EVANGELISM: THE SUNDAY SCHOOL MINISTRY
By: Tim Massengale
In many denominations, and even within some of our own fellowship, the Sunday School has fallen on difficult times. Some are abandoning their Sunday Schools in favor of a simpler children’s church format. Others have gone to a single Sunday afternoon service with no Sunday School at all. And perhaps the most common trend is to still have age-graded classes for children, but eliminate the Sunday morning class for
adults. Has the Sunday School lost it’s usefulness? Should we abandon it all together?
At least, not according to the research of the leading authorities in church growth. They strongly advocate the Sunday School as being a vial, if not a key, element within most all growing churches. While I may not agree with all the growth research and methods being published (not all of it applies to the Apostolic concept of revival and growth), this is one area I support with a resounding, “Amen!”
It has been my observation that most growing churches are strong Sunday School churches. When the pastors of these growing churches are asked about their key growth ministries, they repeatedly point to the
Sunday School as a major element. In fact, one well known pastor put it simply that “it is impossible to build a great church organization of an enduring nature without building a great teaching program
through the Sunday School.” Even a casual glance at the large, growing, Apostolic churches in United States will attest to this statement as being truth. The ten largest churches in Oneness Pentecost are almost all strong Sunday School churches. This is not just a coincidence.
An an institution, the Sunday School is over two hundred years old. First conceived by Robert Raikes in 1780, it began as an educational outreach to children – the street ruffians of the ghettos – to teach them the word of God. Having it’s foundation on two solid rocks – evangelism and education – it has endured the test of time to become the primary method of evangelism by the fastest growing fundamental denominations within the United States. Why is Sunday School so important to growth? Consider the following:
1. The Sunday School provides spiritual strength for growth. The Sunday School is the only place in most churches that provides a systematic, comprehensive, and complete coverage of the Bible. As good as the preaching and teaching on Sunday morning, evening, and mid-week services is, it is usually very selective and focused on needed areas. The messages are aimed at changing lives rather than providing a balanced Bible education.
This balanced diet is as important to the spiritual man as good nutrition and eating habits are to the physical man: when people eat a balanced diet they feel better, act better, think clearer, and are more productive. Without an established “through the Bible in seven years” curriculum, we have a tendency to “major on minors” and “plow the same Gospel ground.” Your people need more than that. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Unless you teach through the Bible in one of your other services, you need to have a strong Sunday School for all ages. Their spiritual health depends on it!
2. The Sunday School trains workers for Christian service. More than any other program in your church, the Sunday School is a place to develop workers for all types of labor within the church. It can utilize saints from the new convert level all the way to developing preachers and elders for full-time service. They can gain valuable experience in administration, motivation, organization, evangelization, instruction, as well as a multitude of skills and talents. A growing, evangelistic Sunday School utilizes teachers, supervisors, assistants, secretaries, office help, musicians, bus workers, story tellers, craft workers, puppeteers, artists, and dozens more. How will you use this vast reservoir of talent if not in the Sunday School? How will you begin to train leaders for other areas of service if you have not a Sunday School? Look at most of the key
leaders and department heads in growing churches where they started – the Sunday School! Ask most preachers where they first developed their abilities to teach – the Sunday School! The old saying, “use them or lose them” is true in every aspect. Working Christians are happy Christians, fulfilled in their labor for God.
3. The Sunday School is a vital tool of evangelism. A real problem in many churches is their limited number of family, friends, and acquaintances to witness to and carry the truth. The longer a person lives for God, the fewer non-church friends and contacts he or she will have. A Sunday School that is reaching out to it’s neighborhood and community will be continually expanding it’s “oikos” to people who would have otherwise never had any contact with the church.
Using a bus, van, or car ministry, not only will you have an opportunity to plant the word into the hearts of the children, but a weekly reason to visit the home and become friends with the parents. Special promotional events such as Easter, Christmas, Mother and Father’s Day programs give a prime opportunity to invite the parents to church and see “Suzzie” perform her part. Such contests and
promotions also encourage all church members to invite their friends and neighbors to the service.
