The Reaching Arm of Sunday School
Elmer L. Towns
Anyone who properly teaches the Bible will be concerned about reaching lost people. The first part of the definition of Sunday School is found in the chapter title: Sunday School is the reaching arm of the church.
REACHING THE WORLD
1. God’s desire for the multitude. In Deuteronomy 31:11, 12, the Word of God tells plainly, “When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord . . . Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger. . . .” The truth of this command is repeated in the greatest verse in the New Testament, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave. . . .”
The gospel presents a picture of God’s love for all people, so much so that Jesus gave Himself, not just for the saved but for the whole world (I John 2:2). Concerning the spiritual need of children to be saved, “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones shall perish” (Matthew 18:14). Therefore, the nature of God is tied to reaching the world.
2. Jesus’ desire for the multitudes. Jesus proved His love by living in this world. “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Again, Jesus said, “. . . for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).
A Sunday School teacher who has Jesus in his heart will manifest it by going after lost people who should be in his class. In Luke, chapter 15, there is the illustration of the woman seeking the lost coin and the shepherd seeking the lost sheep. These vividly portray the example of Jesus’ love for the lost and how we should go after them.
3. The church’s obligation for the multitude. The Great Commission commands, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19a). Emphasis here is on the multitudes around the world. The early church fulfilled its command through Acts 5:42: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” Later, Paul led the church in Ephesus in evangelism, “publickly, and from house to house” (Acts 20:20c). These are our examples.
Perhaps the verse that is applied most to Sunday School bus ministries is: “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23b). The Sunday School bus ministry has the Great Commission at its heart, going after the multitude.
As necessary as the bus ministry is, in some churches it has made Sunday School teachers lazy. When teachers rely on someone else to reach the lost, they become mere communicators of the Bible, hence losing their uniqueness. The task of reaching all people for Bible study is not optional; it is mandatory.
4. A vision for the multitudes. It is said you cannot achieve what you cannot conceive. Therefore, Sunday School leaders should have a vision of what they want to accomplish. Vision many times involves numerical goals. Recently a Sunday School advertised, “March to 500 in Sunday School during March.” Its attendance had been 350 during the winter. It had a vision of reaching unsaved people and bringing them in to hear the gospel. A church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had a large motto in its auditorium: “Reach this city for Christ.” Vision is necessary for growth. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18a).
Jesus had a vision of lost people, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). These were not the people in the synagogues, nor under religious instruc¬tion; these were the multitudes. Sunday Schools die when they content themselves with those on their rolls. There is a future for the church with a burning desire to reach lost people through the Sunday School.
The multitudes are not in church buildings. Most of them are in shopping centers, office buildings, and suburbs. There are millions who have never been to Sunday School. Jesus tells us to lift up our eyes and look on the fields. A vision of unreached multitudes is necessary to move a church out into the highways and into the hedges.
5. A compassion for the multitudes. Vision leads to compassion. When Jesus saw the multitudes He was moved to compassion. This was not a casual stirring of emotions. This was a burden based on knowledge. To have a biblical vision, a Sunday School must see the multitudes as Jesus saw them. A Sunday School teacher will gain such a burden by spending time with the Lord in prayer.
But vision of the multitudes leads to generalizations if the vision does not include individuals. Jesus placed great value on the individual: “Ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7b). He also noted, “. . . joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth . . .” (Luke 15:7) and He “calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out” (John 10:3b).
Sunday School teachers should develop the habit of praying for lost people individually. By developing a prayer list and becoming an intercessor, teachers begin to understand the value of a lost soul.
USING THE SUNDAY SCHOOL TO REACH PEOPLE
There are many Sunday Schools that are growing. The recent listing in Christian Life magazine of the 100 largest Sunday Schools proved there can be numerical growth in these days. They also listed the fastest growing Sunday School in each state in the United States, showing that all denominations, in all states, in all localities, can grow. There is no logical reason for a Sunday School not to grow, whether it be rural, inter¬city, or an integrated Sunday School. The following are some steps to growth:
1. Find the prospects. One of the first steps in causing your Sunday School to grow is determining who should be in your Sunday School. A prospect is a person who should and could attend the Sunday School. Prospects can be found by the following methods:
(a) Search the Sunday School rolls for prospects. If accurate records are kept, people will be on the rolls who have not attended in quite awhile. Gather these people into a prospect list, especially noting the chronic absentees. Those who have dropped out over a period of time may be convinced to return. Perhaps at Promotion Sunday a pupil was lost because he did not like his new teacher. These are the prospects that should be the focus of attention.
(b) Use a buddy-search. Go through each Sunday School class and ask every member to give the names, addresses, and phone numbers of their friends. When prospects know members in a Sunday School, they are likely to attend, especially if they are contacted in the name of their friend. A buddy-search will reveal a number of prospects who could be in Sunday School.
