: How many contacts have been made this last month? Who has been contacted? How many have registered decisions for Jesus Christ? What kind of nurture has been going on with those new believers? It was obvious as you were around that church that the burden and vision of the pastor had become the burden and vision of the entire Sunday School staff.
1. You need an atmosphere for evangelistic growth
If your school is to be a nurturing evangelistic school, I believe there will be that same kind of atmosphere which will permeate the entire structure and operation of the school. Let me first talk about what that atmosphere means before I suggest a list of outreach ideas which will help you implement your vision for evangelism.
An atmosphere of evangelism does not come by accident. It is something which becomes the implementation of a leader’s vision. As Sunday School superintendent you will see to it that that atmosphere permeates the entire church and educational program. The following steps might help you to implement that type of an evangelistic atmosphere.
(1) The pastor must initiate the atmosphere. The pastor will set the pace and develop the stage for evangelism by his modeling the whole idea of evangelism. One of the best ways he can do that, besides having his preaching give a thrust to evangelism, is to constantly emphasize the Sunday School in church services and in his writing. He will talk about evangelism before the congregation, he will talk about it before his staff meetings with the Sunday School teachers, and he will constantly emphasize it by implementing visitation among all the Sunday School workers. He will show his emphasis about the importance of the Sunday School by making periodic organized visits to all the departments in the Sunday School, either to make an organized presentation or simply to visit the students. His high visibility will convey to the congregation and Sunday School workers that Sunday School is of prime importance to him.
(2) Frequently feature Sunday School in the church services. The pastor will help develop that high profile for the Sunday School by asking various teachers and Sunday School students to participate from time to time in morning or evening church services. They might be asked to give a testimony or a Sunday School department could appear for a special presentation. It will be obvious to the church that the Sunday School is a major part of the church’s ministry.
Another way to build a strong profile of the Sunday School is to sponsor a Sunday School or Christian education month once a year. Wisely this should be done during the months of September or March.
(3) Promote Sunday School in sermons. The pastor should be encouraged to periodically preach sermons which reflect the educational goal of the congregation. Again I should remind you that people work toward their goals in proportion to their clarity and to their ownership of them.
(4) Keep the Sunday School in the news. The Sunday School superintendent will encourage the pastor to make certain that announcements about Sunday School or class activities are made both in the bulletin and in the church services. This is especially important when new classes are being initiated.
There should also be a constant report of Sunday School activities both in the Sunday bulletin and in the church newsletter. It would be advantageous if the Sunday School superintendent could regularly sponsor a column in the church newsletter.
(5) Give attention to carrying out your organizational program. It is obvious to me that there is close correlation between the apparent growth of schools and a wholesome mood of excellence that permeates the whole school’s program. There is a good balance between organization and administration, and a high level of personal concern with nurtured teaching. Schools that practice that balance cannot help but make a real impact on their neighborhood and on people who need the Savior.
(6) Organize your reception of newcomers. It is really unfair to say that you are an evangelistic school if there is not a permanent atmosphere of canny for everyone who steps inside of your doors on Sunday morning. There ought to be in a very obvious place in the church lobby a reception booth to register all newcomers and to personally guide them to their new class and teacher. You will make every effort possible to see that each one is personally introduced to someone and is made to feel at home. Of course, you will want to further show that concern by making certain that calls are made by the staff to those newcomers’ homes before the next week is past.
(7) Pray for the Sunday School. When an entire congregation is caught up with the cares of the lost world, it will obviously be expressed in prayer meetings year-in-and-year-out. When you listen to the prayers of a congregation you can soon tell whether or not their Sunday School is a maintenance school or is a creative outreach school. I have listed the theme of prayer last on my list lest we only pray and do not put feet to our prayers. But I certainly would not neglect the emphasis of prayer lest we work and not pray.
2. Plan creative outreach programs.
You will prove yourself a great leader if you can be instrumental in leading your Sunday School and church into some creative programs of outreach. One of the exciting things about the church of Jesus Christ in this century is the numerous varieties of ways that the church is reaching out to a needy world.
Programs are a great means of keeping your church from being only a maintenance school. The following list gives a variety of ways which can be used, and are being used successfully in other churches, to reach out to a world without Christ.
