Simple Things Work

by Dan Barnes on July 9, 2014 · 30 comments

If you have read my posts, you know I am a Sunday school guy.  Specifically, I am a fan of Lifeway Sunday school. I believe it works, and I think churches will grow if they use it correctly. Read David Francis’ books on Sunday school. Download then free at Lifeway’s website. There are simple things you can do that will help a great deal.

Today, I want to challenge you to try one simple trick. One little thing that I’ve seen work over and over. Pastors, this ifs for you, and it needs to come from you. On Sunday morning when you stand up to preach, say something like this:
“I hope you were in Sunday school (or whatever you call it) because we have done great classes. If you don’t attend a class, I want to invite you to try one out next week.”

Do this for 5 weeks in a row. Five times, a month plus one, unless it’s a five Sunday month. It’s short, of won’t cut into your message. Try it and see what happens.  I believe it will be a great blessing for you.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 volfan007 July 10, 2014 at 3:17 pm

I’ll try it.

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2 Dan Barnes July 10, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Let me know how it works for you David!

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3 Randy July 10, 2014 at 5:09 pm

My one warning would be this: if you say you have great classes, make sure you have established and encouraged greatness in your Sunday School leaders. One of the worst things to happen is have somebody decide to try Sunday School, then show up and the teacher just reads straight out of the curriculum word for word. Great classes will create a buzz and promote themselves, and when the pastor gets on board taking a brief moment to push them from the pulpit great things can happen.

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4 Tim G July 10, 2014 at 5:44 pm

I do this EVERY week! We have everyone say along with me “Its time to get to Bible Study!”

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5 Todd Benkert July 10, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Often, I’ll mention in the sermon a relevant discussion we just had in Sunday School.

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6 Joel Hunt July 10, 2014 at 11:41 pm

One thing is for certain, I am not in favor of age segregated SS…

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7 andy July 11, 2014 at 6:27 am

So you favor family integrated in every setting, not just the worship service? You think 3 year olds should sit in with the adults in Sunday school?

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8 volfan007 July 11, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I can’t imagine trying to have a SS lesson….and, the parents actually hearing any of it…with a 3 year old, or several 2 and 3 yr olds….in the room.

David

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9 Joel Hunt July 11, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Yes. Our church is trying segregate SS right now, and I am vocally against it. Thankfully they are letting us keep our kids in SS with us, and not making a stank about it.

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10 Joel Hunt July 11, 2014 at 10:33 pm

*stink

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11 Tarheel July 12, 2014 at 7:54 am

Joel, do u mind sharing why you are against age graded SS?

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12 Jeff Houston July 12, 2014 at 9:31 am

I know a lot of moms out there are ready for at least an hour (if not more) of time away from their kiddos and just reflect on what the Lord has for them.

13 Joel Hunt July 12, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Tarheel, the best way to express an answer would perhaps be to let you read an excerpt from the letter I sent our church body after dscussing this…

“…When it comes to Sunday School, I am not as dogmatic as I perhaps seemed, though I definitely have strong feelings on the subject. When we first heard of Briarwood, one of the things which impressed us (Candice and I) the most was the family–integrated aspect of it. Having experienced both traditional and home churches in each of our collective pasts, and what passed for Sunday School in both, we have developed a definite family affinity for some things over others. While not all of our Sunday School experience has been (or has to be) a negative for us, (in fact, I have some pretty fond memories of Sunday School as a child), there are also some pretty distinct reasons we have for why we treasure what we found when we came to this fellowship, and why we feel that what we have is worth keeping.

