By Tim Massengale
Isaac and Ashley pulled into the church parking lot of First Apostolic Church at 9:57 on Sunday morning. They were new in town. Isaac’s job had transferred him when the new FedEx distribution hub had opened. This was their first chance to attend at what they hoped would be their new church home. Both had been heavily involved in their previous church. Isaac had been on the youth ministry council and had taught the Senior High Class. Ashley had taught in the Primary Girls’ class since she graduated from high school.
They walked in the front entrance with their two seven-year-old twin girls in tow. They were greeted by a smiling hostess.
“Welcome to First Apostolic!” the lady said enthusiastically. “Is this your first time here?”
Isaac responded with a wide grin. “Yes. We just moved to town and we are hoping to meet Pastor Johnson after service. We attended New Life Tabernacle in Nowell. My job just transferred me here.”
“Wonderful! Morning worship is just getting ready to start. Here’s a guest packet that explains more about the church. Inside you will find a pen and guest card. If you could fill it out, one of the ushers will come and get it from you. I will have it taken to Pastor Johnson with a note that you want to meet with him after service. I am sure you will love it here! We have a wonderful church!”
“I’m sure we will,” Ashley responded. “My girls are looking forward to meeting their new Sunday school teacher. Can someone show us to the class? I would like to meet their new teacher as well.”
The hostess frowned slightly. “I’m sorry. We no longer have Sunday school on Sunday morning. We just have morning worship. We stopped having Sunday school about six months ago. On Bible study night there is Children’s Power Hour for the kids, Youth Alive for the teenagers and the adults stay in the sanctuary. But Sunday morning we just have an evangelistic service that starts at 10:00 AM and usually lasts to about 11:30 AM. Sunday evening service begins at 6:30 PM.
Ashley glanced at her husband with a surprised look on her face. “No Sunday school…oh my.”
“So do they teach the regular Sunday school curriculum on Bible study night?” Isaac asked.
“No, I don’t think so. I think it’s more a children’s church type service and the youth mostly have fun activities in our gymnasium.”
Isaac glanced at his wife. They both tried hard to not show their disappointment. But the same question was in both of their minds: When would the wonderful age-level Bible lessons be taught to their children that had meant so much to both of them growing up? Besides their own family devotions, where would their girls learn the wonderful truths of the Word of God?
What Is Happening To Sunday School?
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 on Bible study night. 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 its usefulness? Should we abandon it all together?
No! — At least, not according to the research of the leading authorities in church growth. They strongly advocate the Sunday school as being a vital, 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 the 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.
As 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 its 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?
Provides Spiritual Strength For Growth
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” (2 Tim. 3:16). 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.
Involves Workers In Christian Service
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, storytellers, 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 where most of the key leaders and department heads in growing churches 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.
Strong Evangelistic Tool
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 into it’s neighborhood and community will be continually expanding its reach 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 “Johnny” perform his 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 see 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 Works!
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.