Three Doors To Global Impact
By Gary D. Erickson
Over the past fifteen to twenty years there has been a lot of experimentation with church schedules, especially a tampering with traditional Sunday service arrangements. A few churches have even discontinued having Sunday school. The results of this experimentation are starting to become evident. According to recent studies, churches that have invested heavily in Sunday school ministry have prospered while alternative methods have been less productive.
We are a part of a culture that is being mesmerized by plethora of entertainment venues. There are many gadgets, media devices, and sporting opportunities available, and many people are flush with money to indulge in this smorgasbord of options. Some churches are trying to meet the expectations of this entertainment-addicted society by providing more entertainment and less teaching. This is a dangerous trend. Sunday school is a time-tested method of evangelism and discipleship that is unmatched. Sunday school provides three doors to impact growth.
The Open Door (Evangelism)
Sunday morning is still “church time’ in North America. It continues to be the most popular time for God-seekers to go to church. Thom Rainer’s extensive survey published in Effective Evangelistic Churches revealed a number of surprises, one of which was the effectiveness of Sunday school as a dynamic method of evangelistic growth. When asked which methodologies were most effective for evangelism, pastors revealed the “big three”: preaching, prayer ministries, and Sunday school. Sunday school is in a solid place of importance right behind preaching and prayer.
“Several church leaders told us that new members or new converts who did not become involved in the Sunday school were likely to drop out of the church within a year”. Rainer concluded with the following assessment: “We may anticipate that Sunday school…will be a methodology of the twenty-first century. Churches will continue to make changes in Sunday school, as they have for two hundred years. But the essential function of reaching, teaching, disciplining, and ministry will probably take on a new priority in the renewed Sunday school for the twenty-first century”.
Close The Backdoor (Retention/Discipleship)
The Great Commission is two-fold: baptize and teach. (See Matthew 28:19.) This mandate means to evangelize and disciple. We cannot allow those who come through the front door to exit through the back door!
Rainer has this to say about church leaders who have a diminished view of Sunday school: “Many church leaders have helped perpetuate the myth for twenty or so years. The myth is that Sunday school is not longer effective evangelistically or as an assimilation tool. And those who believed the myth are suffering as a result.” In a time of rapid change Rainer observed, “I noticed that many of the highly touted growth innovations had an unusually short life span. What was hyped to be the methodology for the church was gone in a year or so. In other words, it proved to be little more than a fad. In the meantime, Sunday School continued to be the dominant program in most churches.” Rainer praised Sunday school’s effectiveness with these words: “No methodology was deemed more effective than the Sunday school in retaining members.”
Rainer said, “The small-group movement is certainly to be lauded for its contributions to the kingdom. But, as Barna recently noted, the movement has been on a numerical decline for the past few years. Barna cited a tendency toward weak teaching, lack of leadership and accountability, confusion of purpose, and inadequate child care as possible explanations for the downturn.”
Rainer says, “New Christians who immediately became active in Sunday school were five times more likely to remain in the church five years later.” “The research is clear if not overwhelming. Sunday school is the most effective assimilating methodology in evangelistic churches today.” “Sunday school is not only our past, it is our future as well. And we who are leaders in the church will ignore this reality to our churches’ peril.”
The Door Of The Future (Children’s Ministry”)
It is one thing to miss the boat, but George Barna says that in all of his research and evaluating he “missed the ocean” concerning the importance of ministry to children in today’s culture. Newsweek magazine reported that within the general public eighty-one percent of mothers and seventy-eighth percent of fathers say they plan to send their young children to Sunday school or some other kind of religious training. Barna says, “Having devoted more than tow decades of my life and all of my professional skills to studying and working with ministries of all types, I am now convinced that the greatest hope for the local church lies in raising godly children.”
Larry Fowler says, “The research reinforces one simple but profound truth over and over again: If your want to have a lasting influence upon the world…and if you want to maximize that investment, then you must invest in those people while they are young…. The more diligent we are in these efforts, the more prodigious a harvest we will reap.”
George Barna was asked, “If you were a pastor of a typical church today, what practical things might you do to reach those outside?” One of the five answers was as follows: “I’d focus the majority of our outreach resources on children…. The vast majority of people who ever embrace Christ do so when they’re young, usually before they hit the teen years. Every adult who’s interested in doing meaningful ministry would be encouraged to find a way to serve the kids in the church and community. And I’d do whatever we could to empower the kids to share their faith with their family and friends.”
This article “Three Doors To Global Impact” by Gary D. Erickson is excerpted from Forward magazine, July/August 2008.