My Sunday School experience as a child was pretty traditional and routine, and I really didn’t think too much about it until I was a teenager, which is where I pretty well came to view it completely as a waste of time. We did the Sunday School quarterlies, which can be pretty well summed up as warmed-over pabulum, and while I didn’t have an issue with them as a child, as an adolescent, I really grew to despise them. The content was not discipleship oriented; it was more entertainment-based than anything, and if the fruit in my classmates was to be judged, it would appear that being in Sunday School rather than out of it wouldn’t have made a whit of difference. They were far more concerned with the guy or girl sitting next to them, than to care anything about spiritual growth, and even as a teenager, I recognized that, and felt the whole thing was pointless. When I think about Sunday School for my children, it’s hard to want the same experience for them.

When I think of discipleship, especially of that of our church’s children, my own and yours, I don’t want them to have the experience I had. I don’t blame my parents for sending us to Sunday School; it was the acceptable norm of the time, and had they NOT sent us, I would probably have felt more of an oddity than I already did, our family being the lone homeschoolers in a church of 300 or so, with nine kids to boot. But as an adult, I have come to view age-segregated programs as problematic for all sort of reasons, and especially the ones in the church body. When I come to church on Sunday, the anticipation is that we come corporately to meet with God, unified together as one big family in Christ. It’s hard enough to get out the door on Sunday with that proper attitude in mind as it is, and separating up the moment we get to church isn’t one of the things I personally relish. Since I view Sunday morning as the time we have set apart for corporate worship, sending my girls off to their own discipleship training (so I can be discipled on my own) seems ready-made to defeat the purpose I want for my family. I want them to think of church as something we do together, that, even in discipleship, we are joining together to learn from God and His Word… and from each other as well. Teaching them subtly that the best way to “Be the Church” is to segregate by age is not a positive to me.

There are other reasons why I dislike age-segregation, most of which I’m sure you’re already familiar with, so I won’t bore you by recounting all the ones I feel personally. One of the biggest things though, and worth mentioning, is that I don’t see the children of our generation being disciplined enough to learn well in an age-segregated setting, my own children included. I hear some of our elder folk referring to their experiences as children, and in many ways, I wish we could return to those days, when children treated adults like adults, and adults treated children like children. Unfortunately, I see those days as having passed, and quite frankly, I don’t consider my own children trustworthy enough to sit obediently through an hour-long lesson with someone unwilling to discipline them. That is to my chagrin and discredit as a parent, obviously, but I wouldn’t say it unless it were the truth. When I was a child, I was spanked soundly in Sunday School for disobedience, and had other sundry punishments applied as well. And that was BEFORE I got home to face my parents! Society frowns so strongly on any form of real discipline, that I fear even in the church setting, it is a foregone conclusion that those teaching children’s classes will spend more time managing the children than they ever will in discipling them. This lack of discipline in children becomes compounded when coupled with peer-based class structure. While Scripture commends the sharpening of iron with iron, it has nothing to say about wool sharpening wool. Even as a relatively good child, I was heavily influenced negatively by my childhood peers, and as such, I prefer to have our children around adult fellowship, so they might better see appropriate behavior modeled.

As I said last night, discipling children is something I see as being a function primarily of parents, with the Church supporting them in that endeavor. No doubt many of you feel that’s precisely why we NEED more Sunday School opportunities, as it seems that is thought to be the best way to support the parents in the spiritual education of their children. This is something I honestly struggle with, as I DO want to support other parents in our body, and yet am not certain that Sunday School is the best way to accomplish that goal. When it comes to the Church discipling folks, I prefer to have it done together as whole families, where everyone is learning from the same lesson, which gives the parents the ability to further enhance the education by continuing the lesson at home. It’s been my experience that age-segregated classes diminish the unity of what happens on Sunday morning, rather than enhancing it.

