By Chuck Lawless
When I started ministry many years ago, on-campus Sunday school was the predominant form of small groups. That trend has changed now, but the structure of old-fashioned Sunday school still provides needed lessons for small groups, regardless of their meeting place or time:
- The small group’s purpose must be clear. Frankly, even Sunday school has often lost its original historical purpose – evangelistic outreach – but a small group program works best when its purpose is most obvious and best known.
- Intentional organization matters. In a good Sunday school program, class workers include at least a teacher, an assistant teacher, a secretary, an outreach leader, a prayer leader, a fellowship leader, and care group leaders (who do pastoral care of class members). The higher percentage of class members who have a role, the better in any kind of small group.
- Workers must be trained. In a good Sunday school program, class teachers and other leaders are required to complete training in order to serve. That training is, in fact, ongoing as long as the leader serves. That's a wise approach for all small groups.
- Concern must be focused on the lost. Originally, Sunday school was the evangelistic arm of a church, and one goal was to be the place where non-believers first connected with the congregation. The people who weren’t therewere as important, if not more important, than the regular attenders.
- Pastoral care via the small group must be organized. That’s where “care group leaders” come into play. Their role is to continually care for assigned class members to make sure everyone is shepherded at a personal level. Nobody is left without a care group leader.
- The goal of the Sunday school class is to multiply, to “plant” another class from the current class. Generally, classes seek to multiply by beginning new groups when the current group averages 12-15 regular attenders. Sunday school classes are not intended to become large “mini-churches.” Nor are other types of small groups.
- Space matters. Sunday school leaders and teachers recognize the 80% rule: when a classroom is 80% full, it’s unlikely that the class will continue to grow. The group must either increase its space capacity or send out some members to start a new class. That rule applies to other small groups, too.
- The class must “go after” the lost. In an old-fashioned Sunday school, the class didn’t wait for guests to show up. Instead, they intentionally sought the unchurched and invited them to attend. That process still works.
- The Bible must be the textbook. Other books may be good to study, but the Bible is the only God-breathed book that’s profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Sunday schools have been built around the Bible, and so must other groups.
- Children matter. That’s one reason why I still like on-campus small groups: they often offer classes for little ones even while their parents and grandparents are learning the Bible.
If you understand old-fashioned Sunday school, what would you add to this list?