Sunday School Inreach – Ministering To Your Sunday School Members
Once we reach people for Bible study, we need to do all we can to keep them actively involved. It means making sure that people feel a part of the family — that they are connected to what is going on in your church. Whatever term we decide to use, ministering to our members is essential to a healthy, growing Sunday School.
To do an effective job with the tasks of care and fellowship, we must plan for it. What does it take to help members and prospects feel a sense of belonging and to help meet needs as they arise? We will look at the “why’s” and “how’s” of care first and then fellowship.
CARE-BINDING UP THE WOUNDS
Showing care for another’s needs is not an easy thing for everyone. But do we, as followers of Christ, have an option when it comes to ministering to others? Look at what God’s Word says concerning care and compassion.
Luke 10:30–37 is the familiar passage about the Good Samaritan. The keys to this passage are in verses 33, 34, and 37—…But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him…And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” And Jesus said to him,“Go and do the same.”
The Good Samaritan was not only willing to see the needs that someone else had, he was willing to take action, making personal sacrifices to see that the needs were met. Verse 37 directs — go and do the same. Other examples make this point — the life of Christ; the accounts of the early church in Acts; the New Testament letters. We find that we are to see needs with Jesus’ eyes and meet needs with action and with love. The biblical mandate is clear in 1 John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” We should be constantly striving to create a climate within our Sunday School departments and classes where sharing of real needs and concerns can take place and where our members can be challenged to meet needs as the Holy Spirit prompts them. When we care for people and minister to their needs they learn that they are truly part of the family.
How do we care? What shape does “care” take when we try to organize and plan for it to happen? Let’s take a look by age division at how you can best meet needs in your Sunday School. Preschool and Children. For your preschool and children’s divisions, care will take place in several different ways. The first way for care and ministry to be experienced is when teachers and department directors take time during the Bible study period to make each child feel special. A special look, a gentle touch, a kind word — all of these can say, “I care about you and I’m glad you’re here.”
Adults need to be sensitive to each child’s verbal and non-verbal messages that are displayed while in their care. Sometimes children, especially preschoolers, will exhibit worries and frustrations through their behavior. It is vital that the adult workers know the children well enough to know when something is not right in their world — to do this, they must be familiar with the child’s world (home, school, church). This sensitivity takes the worker to the next part of care, and that is ministering to the child’s family.
Many ministry opportunities may open up for your workers and your church when you desire to meet needs beyond the walls of the classroom. When family needs are discovered they should be shared with the pastor and the adult Sunday School department/class or others responsible for ministry to the parents. Keep in mind that things shared with you in confidence should not be shared with others without permission.
Youth. Care and ministry within the youth division is identical in purpose and intensity to what you expect from the preschool and children’s workers. The need for acceptance, belonging, and love is intensified during the teenage years. Adult workers with youth have the responsibility to help meet these needs. An increased opportunity to minister to entire families — some of whom may not be a part of your church family and in need of a Christian witness — is often provided during these adolescent years.
In order for youth workers to know about their class members’ needs, they must do what it takes to let the young person know that they truly care. As with preschool and children, this will take more time than just the period given to Bible study on Sunday morning. They must invest time outside the programmed church schedule to have the opportunity to make a difference in the young person’s life. This can be expressed through occasional attendance at sporting events, plays, band or choir performances — anything where you can show that you are interested in them. When they know you care about every part of their lives, they will be more willing to seek you out when needs or crises arise. Encourage youth workers to commit to putting in the extra relationship-building time necessary for effective care and ministry.
While teachers have the responsibility to see that care and ministry take place, youth can be involved in the process too. Allow them to make ministry visits with you. Some ministry opportunities can become class projects. Older youth may be responsible enough to be care group leaders in the same way as the adult class model. Each care group leader would be responsible for being the primary ministry contact for three to four other youth. Give them responsibility to exercise their spiritual gifts and to lead out in caring for others. When this is done we will be training the next generation of church leaders to have a caring mindset. Some church in the future will be glad you did!
