By Tim Massengale
Pastor Fields stood before the assembled group of Sunday school teachers and bus workers and called the meeting go order.
“Thank you for coming out tonight. I know everyone’s busy and it’s not easy to give up one of your evenings for a Sunday school staff meeting, but we have a lot to cover tonight. The next three or four months will be both busy and exciting for our Sunday school. We have an important new program we want to implement, as well as explain our upcoming plans for Easter. Before we get started I’ve asked Bro. Tony to come up and share his testimony. Most of you know he and his lovely wife Missy teach the Junior High class. They are doing an outstanding job. However, what many of you may not know is why Brother Tony is in church today. So Brother Tony, please come and share your story.”
Brother Tony cleared his throat and smiled weakly, his hands slightly shaking as he adjusted the microphone. “Thank you, Pastor. I’m not much at public speaking. I love teaching the Junior High class, but that’s more group discussion with a bunch of crazy adolescent kids than what I’m doing here. But I wanted to share why Sunday school is so important to me.
“I grew up in the East Knightstown district. As you may know, that’s not a very good neighborhood – lots of drugs and crime. My older brother spent three years in prison for car theft. I was already involved with a youth gang when Brother Wallace drove the big blue bus down our street with his loud speaker blasting out some gospel song and him yelling about free popsicles for anyone that wanted one. I was sitting on the front stoop of our tenant building, bored and wanting something to do. When I went to get a popsicle he asked me if I had ever gone to Sunday school before. I remember clearly his big toothy smile and how he said Sunday school was a fun way to spend Sunday morning. Plus, they were giving away kites to everyone that rode the bus the next morning. So I said, ‘Sure, why not.’
“He followed me back to our apartment and got my mom’s permission to pick me up the next morning. I remember she looked at me kind of funny and told me I would have to get myself up because there was no way she was getting up that early. Anyway, that was how I started coming to Sunday school.
“Every Sunday morning Brother Wallace would pick me and a half a dozen others on our street up and take us to Sunday school. He made the bus ride fun. We sang songs and played games. He used to dress up as a clown and throw candy our way if we were singing extra loud.
“I was ten years old when I started coming. At twelve I received the Holy Ghost at youth camp. Brother Wallace paid my way to go.
“Church was the only place I felt safe and clean. My home environment was not good. Mom and dad drank and smoked a lot. They also argued all the time and occasionally it got ugly. But I could always come to church and what I felt here, I never felt anywhere else. I wanted to be here all the time. Brother and Sister McPherson began picking me up for Sunday evening service. All the young people would go out to Pizza Hut after evening service and I could always bum a ride home afterwards.
“When I was eighteen I met my wife at a holiday youth conference. We’ve been married ten years and have two beautiful kids. But it was Sunday school that got me in church. It was the burden of a wonderful old man that drove a big blue bus and Sunday school teachers that loved me and taught me the Word of God. It was a youth group that grew to become my best friends and a pastor that preached to me and called me whenever I missed church. I owe my whole life to a God that loved me enough to make a way for me to get in church before I got all messed up in the crime and drugs that were the normal way of life for most kids on my street. That’s why I teach Sunday school and why I believe in Sunday school so strongly. Thanks for letting me share.”
Sunday School Evangelism
Tony’s story is not unique. There are thousands of ‘Tonys’ that could tell a similar story. The value of Sunday school upon the growth of the church is immeasurable. It directly fulfills 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 poor little children!
What are the basic elements that make an evangelistic Sunday school? There are many. We will not attempt to list all of them – entire books have been written on the subject. But here are some key factors that might be considered to help your Sunday school become more evangelistic.
1. Teacher’s Prayer. An evangelistic Sunday school will always be built upon a foundation of prayer. While each teacher should maintain their own personal prayer life, corporate group prayer by all Sunday school staff members is equally important. Some churches maintain a Sunday morning teacher’s prayer/staff meeting that begins about thirty minutes before the teachers are to be in class. You will be amazed at the difference this will make.
2. Regular Staff Meetings. A growing Sunday school should consider having a regular quarterly staff meeting on an off church night 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 more.
3. Accurate Records. Records are an important diagnostic tool. They tell you where you are and where you are going. Every Sunday school should consider keeping records of attendance, offerings, visitors, bus rider attendance, and salvation results. A large line graph can also be kept of attendance so you can compare it to your monthly goals.
4. Attendance Goals. Every Sunday school should strive to reach a Sunday school attendance goal each year. This annual goal might be divided into monthly goals. The monthly goals could then be divided into class goals. This way each Sunday school class would have a monthly goal to reach. If each class reaches their goals, then the Sunday school as a whole should reach their goal also.
5. Attendance Promotions. A growing Sunday school will always plan at least four major attendance promotions (one per quarter) to increase the Sunday school membership. These can be contests, special programs, dramas, 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, Fall Thrust Sunday, and Christmas. Besides these four, there can be several other minor promotions on other special days such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Friend Day, Thanksgiving, and others. The goal should always be increased enrollment.
6. Adequate Space. A Sunday school can only grow to the size building in which it is housed. A church must first provide the space, and then it can grow to fill it up. Church growth research has proven that a church will rarely 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 Sunday school. 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, 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 than 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 if you can afford it.
7. Child Evangelism. 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 idea sets aside one Sunday each month to specifically focus in on the salvation of the students – 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.
8. Bus, Van, or Car Ministry. Even more than 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” it is destined to fail. The primary 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 a focused 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.
9. Annual Children’s Crusades and 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 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, someone can visit the unsaved parents and stress the importance of providing their child with a Christian home. A home Bible study is often the result.
10. Annual Staff Banquet. Many churches plan an annual Sunday school Staff Banquet toward the end of each curriculum year. This will include the giving of various awards and “Teacher Of The Year” type plaques. This says “thank you” for all your hard work and a job well done. Everyone appreciates being appreciated.
Excitement In Numbers
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.