An evangelistic Sunday School will also seeing the children – both of saints and sinners – come to full Bible salvation. Often when the child makes a move for God, it motivates the parents to move also.
Sunday School provides a perfect format and organization for all types of outreach: door knocking, bus ministry, special day promotion, bringing visitors, personal witnessing, and home Bible study to name a
few. How much a church would be losing by not having a Sunday School! If your Sunday School is presently not productive in winning souls, the answer is not to eliminate it, but to change it – into the
powerful evangelistic tool that it was meant to be.
GOOD SUNDAY SCHOOL BASICS
What are the basic elements that make a good Sunday School? There are many. We will not attempt to list all of them – entire books have been written on the subject. But there are some key factors that should be
a part of every Sunday School if it is going to be effective in the “teaching and reaching” ministries.
1. Teacher’s Prayer. Every church should maintain a Sunday morning teacher’s prayer/staff meeting to begin at least thirty minutes before the teachers are to be in class. Although a challenge to launch, it
will be one of the most positive methods of binding your staff together and getting into a spiritual frame of mind. You will be amazed at the difference this will make. You will need to appoint one person each week to supervise early arrivals (bus & church children) so that they will not interfere with this prayer/staff meeting.
2. Aim For Excellence. Many churches are utilizing the “Aim For Excellence” program of motivating teachers to fulfill the basics of their teaching commitment. This method has brought excellent results
and high praise from pastors and superintendents alike. It is simple, yet effective. It gives each teacher a “standard of excellence” to aim for in the areas of arriving on time, attending Sunday morning prayer,
absentee follow-up, lesson preparation, and classroom appearance. It also provides recognition and reward for all teachers that reach this basic standard. The entire program is explained in another section of
3. Absentee & Visitor Follow-up. The superintendent should motivate all teachers to follow good absentee follow-up and child visitor follow-up practices each week. Standardized guidelines of how this is to be done should be typed up and handed out. A system of accountability must also be developed to insure consistency and faithfulness. Most find that “Aim For Excellence” provides this very well.
4. Regular Staff Meetings. A superintendent should have a regular staff meeting on an off church night at least quarterly (or monthly if needed) to keep all teachers informed of upcoming developments and plans. This is a motivational as well as instructional time. Here you will solve problems, answer questions, set goals, explain promotions, implement improvements, and so on. This is also an excellent time to have some teacher training.
5. Teacher Training. Every church should provide a annual teacher training course, on several off-church nights, unless a program is offered by the section or district. This should be an in depth training session that focuses on the teachers burden and responsibilities, as well a teaching techniques. The basic laws of
teaching and instructional theory should be reviewed also. This course should be changed each year so as to not become redundant. Check with your local Bible book store for resources, or call the General Sunday
School Division of the United Pentecostal Church, Hazelwood, Missouri.
6. Accurate Records. Records are an important diagnostic tool. They tell you where you are and where you are going. Every Sunday School should keep records of attendance, offering, visitors, bus rider attendance, and salvation results. A weekly report should be turned into the pastor. A large line graph should be kept of attendance as compared to our monthly goals.
7. Staff Banquet. The pastor and superintendent should plan an annual Sunday School Staff Banquet toward the end of each curriculum year. This will include the giving of various awards and presenting your
“Teach Of The Year” plaques. This says “thank you” for all your hard work and a job well done. Everyone appreciates being appreciated.
THE EVANGELISTIC SUNDAY SCHOOL
The value of the Sunday School upon the growth of the church is immeasurable. It directly fulfills of two classic verses, one in the Old Testament and one in the New. The first is Deuteronomy 31:12: “Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the works of this law.” Notice the commandment is not only to the family, but to the “stranger that is within thy gates.” Sunday School is truly the “gathering” arm of the church, not to children only, but also to moms and dads and strangers not directly related to the church.