It was mentioned last night that not having Sunday School available for our visitors was a turn-off, and something that likely had kept (and will keep) visitors from returning to Briarwood. In response, I humbly submit that the whims of our visitors are of a lower priority than the discipling of our own membership, and should not bear too much on the discussion. If starting a Sunday School department is deemed the best thing for discipling our congregation, then so be it, but the fear of what might happen in the minds of those visiting should not be what makes our minds up on the matter. As previously mentioned, the family-integrated aspect was one of the huge draws to Candice and me when we made Briarwood our home. Another thing that bothers me about age-segregation is that, when visitors DO arrive, rather than presenting the church as family oriented, there is an immediate fracturing of the family unit, as children are each shuffled off to their various classrooms upon entering the building, and the adults heaving a sigh of relief that the kids are being taken care of. In some churches, this happens to the extent that visitors might meet a couple in Sunday School, fellowship throughout the service with them, and never realize they are the parents of four children. I realize this is largely a problem in bigger congregations than our own, with more programs than just Sunday School, but if our goal is to grow into something bigger by offering our visitors more diversity in programming, it may well become an issue in our future.

Okay, so enough of the dissenting. The point of this letter (believe it or not) was not to further complain, but to explain a little better what was going through my head last night when we started the discussion. Let me try to express some positives here.

I agree that we need to be actively discipling the members of our church, the young ones included. We know that this is a vital part of the body life, and a duty which should not be neglected. Sunday morning may be when we meet for corporate worship, but it’s not the only time we practice discipleship of our members. Furthermore, I WANT people who take the time to visit our fellowship to come away with a sense that we are a congregation which is bent on feeding God’s sheep. I want them to feel confident that, whatever we are doing, we are doing it wholeheartedly for God’s glory. How can we best accomplish this? What is the strategy we should take?

First of all, let me repeat something I said last night: I am not anti-Sunday School across the board. I can think of many things which are a positive by having children in a formal discipleship ministry. I DO think children need to hear the Word shared with them at their level, and in a way that they can understand it, although I tend to give our children more credit for what their “level” actually is than most curriculums do. I want our children to be excited about coming to church, and to understand that it is where we meet God corporately with our fellow believers. I want them to know that we are not at church to socialize, but to fellowship together in holy worship. I want the actions of our Body to convict them of their need for Christ, and for fellowship with Him. I want to see them inspired to live in submission to His commandments, to learn to love His Law as the Psalmist yearned to.

When I think of how children should learn of God, it is best learned within the bounds of the family structure, with the Church supporting and equipping parents in that endeavor. (If there ought to be change, I wonder if this is what ought to be our actual focus). When I think about Church, I think of it as the time when we gather corporately to offer worshipful praise to the Creator, to hear the truths of Scripture preached to the Body, and to fellowship by mutually submitting to each other in confession, exhortation, and encouragement. Starting our Sunday worship by dividing up into age groups seems counter-intuitive to that purpose and goal.

(This is where I left off writing last night… so now I’ve had time to sleep on it, and jot some more thoughts this morning. ? )

As I’ve thought about this since our meeting, I wonder if rearranging our Sunday morning structure might provide a happy medium to work towards meeting the needs of all of our congregants. I know this would be a drastic change, and that, as Southern Baptists, we HATE change, but we’re “Reformed” Southern Baptists, so perhaps we can be a bit more open and pragmatic on the issue of reforming our church. ?

What would you all think about this?

Rather than meeting for Sunday School first, as has been our practice, and then going up to the sanctuary to worship, why not reverse that? What if we opened the doors for early fellowship, doughnuts, coffee and chitchat, which could also be used for folks to arrive with their meals, unpack them, and get set up for the dinner? Then we would start our service with our regular morning worship time in the sanctuary, follow it with a meal, and THEN break up for Sunday School classes. By doing so, we would retain the emphasis (and focal point of the gathering) on the worship period, with the education aspect being secondary. Since most folks consider the afternoon portion of our Sunday fellowship to be a struggle, we could essentially eliminate that by merging it into the Sunday School portion – or not, if there are strenuous objections.