Adults. Organizing adults for care and ministry is one of the keys to successful Sunday School work. Adult members and prospects also have needs of belonging, love, and importance which must be met. The adult class almost becomes a family unit within the larger church family. We must be intentional in our ministry, for it is vital to every person feeling part of the family. With adults, organizing for care and ministry is essential so that no one “falls through the cracks” when needs arise.
Just as in the other age divisions, knowing our members and being interested in their lives and well-being is the key to whether they will want us around when true ministry needs arise. Make sure that your adult classes are “safe havens” where people can be real and share things that they are facing in their lives. Adult class members may not always remember how good the lesson was or how eloquent the teacher, but they will remember whether or not they were made to feel like part of the family as they make the weekly decision of whether or not to come to Sunday School. So how do we organize for effective care and ministry? The best method around is to organize your class into Care Groups. Find persons who have the spiritual gifts of service/helps, administration, mercy, shepherding, encouragement (or a combination of these) and who have a desire (calling) to serve as care group leaders. Each leader has the responsibility of ministering to/keeping up with four to six people or up to four couples — it all depends on the make-up of the class. The more you can enlist qualified persons within your class, the better your ministry of caring will be.
Care group leaders may do such things as telephone, write notes of encouragement, have informal times of fellowship at their home — whatever they need to do to get to know their group better and let them know they truly care about what happens in their lives. They are the “front-line” ministers for those persons/families. The teacher is responsible for keeping up with the activities of the care group leaders, helping to make needs known to the pastor (if necessary) and the rest of the class (when appropriate), and helping to meet needs when they have opportunity. The care group concept can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. The important thing is that you take proactive steps to organize for effective ministry.
The key to a successful “caring” Sunday School team is accountability. The adult workers should help one another be aware of ministry opportunities and should be responsible for tracking and follow-up. The Sunday School director and the Sunday School Council are responsible for keeping a ministry mindset/atmosphere before the workers at all times. We must ask them the tough questions, “Tell me about the needs that you have discovered this week/month in your class.”
Let workers know that effective care and ministry is an expectation for every class within your church’s Bible study organization. When you do a good job of meeting needs, along with providing quality Bible study, you will have a healthy organization that can’t help but grow!
FELLOWSHIP — THE TIE THAT BINDS
“And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46–47, NASB) Fellowship. . .koinonia. . .getting together with a purpose. Webster defines it as, “a group of people with the same interests.” Fellowship means different things to different people. To some, fellowship means filling your plate to the brim at the annual “dinner on the grounds.” To some, fellowship means trying a little bit of everyone’s homemade ice cream on a hot July Sunday night. To others, it means having a meal with three or four other couples — without children! And to others, it simply means getting together for a time of sharing.
Whatever images the word “fellowship” brings to your mind, as Christians, they all accomplish the same purpose — bringing us together in Christ. Fellowship provides the bond of unity which draws us closer together as a family of faith. As Christians we hold many things in common — Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Eph. 4:3–6). This commonality binds us together. Just as true Christian fellowship is vital to the unity of your expanded church family, so too is it vital to the health and unity of your Bible study class. Fellowship is as important to the growth of the class as are care and ministry. For without it, the atmosphere of trust, acceptance, and honesty is hard to come by. Once again, let’s look at the age divisions to get a grasp on the “how to’s” of fellowship. Preschool and Children. Obviously, the younger the child, the more difficult it is to have any kind of grand scale fellowship. However, you should not take this to mean that we don’t create fellowship opportunities in the younger age groups. Fellowship can be anything from knowing each child by name to having preschoolers and their parents over to your house for a picnic. Whatever you can do to help them feel a part of what is going on, that’s what you need to do.
For older preschoolers and especially for children, make an effort to do several special things during the year to help foster a feeling of unity. Ideas abound for fellowships with children. One great resource for helpful age-specific suggestions is the In Ministry with Kids magazine published by the Lifeway Christian Resources. Each month, helps are given for all aspects of teaching. Be creative. Take ideas that you read or hear about and add a twist to make them unique for your class.