(1) An active outreach cradle roll ministry. This is still one of the finest opportunities the church has in reaching families with young children. Keep in mind that the most receptive time to the gospel of Christ for a young family is during the period of time in which their first child comes into their home. The creative cradle roll ministry is built on that concept. It is more than hanging pictures of babies in the church narthex and providing nursery care for babies who are brought to Sunday School. It is most effectively done when a women’s committee, deeply concerned about evangelism, organize themselves and begin making contacts with families who have children born into their homes. By keeping in contact with organizations which publish or make available lists of births of new children in the community, you can secure a record of the new births in your target area. This committee makes contacts with those homes, bringing a word of congratulation to them from the local congregation. Included in that congratulation is an invitation for them to enroll their baby in the church’s cradle roll. Each quarter throughout the next year those homes receive a personal visit with some additional education and inspirational material for parents. During those contacts the visitors have an opportunity to not only extend an invitation for these families to attend their church, but to invite them to receive Christ as Savior.
Of course, a church which runs this kind of program will want to make certain that they have an excellent young married couples Sunday School program and a very adequately staffed and equipped nursery. Most curriculum publishers provide a complete cradle roll program. A Christian supply house or bookstore will provide you with information.
(2) Activities for all ages and classes. As a superintendent you have a great responsibility in seeing that all of your teachers on a regular basis provide special outings, socials and special events for all age groups. These can be extremely effective in helping you to make new contacts. During each quarter each class should conduct at least one special activity or outing and the entire department could have a major event during that same period of time. The whole concept of party evangelism for adults is reaping tremendous rewards by the churches who are utilizing the simple idea of sponsoring parties in the homes of various members of the congregation.
(3) An open house or visitors day. Here is an ideal means of getting some of the parents of your children and some of your neighborhood prospects to visit your Sunday School. Once they know what goes on there, often a special interest is generated.
(4) The bus ministry. I would be remiss to leave off from this list a bus ministry. And of course there are numerous manuals which give you insight into its proper functioning, for we cannot go into that here. No church should give consideration to running a bus ministry without seriously counting the cost, both financially and in the investment of time by those people who are involved. A proper bus ministry also should not be considered unless it gears itself toward ultimately reaching the families of the children who are bused to Sunday School.
(5) A prospect list. The whole church should be active in building a prospect list. This is done by asking all church members and friends to turn in names of neighbors, work associates, relatives and friends. As the list is completed various spiritually qualified people volunteer their services for a period of six weeks or more. They work on these prospects by simply inviting them to come and visit the church and Sunday &hoot Of course, they should be given adequate training before they go out to represent the church and school It would be most appropriate that they would take with them an attractive brochure telling about your church and its ministry. This should be more than a mimeographed piece out of your church office. Be sure to put your best foot forward.
(6) Adult care groups. Structures in themselves can be very helpful in facilitating the evangelistic outreach thrust of your church. Numerous churches have organized their adult departments in such a way as to facilitate the evangelistic process. They have divided their large adult classes into covenant or care groups. These groups not only study together, but their primary purpose is to show genuine concern toward other members of the group. When that is adequately done people will come to your church knowing that someone is going to be intimately interested and involved in their lives. Of course all of the time it is going to take some good leadership to make certain that those groups function.
(7) An adult evangelism outreach elective. In teaching this elective course during the class period, the first half of the course is given to the training of leaders. During the second half of the quarter those members who are trained in evangelism actually go and do some of their contacting during the Sunday School hour. Keep in mind that you will find the greatest prospects during this time. These people can’t use the excuse that they attend Sunday School class in some other church!
(8) A parents club. A parents club meets monthly or bimonthly in an effort to involve the parents themselves in the Christian education program. One of its major functions is to help the parents in their parenting role. There are numerous films and tapes, plus (in most cities) trained personnel close by who could come in and aid parents in the parenting process. This program has many benefits, one of which is the possibility of reaching parents for Christ and His church.
(9) Planned student contacts. Ask all of your teachers during a period of time to have a personal meeting with all of their students. I heard of a busy traveling salesman who was only home a day and a half a week. Each week he chose to use early Sunday morning to take one of his students to breakfast. Over a period of a few months, he had an opportunity of personally talking with all of his students about their need to receive Christ as their Savior, or to help meet other needs in their lives.
Of course, you will not want to try to implement all of these programs. In fact, it would be wise to only inaugurate one at a time. Make sure that it is well oiled and in operation before you start another one.
Build Accountability into Your Plan
A superintendent who is deeply concerned about utilizing his school as a meaningful instrument of evangelism and nurture will see to it that all of his teachers are constantly keeping in touch with all of their students. This will mean the implementation of a follow-up visitation program with built-in accountability, as already discussed in Chapter Nine. You may choose to have the assistant Sunday School superintendent act as the director of the program. Or you may prefer to appoint someone to be in charge of that critically important phase of your school’s program. The important thing is to see that it is done.
A superintendent who is a good leader will see that he is doing more than maintaining a program for those who wander in. He won’t watch things happen. He will see that they are inaugurated and carried out.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY ACCENT-B/P PUBLICATIONS, INC., 1980, PAGES 136-145. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.