My thought was a schedule something like this:

9:30 – 10:00 Fellowship, Coffee, and Meal Prep (Or as I call it, “C³”, for Coffee, Cooking, and Chitchat)
10:00 – 11:30 Regular Sunday Worship
11:30 – 12:30 Mealtime, Fellowship, and Cleanup
12:30 – 1:30 Sunday School
1:30 – 2:30 Afternoon Bible Study/Prayer time (…If we still wish to continue that)

The other option would be to switch the mealtime and Sunday School, which would allow families to participate in Sunday School, but to leave before the meal if they must. I know some folks don’t care to do the meal portion, and this would still offer the option of Sunday School, but skipping dinner, and would also allow for folks to be flexible if they have to leave early for those other obligations which inevitably arise from time to time. Either way, it still promotes the worship service as the primary focus of our gathering, and keeps alive the spirit of integrated corporate worship by having us arrive at church with our families intact, ready to worship together BEFORE we split up to study separately.

The pros (as I see it) would be these:

As mentioned, worship through song and preaching would be the primary focus of the day.

Beginning the worship service earlier allows us a few more minutes in the service to devote to worship.

Having a fellowship/preparation period (separate from Sunday School) would allow us to not enter the sanctuary so rushed; potty breaks, meal prep, greetings, and so forth would not be squeezed into a 10 minute break between Sunday School and the worship service.

DxxxxA would be able to set up her music, and be prepared for the service without being so rushed, allowing her to play her interlude music in the sanctuary as we file in a bit more calmly (and hopefully, a bit more humbly ? ).

If we DIDN’T hold the 1:30 – 2:30 session, it would open the afternoon up for other things… (Candice and I thought we might use it to visit with Rxxxxa or others who are not available to be in church that Sunday).

The cons would be these:

Since folks are accustomed to our service starting at 11:00, they may have trouble adjusting to an hour earlier start time, especially if they only come for the worship service.

Right now, I believe Pastor uses the Sunday School hour in administrative tasks like printing/folding the bulletins, as well as getting his coffee, and meditating on his sermon. Cutting him short in that regard would mean others needing to use the 9:30-10:00 timeslot to help accomplish those tasks, leaving him free to ready his heart for preaching.

Those who use Sunday School now as buffer for late arrival might struggle with an earlier start to the worship service. This of course is why we would have the half-hour of fellowship prior to the service.

Like I said earlier, I am not bent on change for unnecessary reasons. And I definitely don’t want to make waves for the purpose of consoling my own motives in shaping the future of our church Body. What I DO want is to meet the needs of congregation in the best way possible, in a manner that both glorifies God, and edifies the Body. I know that, for our (The Hunts’) part, we feel maintaining and focusing on the family-integrated worship should be the priority of Briarwood, and I think that the changes I have laid out here might really help us to feel that we could continue to do that, while making the transition to a more specific education-focused mindset at the same time.

I know this letter has been far too long already, and if you have survived to this point, I applaud you. ? I wish to conclude by reminding each of you how much you mean to me as fellow believers, and as my family at Briarwood. I cherish our little church so much, that, quite frankly, I’m very selfish in not wanting to change those things about it that I hold dear. I am thankful to Lxx, Jxxxx, Bxxx, Lxxxx, and others who have faithfully filled roles as teachers throughout our time here, and for the others who have gone before them. I thankful for each of you who fills the roles behind the scenes to make Briarwood not just a home, but a joyful and fulfilling one at that. In no way do I want to leave anyone thinking that I do not love you fully, or that I harbor anything against you at all. In so many ways, Briarwood has helped to make my life complete. It is my desire that we grow in grace together, and that our children and their futures would bring each of us mutual joy as we see them come to Christ, and grow to walk in His truth. If going against my own feelings is part of how God is planning to shape us, I desire to be humble and obedient to that. Please pray that God will give me grace in that regard. I know that His will is above any of our own.

Once again, I apologize for my perceived fractiousness the other night at the meeting, and hope that you will give me grace as I work to honor our Master. I truly want what God wants for Briarwood, and pray that He will make our joy complete in Him – and in each other.

