Establishing Standards for Sunday School
Elmer L. Towns
When a Sunday School is left to itself it will drift and become ineffective. Standards of excellence are needed to continually challenge every Sunday School to its ultimate potential. Sunday School standards provide an objective yardstick for measuring its progress or determining reasons why it is failing.
Just as an architect prepares blueprints to guide the workmen who construct the house, so a Sunday School needs its own blueprint so that all workers may judge their labor. God gave Moses a pattern for setting up the tabernacle in the wilderness. God also gave David a blueprint for building the temple at Jerusalem. The Sunday School needs standards, or a set of blueprints, for its growth. These are found in the Word of God. However, the exact principles and statistics are not written in the Bible as they are printed in Sunday School workbooks. Nevertheless, there are guiding principles.
The source of these standards is found in the Great Commission which contains the purpose of Sunday School. A Sunday School is the reaching, teaching, winning arm of the church. Out of this definition come the needs, aims, and program for Sunday School.
STEPS IN IMPROVING SUNDAY SCHOOL
The following steps can be applied to any Sunday School, small or large:
1. Determine the standard. A standard should be established which presents what the Sunday School should be in all its areas. Among those who accept the Bible as the Word of God, most Sunday School standards are similar; however, there are minor differences from denomination to denomination. Printed at the end of this chapter is the standard distributed by the National Sunday School Association. Many of the points have been revised according to contemporary needs and it still stands as a good basic standard for measuring a Sunday School and its work. Study this set of criteria to determine a suitable standard for your Sunday School.
2. Locate the needs. After studying the criteria, watch for weakness in your program. Usually a committee (an appointed self-study committee or the Board of Christian Education) will study standards in light of performance to determine the educational needs of a church.
This may be a causal evaluation at the monthly meeting or an involved self-study program using a set of questionnaires. The most extensive questionnaire to evaluate the Sunday School is printed in the Successful Sunday School and Teacher’s Guidebook, Elmer Towns (Creation House, Carol Stream, IL, 1976, pp. 353-89). There are eight sets of questionnaires, two for the entire Sunday School and one for each Sunday School department. These questionnaires will help to determine the exact point of weakness in the Sunday School. Since education is meeting needs, when the weaknesses are determined specific action can be planned.
3. Research the need. After a committee has determined the specific weaknesses in a Sunday School it should go to the table of contents in Sunday School books to determine resources concerning their problem. The members of the committee should study as carefully as possible principles, programs, methods, and materials that will solve their problems.
4. Determine the strengths. Filling out the questionnaires and examining the standards will also tell where a Sunday School is strongest. Since a leader always operates from his strengths, begin by finding the Sunday School’s strengths; then work in areas where you can achieve the most help.
When a Sunday School staff examines its weaknesses, a spirit of pessimism usually sets in. By looking at strengths first the Sunday School staff can gain a sense of self-worth and make plans to improve its program out of a sense of achievement. No matter how poor, every Sunday School has achieved some level of ability.
5. Study the records. One of the best sources for evaluating a Sunday School is its past records. In the public school, records include punctuality, conduct, efforts, attitude, and grades in each subject. Periodic reports are sent to parents and guardians so that they may be informed of the child’s progress. Only a few Sunday Schools keep and use a systematic record of their pupils. Most Sunday Schools keep only attendance; a few keep punctuality.
At one time, many churches used the six-point record system or some modification of it. The name of the system suggested the number of records kept on each student. The pupils were graded on six points—attendance, punctuality, bringing their Bible, offering, church attendance, and lesson preparation. This gave the teacher good criteria for the spiritual progress of each pupil.
6. Evaluate by observation. Someone should visit each of the classes in operation. Usually the superintendent or director of Christian education observes each teacher to determine his effectiveness. However, casual observation for the sake of watching a teacher is not always effective. Administrators need to be trained in what to observe. Criteria are needed to guide his observation so that he sees the total class. The observer should compare what he sees with the Sunday School standard; this way his suggestions have an objective basis. Otherwise, he may see only those things that irritate him or those things that meet his fancy.
7. Strategy for improvement. After a church has evaluated its strengths and weaknesses, it must determine a plan to carry out the Great Commission in its Jerusalem. This plan is based on the principles of Christian education that are reflected by the church’s standard for success as found in the Bible.
SUNDAY SCHOOL STANDARDS
1. Policies. The Sunday School should have definite governing principles so that it may function efficiently and effectively:
* A Sunday School organized to teach Bible content.
* A Sunday School organized to change lives according to the New Testament concept.
* A Sunday School constituted to promote fellowship of believers one with another.
* A Sunday School administered to work in harmony with the Christian home.
* A Sunday School where people can administer their spiritual gifts.
* A Sunday School composed of teachers grounded in the Word of God and trained to meet the needs of individual pupils.
* A Sunday School designed to have an evangelistic thrust into the community.