Youth. Anything goes in the world of youth fellowships. Whoever is responsible for the fellowship aspect of youth Sunday School should have high energy and a lot of creativity! The relationship side of youth Sunday School is the key to whether or not they will give any credence to what you say on Sunday morning.
Fellowships for youth Sunday School need to be fun and frequent. Where an adult class or department may have one fellowship per quarter, the youth department or class may want to consider having one fellowship for the department and several smaller fellowship opportunities for the classes.
Department ideas for youth could range from having donuts and orange juice on Sunday morning prior to Bible study, all the way to day trips to an amusement park. Ideas for class fellowships could include: eating together at a local pizza place after Sunday morning worship; going on a campout; watching an appropriate video at the teacher’s home on the weekend; going as a class to see an appropriate movie at the local theater; a girl’s class may enjoy a shopping trip; a boy’s class may enjoy going fishing together — you get the idea, anything to build unity! Our common bond is our desire to learn more about Jesus, but fellowship is a great way to let the Holy Spirit mold us into a group that cares about one another.
Adults. The adults in your Sunday School are no different from the other age groups — they like fellowships too! Adults of all ages need opportunities to build relationships with each other and to have fun. As you are probably all too familiar with, our busy lives sometimes get in the way of doing the important things. Developing friendships with other Christians is one of those important things in your life and the life of your church, department, and class. The number one reason for incorporating a new member is the friendship factor.
Develop fellowship ideas that meet the needs of your group. Consider such things as schedule, frequency, child care issues, transportation, cost, and purpose. The purpose of our fellowships is to build unity within our class or department. With that in mind, we should also use these times to invite prospects so that they can get to know us in a more relaxed setting.
Sharing fellowship events draws others into the group by providing a base of common experiences. Consider this statement — “The times in our lives when we are more like Jesus are when we are spending time reaching out to those who do not know God.” This can be used as an opportunity to build a unity with them that may not be accomplished in the classroom setting.
Be creative. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas. One adult class at our church planned a family retreat at a nearby State park. They also incorporated a time of discussion and learning about parenting issues. They had a great time and drew closer together in the Lord as a group.
Fellowships for adult departments need to occur at least once per quarter. Ideas for these may include: potluck luncheons/suppers; progressive suppers; using the entire Sunday School time once a quarter for the department to be together for fellowship and worship; renting a skating rink (roller or ice!) and having a family fellowship — once again, your creativity will be the only limiting factor. Class fellowships need to occur more frequently. To become a cohesive team, we need to spend time together, but not to the exclusion of anyone. Ideas for other fellowships may include: supper at a class member’s home (with or without children); a white water rafting trip or canoe trip; a class family picnic; a class retreat; a class family campout; a class ministry project (yes, working together can be a unique bond for fellowship — it is the fellowship of labor — remember the definition: that which is held in common); going out to eat as a class (with or without children); and just about anything else your group is willing to do.
Whatever you do to develop fellowship, the important thing is that you are intentional in your planning and purpose to see that meaningful opportunities for fellowship are available. “Blest be the tie that binds.”
The times in our lives when we are more like Jesus are when we are spending time reaching out to those who do not know God.
CONCLUSION Care and fellowship are two vital elements for a successful Sunday School. They are, however, closely tied together. A successful care ministry depends greatly on successful fellowship. The stronger the relationships are among your members, the stronger your ability to minister in times of need. The Lord has given us an awesome responsibility as Sunday School team members to strengthen our members in love and unity. As we come together each week to study His Word, let’s not forget that He desires for us to apply it to our daily lives. Two ways we can do that are through care and ministry that makes a difference and fellowship that unites our hearts. “Go and do likewise.”
The above article, “Sunday School Inreach – Ministering To Your Sunday School Members” was written by Ben Atkinson. The article was excerpted from: “A Coaches Guide To Sunday School” – Sunday School Inreach by Ben Atkinson. Mississippi Baptist Convention Board. Used by Permission. September 2017.
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.”