What to do with your Sunday School in a Small Groups culture?
God brought a great man into my life here in the mountains of Ruidoso, New Mexico. While in Texas I had 2-3 great men around me who fed into my life. I can still call those guys, but when you move the communication seems to slow. It’s not intended by anyone it just happens. Well I’ve been introduced to a legend up here. John Burton. John has experience and passion for disciple making. I had the chance to spend a couple of hours with him today. I’m blessed to have him feed into my life right now. Having a mentor keeps the fire burning.
Well today I was reminded in talking disciple making of this question: “What is a church to do with its Sunday School in a small groups culture?” Many churches face a dilemma. They are stuck with a Sunday School in a small groups culture. What should a church do?
When I say “small groups culture” I don’t mean the entire church culture of the West for example is now “small groups.” It’s not. But there is a need for small groups. Many new churches use small groups instead of Sunday Schools. Also, in established churches there is a need for small groups in homes. As I’ve started and reproduced groups in established churches, I’ve found 1/3 of the church would get into a small group in a home if offered the chance.
What should a church do?
Sunday School – if you have a Sunday School the way for it to work is for it to intentionally balance content and relationships. In a Sunday School “content is king.” Relationships are usually in the superficial level. By superficial I don’t mean something less. I mean it is light and limited. That is needed in churches. Superficial fellowship that is not too much is what some people want. In order to get into more fellowship, relational connection that is beyond superficial, a Sunday School class will have to be intentional. It will require off campus fellowship times for people to get to know one another. This is crucial. A real Sunday School class that is interested growing cannot leave out fellowship that gets real.
What to do?Increase your fellowship off campus. Eat together at least once a month. Have people introduce themselves in class on Sunday morning. This is tough but possible. Do a three minute drill with a timer. People tell about themselves for three minutes. If they don’t, the class can ask them any question they want.
Small Groups – if you have small groups the way for it to work is to also intentionally focus on content and relationships. Groups in homes or in coffee houses have a different feel. They are strong on fellowship. Usually there is a food trickle in that lasts for about 45 minutes. Of course over food, week by week, relationships are built naturally. In the small groups I’ve lead off campus, we always ask that the first couple of weeks meetings engage this outline. We have everyone “state your name, tell your story (as much as you want to tell) and state where you are on your journey with God.” It works overtime. Immediate bonding that move the group from superficial fellowship to transformational fellowship. If the group is small enough, it can encompass sacrificial fellowship. The work for small groups is to make sure the content drives the groups evenly with relationships. Just because a small group is strong in relationships does not mean it can short cut content.
What to do?Plan content. Use a semester system. Stop meeting weekly in the summer for two months. Meet for 12 weeks in the Fall. Stop at Thanksgiving. Meet from January to Easter. Then Easter to end of May. Also, give a little more time for content to prevent fellowship from completely dominating. Remember knowledge of scripture is important. When starting a group, make sure the DNA of the group is to reproduce a new group within two years. Make people a priority. Use an empty chair to prioritize evangelism.
Hybrid – I was mentioning to John that many churches are in need of a transition to a Hybrid model. In other words, Sunday School modeled churches need to start small groups, now. If a church only offers on campus, content oriented, small groups, it will be ignoring one third of the congregation that would come to a home group. I’ve started many groups now, and I find there are many people who are hungry for a discussion styled group than a lecture styled class. We live in a Hybrid culture. Most churches under 75 people are stuck with a structure that is not reproducing new groups. A Hybrid model of on campus and off campus groups sets a church up to thrive. Smaller churches are prime candidates for renewal in disciple making by going to some off campus groups.
What to do?Create an off campus group or two. Start them off with a short term commitment. Try 4 – 6 weeks on a topic the entire church will engage. Preach a 6 week series on prayer, or vision and use 4-6 small groups for 6 weeks. It will work. Then, when they work, see which groups will be ready to keep going. Let them go forward meeting. Evaluate the groups. Reproduce news groups from any group that reaches 20 people. Do not pit on campus and off campus groups against each other. That is a no no.
The Hidden Treasure – We need to create an awareness for disciple making. All the ideas above have been based on a model of 12 to 20 people in a group. Jesus discipled 12. We need to remember also thought that he discipled one on and one or three. Peter, James and John receive special teachings and time from Jesus that the other did not receive. We must get back to a point of disciple making at the most personal, intimate level. This is where disciple and leaders are born. I have to admit I’ve been more committed to the model of 12 to 20 than I have the 1 to 1 and 1 to 3 model.
What to do? Hand pick 1 to 3 people you feel led to lead in small group discipling. Walk these few though what it means to know Christ, have assurance, and experience the love of God. Remember that disciple making is as much caught as it is taught. Hang out with these few. See who would be leader material. Could there be a small group leader among these few disciples? There is a hidden treasure that happens before getting in a small group. The smaller group of a few or 1 on 1 discipleship is worth more than you think.
I’m a believer in small groups. I’m for Sunday School, especially when it works. For it to work there must be a commitment to training. More on that later, but it’s a must.
What will you do? Will you let you Sunday School coast to a slow death by saying and doing nothing? I hope not. What would an easy Hybrid look like in your church.