* A Sunday School founded to nurture the spiritual growth of teachers and staff.
* A Sunday School divided (by classes, departments, or age) to meet each pupil on his own age level.
* A Sunday School planned for expansion.
* A Sunday School informed concerning the denomination and ready to cooperate with it.
* A Sunday School established with a definite financial budget.
2. Personnel. The Sunday School shall have definite policy concerning the spiritual and academic standard of the personnel responsible for its ministry.
The Sunday School teacher should have the following qualifications:
* Personal salvation.
* The gift of teaching (Ephesians 4:11).
* A thorough knowledge of the Word of God (II Timothy 3:15-17).
* Daily devotions consisting of prayer and Bible study.
* Regular church attendance (Hebrews 10:25).
* Planning and administrative ability.
* Leadership qualities, the ability to inspire confidence.
* Vision, the ability to view the job objectively and not become discouraged in it (Philippians 3:13-14).
* Ability to express himself and communicate.
* A cheerful, radiant personality.
* A manifested love for children.
* The ability and desire to counsel
* Originality, ability to create an interesting and diversified session.
Duties of the teacher would include:
* Regularity in teaching the class.
* Visitation in the pupils’ homes.
* Punctuality; be in class 15 minutes ahead of time.
* Attendance at Sunday School teachers meetings.
* Acquaintance with pupils through socials and other out-of-class gatherings.
3. Plan. The Sunday School shall have definite plans for the conversion and spiritual growth of the pupil. These plans are as follows:
* Salvation of every constituent Sunday School pupil.
1) Need of salvation.
2) Provision of salvation.
3) Acceptance of salvation.
4) Consequence of salvation:
* A systematic program to develop a full growth into Christian maturity.
1) Teach pupils to grow to maturity in Christ.
2) Church membership.
Instruction in church membership
Reception of members
3) Church education.
Sunday School administration
* Development of a social life that is honoring to the Lord.
1) Teacher-pupil relationship.
2) Participation in wholesome social activities.
* Develop a friendly relationship between the home and the Sunday School.
4. Progress. The Sunday School shall make definite plans for expansion. Increased attendance, improvement of organization, and the addition of equipment shall all contribute to the salvation and spiritual progress of the student. To insure progress in the
Sunday School, it must have the following:
* Teacher training for the new teacher and in-service training for regular teachers.
* Promotions each year for greater interest and incentive at all age levels.
* Evangelistic outreach within the Sunday School.
* Missionary education to broaden the vision of the total church.
* A program to reach new families.
* Creation of new programs and departments as the Sunday School grows.
* A Board of Christian Education to guide the total educational program of the church.
* Training in the use of audiovisual aids.
* Extension work, such as a ministry to prisons or hospitals, mission work, youth groups, mission Sunday School and, or visitation.
5. Outreach. The Sunday School shall use varying methods of serving its students and reaching its community by means of visitation, advertisements and transportation.
* Well-organized visitation program.
* Follow-up program for absentees.
* Provide transportation (bus ministry) for those who desire to attend but have no means.
* A well-organize& publicity campaign to make the church and community aware of the events of the Sunday School.
* Attention should be given to the total image of Sunday School in the minds of the public.
* Well-planned church calendar to coordinate special events and meetings in the church.
6. Property. The Sunday School shall maintain adequate facilities and equipment for effectively housing and teaching its pupils.
* Twenty-five square feet per pupil or ten square feet of prime educational space per pupil.
* Strategic location in the center of its clientele.
* Separate classrooms for each class and separate rooms for departmental activities.
* Windows in each room, if possible.
* Adequate heating, lighting (natural if possible), ventilation (air conditioning).
* Cheerful, pleasant inner decor.
* Adequate washroom facilities, including facilities for younger children as well as adults; drinking fountains; all kept clean and well maintained.
* Nursery care department equipped with cribs, washable toys, baby bottle warmer, and separate washroom.
* Chairs, tables, shelves, pictures, bulletin boards for each age level adapted to the height of the children.
* Projectors, screens, flannel boards, chalkboards, record player, and other visual aids. A visual aid library could be combined with the church library.
* A church library with an adequate selection of books for Christian education and sections for books for all ages.
* Cloakroom space for each department.
* Piano available in every department area.
* Organized, labeled storage space for all equipment.
* Proper fire exits and equipment and instruction in using them.
* Kitchen facilities to provide for socials, programs or other needs.
* Sunday School office with sufficient space for workers, records, filing system, and curriculum materials. Good office facilities aid administration.
* First aid kit available in Sunday School office.
* Wastepaper baskets in each room.
SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHERS COVENANT
The employee who works for a living realizes that there are certain rules by which he must govern his actions. These rules usually set standards for his conduct, dress, and the way he performs his job. Because people are receiving wages, little is usually said about the agreement between employer and employee.