(c) Take a religious census. Many Sunday School workers go throughout their neighborhood at least once a year, taking a religious census. This way they determine who is not attending church; these people then become prospects, and soulwinners can go after them. Other churches have found that this is not an effective means. Whatever is effective for you should be used.
(d) Use the Welcome Wagon list. Many neighbor¬hoods print a list of new residents; this makes an excellent prospect list inasmuch as they are not settled into a church. Sometimes these people will respond to a friendly invitation to Sunday School.
2. Focus on the prospects. Make the reaching time and effort count. A Sunday School worker may go to a shopping center, inviting visitors to attend Sunday School, with small results. On a Saturday night, 2,000 leaflets might be passed out and not more than one or two visitors will come the following Sunday. If the Sunday School worker used the same amount of time and energy contacting definite prospects there would be a much higher percentage of visitors in attendance. Time spent contacting prospects is the most productive of all work in reaching the lost.
The following steps will help in reaching prospects:
a) Pray for them. Perhaps the Sunday School class can pray for prospects by name. Or their names can be distributed so the pupils can take them home for intercession.
b) Phone them. A teacher can distribute the names and phone numbers of prospects to class members. When the pupils contact those of their own age, it is an effective way of reaching the lost.
c) Write them. A postcard or letter can be mailed inviting prospects. If the class happens to print a newsletter, that will be effective, especially if it has a personalized note.
d) Visit them. A strategy for visitation should be planned. Perhaps class members can visit the prospect, followed by a visit from the teacher, especially if there has been a phone call and letter to the home.
3. Provide an educational atmosphere. Many Sunday School rooms are drab and dreary. If you are planning on reaching the lost, make sure the room is inviting. It should say, “Come in!” Provide chairs and whatever other equipment, such as tables, etc., that is necessary for the age of the pupils meeting in the room. Seasonal decorations will be attractive, such as the bright colors of fall in October and November, or the new life of green trees and flowering bushes in the spring.
4. Provide space for growth. Space is needed to teach pupils the Word of God. When you have decided to reach the lost, there must be a place to teach them the Word of God. If your church has enough floor space, make sure it is divided properly among the classes. You may have to remodel your present building, or you may have to add a new building ultimately. Churches have been very innovative when it comes to adapting space. They have used offices, hallways, foyers, balconies, school buses, or the pastor’s office. Homes in the neighborhood have been pressed into service as well as fire stations, funeral homes, empty store buildings, or public school buildings.
5. Meet visitors at the front door. Care should be taken to see that all who visit the church know how to get to their class. Someone should be in the foyer of the church to meet all visitors. Here the first-time attenders fill out a visitor’s card and are directed to their classes. There should be ushers assigned to take or direct visitors to the classes. Someone should also be at the door of each department or class to welcome visitors and greet all who enter. Directional signs in the halls will keep visitors from becoming frustrated during the weeks they are still new.
6. Identify the rooms. The rooms should be marked with the name of the department or ages in the department and the name of the superintendent or teacher. Visitors are often fearful when first attending a Sunday School. When the room is clearly identified the visitor has a basis of relationship. He knows he belongs in the room with his peers. Knowing the name of the superintendent or teacher also helps the visitor to relate to him on a personal basis.
7. Maintain a regular soulwinning program. Growth for the sake of growth should never be the aim of a Sunday School. Emphasis should never be put on the result that is sought but on conditions that bring about the result. The condition to be sought in Sunday School is bringing souls to Christ; the result is a growing Sunday School.
The basis for soulwinning is scriptural. Therefore, an organized campaign is needed to help people involve themselves in reaching the lost. Harold Henniger, pastor of Canton Baptist Temple, noted, “Most Christians don’t witness to their friends, but if they come to our church visitation program and go out on an assignment, they witness that evening. After the pump is primed, they begin voluntarily witnessing to their friends.”
Plan a weekly soulwinning program for reaching the lost:
a) Leaders set the example. The pastor, Sunday School superintendent, and all teachers must be present for visitation for it to be successful. They are examples to the rest of the Sunday School members. People encourage one another when they go out winning souls together. “For we are labourers together with God” (I Corinthians 3:9a).
b) Set a definite time. When soulwinning is left to the convenience of people, they usually don’t find the time. A specific time (or times) should be set and everyone urged to attend. Perhaps the ladies can visit in the morning and the men could go out in the evening. Some people need to be visited at different times of the day because of their work schedule. The bus workers should go visiting on Saturday morning.
c) Make assignments. It is good for soulwinners to meet at the church before they go out. A short message and a time of prayer will equip them for their spiritual service. When they have prospects and absentees to visit, there is more purpose in their calling. Assignments make soulwinning urgent. When a soulwinner goes to the home, he should know whether he is going to obtain attendance, win someone to Christ, or follow up an absentee.
d) Reports are necessary. After visits have been made, reports should be returned to the church. Workers are motivated when they compare their results with others. It helps to rejoice together when souls are saved, and to encourage one another when workers feel frustrated from a lack of results.
e) Training soulwinners. Training sometimes requires weeks and months before people can become effective soulwinners. The fact that a person is a Christian does not guarantee that he knows how to lead someone else to Christ. Training classes are valuable, but on-the-job training is the most effective. Soul-winners should go out two by two. A young Christian going with a seasoned soulwinner can learn as much in one evening as he can by sitting through many classes.
