Evangelism in Sunday School
Sunday school exists for four purposes: for fellowship, for evangelism, for discipling, and for mobilizing for ministry. When a Sunday school does not focus on outreach, a productive avenue for reaching others is lost.
This is not a new concern. All the way back at the beginning of the 20th century, Amos Wells wrote a book for Sunday school leaders. He challenged leaders to remember their outreach mission of Sunday school. Wells knew that the mechanics of recruiting teachers, training a team, ordering curriculum, and keeping records could, Martha like, unintentionally distract leaders. Caught up in the urgent challenges of coordinating ministry, leaders could neglect the better part of focusing on outreach. Wells challenged leaders to keep their Sunday schools from becoming “mechanical and dead, their vital purpose [evangelism] being overlooked” (Philadelphia: Wesminster Press, 1915, 81).
At the beginning of the 21st century, much of Wells’ message continues to challenge Sunday school leaders. Yet, the dynamics of Sunday school still make it one of the best settings for outreach and evangelism.
Because of its small group composition, the Sunday school class is an ideal setting for evangelism at all age levels. The group is usually 25 or fewer people. That size of group provides a non-threatening atmosphere for people to share freely. Everyone’s participation in the small group is encouraged because the life of the group depends on it. As people participate in the class, the group begins to function as a tight knit unit rather than a collection of individuals.
Sunday school’s organization around age and interest levels is also an asset to evangelism. Common interests and needs nurture friendships that go beyond the acquaintances of the larger sanctuary setting. Mutual needs and concerns become a basis for evangelism.
One of the greatest values of Sunday school is the intimacy that grows out of establishing relationships. Sunday school becomes a place where people can be themselves, share their hurts and frustrations, and find answers in the Bible with a group of people who care for them.
Focusing on Evangelism
Sunday school can be effective in evangelism, but it requires planning, training, and cooperation among all teachers. As a teacher you can learn to emphasize the following strategies.
1. Expect a response. Lessons should offer a time for students to respond to biblical truths. A variety of responses can be expected: prayers for salvation or baptism in the Holy Spirit as well as life and attitude changes. By planning lesson time for response, you begin to expect spiritual growth in your students.
2. Plan lessons that call for response. Follow the example of ancient planners in Egypt. Some archaeologists believe Egyptian builders cut the capstone of pyramids first. The last stone to be set in place guided the pattern for all the other stones used in the construction. All angles had to line up with the capstone. In a similar way you can approach lesson planning with the end response in mind and then move back through lesson presentation preparing for the planned response.
3. Manage class time. Effective time management ensures that your students will have time to respond to an evangelistic appeal. Look for resources that will help you structure your lessons so they can be completed in the allotted time. Often teaching time can be divided into segments: fellowship, focusing on the need for the lesson, studying the passage, and calling for response. Learn to write target times, that are tailored for your Sunday school’s schedule, at the beginning of each segment. If your Sunday school’s official start time is 9:30, you might assign the following times: fellowship 9:20; focus 9:40; study 9:50; respond 10:10. Sometimes class discussion or unexpected events will keep you from completing every lesson segment. Learn how to find an appropriate closing place early enough to allow students to respond to the biblical principles that have been presented to that point.
4. Practice making salvation appeals. Teachers who have practiced making salvation appeals are more likely to follow through in Sunday school. So while planning lessons, consider role-playing how to make salvation appeals under a variety of circumstances. Also, prayerfully consider how to stay sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to needs of the students in your class.
5. Heighten anticipation. Your Sunday school can be highly effective in evangelism. Anticipating results can become contagious for your students. Amos Wells expressed it this way, “Get into your heart the evangelistic desire, and the evangelistic action will be sure to follow” (85). Talk about Sunday school evangelism with your students. With your class members pray that God will use your Sunday school as a place where people become Christians.
6. Train students in evangelism. Ask your students to begin each day with this prayer: “Good morning, Lord. Thank You, for all you have done for me. Help me today to watch for times to tell others about You.” Give your students time in class to tell about spiritual conversations they had during the week. Talk about how to make Sunday school a place where their unsaved friends would like to come. As you focus on using Sunday school for evangelism, you’ll find more and more times when students are bringing unsaved friends and these friends are inviting Jesus into their hearts.
Continuing the Commission
Evangelism is one of the four main purposes of Sunday school. As Sunday school teachers, we can take advantage of the small group setting of Sunday school to draw more and more people to Jesus Christ. May the Spirit guide us in using Sunday school to its full capacity.
1. Why is Sunday school such an effective setting for evangelism?
2. List three student responses you can expect from a Bible lesson.
3. List three of the ways you can increase the number of students saved in Sunday school classes.
This article “Evangelism in Sunday School” by Alex Desalt was excerpted from: Sunday School Ministries, Springfield, MO. © 1993. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
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.”