Such an agreement between a teacher and the Sunday School is called a Sunday School covenant, and gives guidelines to the teachers concerning their responsibilities. Teachers are asked to agree to the covenant at the beginning of their term of teaching. When teachers are appointed for life they should renew their covenant once a year by indicating agreement. Other Sunday Schools appoint their teachers for one year; then the covenant must be agreed to before any teacher is appointed for another term.
Administrators use different methods in asking teachers to give allegiance to the covenant. In some churches the covenant is printed and distributed to teachers. They must sign it at the beginning of the year. Other Sunday Schools post it on bulletin boards; there is a general understanding among the entire Sunday School that teachers live by the covenant. Still other Sunday Schools have a teachers dedication day.
A dedication day for teachers is recommended by most aggressive Sunday Schools. At the beginning of the Sunday School year all teachers are asked to come to the front during the church service. Each point of the covenant is presented by the pastor or Sunday School superintendent. Teachers are asked to give their verbal agreement; thereby, everyone in the congregation knows what is expected of a teacher. A public dedication places Sunday School teaching on the highest level of expectation. When pupils see their teachers pledge their devotion to the Sunday School covenant, they realize that Sunday School teaching is more than a haphazard responsibility.
Some Sunday School teachers covenants become very specific regarding the points of sin prohibited in the local church. Other Sunday Schools are broader because of their interpretation of Christian grace. Whatever the specific requirements by the church, they should be clearly defined in the covenant. The following covenant is printed to give Sunday School administrators a guideline in adopting a covenant for their specific use.
A Sample Teachers Covenant
Recognizing the high privilege that is mine to serve my Lord through our Sunday School, and trusting in the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I earnestly pledge myself to this covenant.
1. I will live what I teach about separation from the world and purity of life, abstaining from all appearance of evil, setting an example in dress, conversation, deportment, and prayer (I Thessalonians 5:22).
2. I will be faithful in attendance and make it a practice to be present early to welcome each pupil as he arrives. If at any time, through sickness or other emergency, I am unable to teach my class I will notify my superintendent at the earliest possible moment (I Corinthians 4:2).
3. I will at all times manifest a deep spiritual concern for the members of my class. My first desire shall be to bring about the salvation of each pupil who does not know the Lord Jesus and to encourage the spiritual growth of every Christian (II Timothy 2:2).
4. I will carefully prepare my lessons and make each lesson a matter of earnest prayer (I Thessalonians 5:17).
5. I will regularly attend and urge all members of my class to be present at the church services, recognizing that the church and Sunday School are inseparable. Believing in the importance of prayer, I will endeavor to maintain regular attendance at the midweek prayer service as well as Sunday services.
6. I will teach according to the doctrines of our church, Christ our Saviour, Sanctifier, and Coming King (Acts 20:27).
7. I will wholeheartedly cooperate with the absentee program of our school and will strive to visit the home of each pupil at least once a year (Matthew 18:12).
8. I will heartily support the Sunday School program, attending the teachers meetings and the training classes (II Timothy 2:15).
9. I understand that my appointment as a teacher is for the 12-month period beginning the first Sunday of the Sunday School year. Whether my appointment is made then or later in the Sunday School year, I understand that it automatically terminates with the last Sunday of the Sunday School year and that decisions regarding re-appointment are based on my fulfillment of this teachers covenant (I Corinthians 3:9).
10. I will cheerfully abide by the decisions of my church and Sunday School, cooperating with my fellow workers in bringing our work to the highest possible degree of efficiency as one of the teaching agencies of the church (Matthew 28:19, 20; John 15:16).
Just as everything in life will rust or decay without attention, the Sunday School will deteriorate without standards. There must be a written set of criteria for the total Sunday School and an objective covenant for teachers; otherwise, the quality of the Sunday School will suffer because administrators and teachers will rely on their feelings to carry out their joy. The Sunday School that keeps its standards polished will have a clear vision of the future.
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
1. Why are Sunday School standards needed?
2. What should be the source for Sunday School standards?
3. What are the seven steps for improving a Sunday School?
4. What is one of the best sources for evaluating a Sunday School?
5. List the qualifications for a Sunday School teacher.
6. What plans should a Sunday School have for its pupils?
7. What are some of the necessary ingredients for progress in the Sunday School?
8. Name several methods of Sunday School outreach.
9. What items should be covered in the teacher’s covenant?
10. What are the advantages of a Teacher Dedication Day?
Hakes, J. Edward, An Introduction to Evangelical Christian Education (Moody Press, Chicago, 1964).
Towns, Elmer L., The Successful Sunday School and Teachers Guidebook (Creation House, Carol Stream, IL, 1976).
The above article, “Establishing Standards for Sunday School” was written by Elmer L. Towns. The article was excerpted from chapter seven in Town’s book, How to Grow an Effective Sunday School.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”