I love Sunday School and Small Groups. I’m one of those guys that believes that the church works best within the framework of a small group strategy. I’ve done both.. I’ve belonged to both Sunday School classes and small groups. I really don’t care if you do them on-campus or off-campus; on Sundays or during the week. Call them what you like: Sunday School, home groups, Community Groups, LifeGroups, or Small Groups; they are how the church organizes itself to make disciples.
Recently, a friend of mine posted on his blog three reasons why your church should do away with Sunday School and go to small groups (Three Undeniable Reasons to do Away With Adult Sunday School Classes and Replace them with Small Groups, by Rick Howerton). I like Rick and I think that there is more consensus today between Sunday School and small group movements than there has been in years. The two movements have more in common than they have separating them. We are learning from each other and the bottom line is that both movements are becoming better. I do believe however, that there are some advantages in Sunday School that need to be considered before a church tosses its Sunday School strategy for small groups.
I am also aware that these two movements can get downright mean sometimes when they feel like their turf is threatened. Since Rick is a friend and colleague (plus he is full of grace and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met), I thought this would be a good opportunity to have some friendly discussion about Sunday School and Small Groups.
So, my counters to Rick’s post:
My first reason your church should have Sunday School is that you will usually get more of your adult worship attenders into Sunday School than you will a home group strategy. At bare minimum, at least twice as many in fact. Generally, over half (50%) of the adults in worship will attend a Sunday School class. For small groups the average is about 25%. If you do Sunday School well, that number goes to at least 75-80%. Three weeks ago, my pastor stated during his sermon that our church (Henderson Hills) averages 93% of its worship in what we call “flocks” (our version of Sunday School), the huge majority of which are on-campus during our weekend services. Johnny Hunt told me last month that FBC-Woodstock averages 96% of its worship attenders in Sunday School. So if you want to get more people into some kind of a small group structure for Bible study, fellowship, and open group evangelism; Sunday School wins this hands down.
Sunday School develops more adults for children and youth ministries. Rick is partially right in his post that small groups free up more adults for these ministries. But a typical small group church already has 75% of its members free because they don’t attend a small group to begin with (see point #1 above). Because a higher percentage of adults are involved in Bible study in Sunday School, more adults are actually being equipped to become leaders in childhood and student ministries. Also, since Sunday School is a church-wide, age-graded strategy, there is a stronger connection between adult Sunday School classes and the church’s children and student ministries. In summary, there is a larger pool of adult leaders equipped by the adult Sunday School; and the connection between the adult, childhood, and student groups is stronger in a Sunday School strategy.
Sunday School’s emphasis on children is stronger. In fact, the Sunday School movement started as a way to reach and teach children!Children do not get the spare bedroom in Sunday School, they get the best meeting places in the church’s facility. Usually on the first floor and clean. And oh have mercy if a pastor or education minister catches a Sunday School teacher showing “Veggietales” in Sunday School instead of involving the kids in learning about God from His Word!
Time. The most valuable commodity any person has is his or her time. Sunday School combines with worship for one, 3-4 hour block of time per week. A small group strategy instantly doubles the blocks of time required of a member to attend both worship and small group.
Okay, that’s four. I thought of the “time” issue while writing the other three points. So I threw it in as sort of a bonus.
Now, my hat’s off to Rick. Rick followed up the post I referenced above with two posts to leaders who oversee their church’s small group strategy that we need to also ask Education Ministers and those who oversee Sunday School. to echo one of the points Rick makes in the follow up posts, I believe that it is critical that Ministers of Education and pastors belong to a Sunday School class and attend it! Also, Rick has an excellent post about how “open” groups have greater intimacy than “closed” groups (read it here). Rick’s openness to critique his own movement is admirable and is a model all of us should follow. We have made far too many assumptions in the Sunday School movement that need to challenged and refreshed. Facts are our friends, and the truth sets us free.