Helping Your Sunday School Grow (Newsletter 3-4)

Helping Your Sunday School Grow
Phil Wood


One of my earliest memories is standing in the packed foyer of the Reilly Junior High School in Northlake, Illinois. I was knee-high to my pop, and that was about all I could see as we tried to make our way into the rented gym for a Sunday school rally.

In the 1960s, our church plant was on the leading edge of the ascending church-growth curve. Week after week of the fall campaign our new congregation grew with busloads of strangers arriving to see Paul, the World’s Strongest Man, or Mike the Karate Guy. For attending, everyone received an autographed photo, extra points for the big contest, and the gospel.

These Sunday school antics of the ’60s and ’70s, however, may have been what got the Sunday school hour kicked out of many of our churches.

With weekend schedules getting tighter and philosophies of ministry clashing more than ever, are Sunday school programs still relevant today?

If we agree that the corporate worship is not enough to help people connect to God and others, what better time than Sunday morning is there to assist them to the next level? When the people of Saddleback Community Church were polled with the question, “When is the best time to study the Bible with others?” the resounding answer was Sunday morning.

Sunday school, with only about two centuries under its belt, is the new kid on the block when it comes to spiritual formation. It is not necessarily sacrosanct, but it was born out of a time during the Industrial Revolution when Sunday was the only day that the littlest factory workers were available. From those humble beginnings of reaching out to unchurched and neglected youths, it enjoyed a century or so of being a staple in most mainline Protestant churches.

The new model for Sunday school does not need to revert to past examples. The need today is for a weekend hybrid that takes the best of the Sunday school program and combines it with what we have learned the last few decades about small groups, discipleship, outreach, and spiritual formation.

Sunday school has the potential to thrive again. According to Thom Rainer, “Sunday school has not stopped working for churches; churches have stopped working Sunday school.” Ways that we can begin to put Sunday school to work include the following:

1. Add back the outreach component. Any class that is designed to attract the unchurched, from Alpha to Divorce Recovery, might actually be more effective in the Sunday-morning slot. Don’t be offended, however, if people do not stay for the worship service.

2. Return to teaching the Bible. There is a reason why the History Channel spent $22 million to produce the Bible miniseries and why ratings are soaring. People are parched for the Word of God.

3. Retool the setting. Wendy’s, with their plan to install fireplaces, is learning from McDonald’s, who remodeled to mimic Starbucks, who nailed it with the type of environments people enjoy. Your C.E. space does not need to look like it stepped out of the ’80s.

4. Don’t forget the family. Families are starving to be together and to learn from one another. Intergenerational classes can answer the legitimate concerns of those who believe that age-segregated classes undermine the efforts of the home and the impact of the church.

Realistically, most families cannot afford to leave their God-given original small group, called the home, for another night out. Adding an hour or so to the Sunday-morning schedule may not be the most novel idea, but it is a small investment that could deliver huge dividends to a hungry congregation.

Phil Wood is director of Urban Youth Ministries in Aurora, Illinois


The above article, “Helping Your Sunday School Grow” was written by Phil Wood. The article was excerpted from web site. March 2016.

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.”