The second verse is Luke 14:21: “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.” And verse 23: “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” How accurately this describes the ministry of Sunday School and Bus Ministry! The opponents of these ministries often complain that all they do is fill up the building and classrooms with ragged little kids. Exactly! That is what the Lord told us to do: “bring in hither the poor . . . that my house may be full!” There is a special blessing that is placed upon a church that does all that it can do with what is available. Of course, simply filling up a building is not our goal,
but rather, it is to evangelize the children, and through this, reach their parents. It would be wonderful to fill up the facility with adults and children both. But in the absence of that, when the invited masses of our cities do not respond (make sure you have truly invited them), then the Lord said to fill the House of God with what is available – poor, halt, maimed, blind, what ever will come – even ragged little children!
How do we fill our facility up? The classic steps to Sunday School growth were established almost seventy-five years ago by a lay Sunday School superintendent from Mississippi. Arthur Flake developed what
has become known as “Flake’s Five Laws of Sunday School Growth.” These five steps have been repeated in dozens of growth books and articles. They have proven themselves to be true over and again:
1. Discover the Prospects. Reaching people requires discovering specific prospects. The concept of “oikos” demands this. As we discover prospects, we also discover possibilities. Once discovered, we must win their friendship, relate the Gospel to their needs, and win them to Christ.
Locating prospects for Sunday School is done many ways – surveys, Enroll-to-Grow, church visitors, contests and promotions, bus/van ministry, church socials, Sunday School picnics – to name a few.
2. Provide the Space. A Sunday School can only grow to the size building in which it is housed. A church will never grow to need space it fails to first provide. A church must first provide the space, then it can grow to fill it.
Church growth research has repeatedly proven that a church will never grow beyond 80-85% capacity and stay there for any length of time. You may pack the building to 100% for a short time, but it will always
fall back. The same holds true for room capacity for additional Sunday School children. A class will not grow much beyond 80% capacity.
Additional space may be provided by remodeling, utilizing unused space, acquiring adjacent buildings, using rooms that were designed for other purposes (one church has the New Life Class for new converts
in the pastor’s office), and having multiple sessions of your Sunday School.
Recently it has become popular to start “Satellite Sunday Schools.” These are classes that meet at various locations other then at the church: a member’s living room or garage, community rooms, or schools. The possibilities are endless. Of course, building new facilities is always the best solution it you can afford it.
3. Enlist and Train the Workers. If new people are to be reached, workers must first be trained. To wait until the need is there is to wait too late. A Sunday School should add one additional worker for every 10 or 15 students they plan to enroll. Training of additional staff should be a continual, ongoing process – because that is what your growth should be also.
4. Enlarge the Organization. The book of Acts introduced a new kind of math – a church must “divide” to “multiply.” All growth experts agree that a new class grows faster than an old class. Dividing classes,
creating new age divisions, and starting a new class will encourage growth. Most classes reach their peak growth attendance after two years. Rarely do they grow much after that. But a new class will normally grow rapidly. Once a class stops growing, it should be divided into two classes. Percentage wise, smaller units will grow faster than larger units.
5. Go After the People. None of the above laws will work if the Sunday School does not visit. Regular visitation to prospects must be done by the bus/van ministry, teachers, Saturday Door Knocking teams, and others. There are many programs that can be used. What programs and Sunday School outreach ministries a church will utilize will depend upon it’s size, needs, and potential for growth. But regardless of
what method you use, all class absentees, visitors, unsaved parents, and backsliders must be visited on a regular basis.
In addition to above laws, there are additional steps a growing Sunday School should take. The key to applying the above to your church will lie in two areas: (1) Motivating your people consistently to fulfill
these laws, and (2) Providing the right programs and ministries – what you might call “tools” – in order to do the job properly.