PUBLICIZE FOR OUTREACH
The Sunday School must publicize its ministry to the community. This prepares the way for personal contacts. The following publicity can help reach lost people for Christ:
1. The pulpit. The pastor’s support for Sunday School is absolutely mandatory. When the pastor pushes the Sunday School, the entire church becomes interested. When the pastor is not sold on the work of the Sunday School it will suffer. The pastor who makes Sunday School a special object in his home visits will note a response in increased attendance and offerings. The Sunday School’s strength will add to that of the church.
2. Posters. When there are attendance campaigns, make sure that the church has posters in its halls, stairways, and on all bulletin boards. They will remind the church community of Sunday School outreach.
3. Flyers. Printed advertising should be delivered to the homes, passed out to attenders to distribute as well as for their own information, and mailed. It is important that the flyers reinforce what is happening in the Sunday School.
4. Newspaper advertisements. Ads for the news¬paper should be both informative and interesting. Make sure they contain all the pertinent information of what, where, when, and perhaps why. Gear them to the unsaved person with a view of telling him what ministry your Sunday School performs. Don’t overlook the opportunities of free newspaper advertising by submit¬ting news items of Sunday School or church activities on a regular basis.
5. Church bulletins. Most everyone reads the church bulletin on Sunday. A short pithy comment about the importance of Sunday School will motivate some to attend. Don’t forget to include statistics on growth and achievement. This will motivate others.
The success of any outreach program depends upon the leadership: pastor, superintendent, and teachers. This is the order of responsibility in the church. Each week new prospects must be found, assignments made, and workers motivated to win souls. We cannot criticize a church when the people are not willing to reach their community. If a church is not winning souls, it is a leadership problem because everything rises and falls on leadership.
Leaders should keep the challenge of a growing Sunday School before all their workers. This challenge comes from:
1. Growing churches in the Word of God. The growing church we see in the Book of Acts reminds us that it is possible for today’s churches to grow.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41).
Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand (Acts 4:4).
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ (Acts 5:42).
And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).
When we realize that such growth in the Jerusalem church was in spite of insurmountable odds and vicious opposition, we should be encouraged to be faithful regardless of problems that may be before us.
2. The growth of other churches in our contemporary society. Even though there are some dead churches these days, many churches are growing. If other churches have the blessing of God, why can’t yours? Leaders will have to learn the principles of growing Sunday Schools and keep the vision of growth in front of their workers. Then they can grow.
Soulwinning is the roof on the building, the ultimate step in God’s plan, A Sunday School may have beautiful buildings, adequate visual aids, and enough equipment to get the job done, but it will fail without soulwinning. A Sunday School may have excellent teaching, but it will fail without soulwinning. A Sunday School may have plans, organizations, and programs, but it will fail without soulwinning.
All these other things are necessary, but soul-winning is the key that provides for the success of Sunday School growth. Unless regular, effective soulwinning is promoted, a Sunday School will not measure up to its highest possibilities.
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
1. Give scriptural reasons for calling the Sunday School the “reaching arm of the church.”
2. List several ways of finding Sunday School prospects.
3. What role does the atmosphere of the Sunday School play in reaching prospects?
4. How can a regular soulwinning program benefit a Christian?
5. Why should there be a definite time for soulwinning?
6. What is the most effective method of soulwinning training?
7. Name five ways to publicize your Sunday School.
ACTIVITIES FOR FURTHER STUDY AND APPLICATION
1. Have the class members share their burdens for Sunday School teaching. Then discuss how they can acquire a greater burden/desire for winning the lost to Christ.
2. Plan new ways for reaching prospects in your Sunday School.
3. Outline a plan of outreach/soulwinning for your Sunday School for a year.
4. Make a list of other techniques suggested in discussion for reaching people through the Sunday School that are not listed in this chapter.
Barnette, N. M., The Place of the Sunday School in Evangelism (Convention Press, Nashville, TN, 1945).
Towns, Elmer L., World’s Largest Sunday School (Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, 1974).
The above article, “The Reaching Arm of Sunday School” was written by Elmer L. Towns. The article was excerpted from chapter 4 in Towns’ 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.”