The following five methods are only a few of the tools that you can make your Sunday School a dynamic, evangelistic, soulwinning ministry for the glory of God:
1. Attendance Goals. Every Sunday School should strive to reach a Sunday School attendance goal each year. This annual goal should be divided into monthly goals. The monthly goals should be divided into
class goals. Each Sunday School class should have a monthly goal to reach. If each class reaches their goals, then the S.S. as a whole should reach their goal also. The “5-year Growth Goal Work sheet” and the “Church Growth Spiral” will help you arrive at your yearly attendance goals.
2. Attendance Promotions. A growing Sunday School will always plan each year at least four major attendance promotions (one per quarter) to increase the Sunday School membership. These can be contests, special programs, dramas, prizes, anything that will encourage people to come to Sunday School and bring a friend. The suggested times for these four promotions are Easter, Pentecost Sunday, Thrust Sunday, and Christmas. The promotions should be able to involve adults as well as children.
Besides these four, there should be several other minor promotions on other special days such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and others. The goal should always be increased
enrollment. Once the children are attending, we can use a ministries such as “Parentreach” or “Enroll-to-Grow” to reach the entire family.
3. Monthly Holy Ghost Sunday. A common complaint of some is that we are only “baby sitting,” and for all our work, time, and expense, we see no results. To solve such a problem, many churches have instituted
a “Monthly Holy Ghost Sunday.”
This ministry sets aside one Sunday each month to specifically focus in on the salvation of the students – ages primary through adults. On this Sunday the lessons are taught with one goal in mind: to provide
an altar call time at the end. The children are presented the need of receiving the Holy Ghost and are encouraged to seek for this gift at the conclusion of the lesson.
The results of such a Sunday are exciting to say the least. Hardly a month goes by without several children, and often times adults, praying through within the classroom. And when a child whose parents don’t attend receives the Holy Ghost, it is often a prelude to getting a home Bible study in that home. How to prepare and conduct such a program is explained in detail later in this chapter.
4. “Parentreach” Bus Ministry. Even more that Sunday School, the Bus Ministry has been attacked as being an expensive, nonproductive ministry. Many churches have sold their buses and given up their routes. How sad! They have succumbed to the proverbial problem of “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” The problem lay not with Bus Ministry, but with how we were using it. When Bus Ministry becomes only a “numbers game” to inflate our attendance egos, it is destined to fail. The primary, and fundamental purpose of Bus Ministry must always be to reach into the home for the parents, as well as to save the children. To this end, the “Parentreach” concept of Bus Ministry has gained popularity.
Parentreach is a system that makes an intensive effort to reach the parents with a home Bible study and to invite them to church. The results have been excellent! The same method can be used for a van or car ministry also. How to institute the Parentreach ministry is explained in detail later in this chapter.
5. “Annual Children’s Crusades & Camps. The children’s revival with an effective children’s evangelist has been a great boost to many Sunday Schools. This annual event results in many children receiving the Holy
Ghost off of our bus routes. Many churches also push strongly to get bus children to attend district children’s camps, even to the point of offering scholarships. Not only do they have a great time, but they
often come back with the Holy Ghost. In both cases, the pastor should visit the unsaved parents and stress the importance of providing their son or daughter with a Christian home. A home Bible study is often the
There is inspiration and excitement in numbers. There is a strong psychological boost to thinking of your church as averaging 150 as compared to fifty. Breaking the attendance goal each year expands the vision of growth for your people like nothing else. Also, the excitement of children receiving the Holy Ghost charges the faith of your people to believe for adults. It has been repeatedly proven that if your Sunday School will grow, your church membership will grow too.
No church should ever have just a “Sunday School” – they should have an “Evangelistic Sunday School.” We have allowed ourselves to drift away from evangelism to education alone. Sunday School belongs on the
evangelistic side of our organizational chart. No Sunday School deserves the title of being “great,” regardless of its size, unless it is reaching a majority of its members with New Testament Salvation. This is true no matter what other claims to greatness it might have. This is the purpose of the church, to seek and to save that which is lost.
(The above material was prepared and published by Tim Massengale from Total Church Growth. You can order the complete 2 volumne set from the Pentecostal Publishing House.)
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