In Christ,

Joel”

14 Dan Barnes July 12, 2014 at 9:46 am

Age segregation has it’s place, I agree that often we have farmed out the obligation of disciplining children to the church, which is not good. Our is healthy in some contexts to put people in a developmentally appropriate class for peer support and directed guided instruction.

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15 Dean Stewart July 12, 2014 at 10:27 am

One aspect of Sunday School that age grading helps is outreach. The adage “everybody’s business is nobody’s business” often holds true when a congregation fails to age grade. If a 40 year old single lady visits your church whose Sunday school class has the responsibility to reach out to her to get her plugged into Sunday school? If there is a ladies’ class age graded 35-50 the responsibility falls squarely on that class. The danger with having three classes that range in age from 15-75 is each may assume the other classes are contacting guests.

16 John Wylie July 12, 2014 at 10:34 am

My SS class has everything from teenagers to eighty year olds in it.

17 Clark July 11, 2014 at 3:32 pm

I LOVE age segregated SS.

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18 Doug Hibbard July 11, 2014 at 12:35 pm

There’s a time and value for whole family learning, especially once you get past the nursery ages, and a value in age-specific learning.

The idea that we must be all for one or the other is unnecessary. There’s times that your youth and adults and even older children, should do Bible study together. There’s a need to take younger children into settings where they learn to participate. And there’s a need to know that 2 or 3 year olds are really not ready to sit still and listen for a whole lesson time. But they should be worked with and taught to be able to handle it.

Of course, frequently we jump right to the part of ‘age-segregation’ that we like or don’t like–most folks don’t think you can have Sunday School with 2 year olds under foot, and so are all for age divisions. Then we wonder why the youth don’t have relationships in the church–and it’s because we’ve always kept them separated.

You need both types of small group in the church. Those based on age-appropriate needs (and life-cycle needs), and those based on building relationships and learning across the generations. The latter need to be done in a setting where children that are too young to participate have needs met but where parents can also engage. And that’s missing in many churches, including the non-age-segregating churches that I know. Most of them don’t do well at handling infant to 6 year olds–they expect Mom to keep the kid quiet and still while somebody reads a long, drawn-out lesson.

It doesn’t work. Mom’s bored, and the kids are out of their ability range.

So, encourage small groups of both kinds in your church–meet the needs of various groups as best you can.

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19 Clark July 11, 2014 at 3:32 pm

SOunds like a good plan, I’m doin it

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20 Dean Stewart July 11, 2014 at 4:40 pm

We need to all pause for a moment of silence for Dave Miller. He has suffered a loss as the “King” has left South Beach.

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21 Tarheel July 11, 2014 at 5:11 pm

What he gettin too many cramps down there?

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22 Dan Barnes July 11, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Did you guys really just hijack my post with LeBron? Ug

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23 Todd Benkert July 11, 2014 at 10:56 pm

I hope LeBron was in Sunday school on Sunday. If he doesn’t attend a class, I want to invite him to try one out next week.

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24 Dan Barnes July 11, 2014 at 6:28 pm

If the Heat wants to win, they need Sunday school.

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25 andy July 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm

We do have age segregated Ss, but other opportunities for multigenerational worship and fellowship. It seems to work very well for us, allowing an hour a week for targeted teaching, but almost everything else is integrated… next Sunday we will be having a missions speaker talk to the combined Ss classes, youth included, but not the younger children.

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26 D. L. Payton July 12, 2014 at 3:48 pm

it is just my opinion of course, but I believe that the either/or mentality has been a major detriment to SB. If we look back I think we would find that such has occurred many times in our history. We do not have to decide between age grade or multigenerational, do both. A modified Flakes Formula can be helpful. Select your target group, secure a teacher, provide space, and begin a new class. For those who like age grading do it. For those who like multigenerational do it. This method will provide several new classes. It has been my experience that new classes grow faster than old.

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27 D. L. Payton July 12, 2014 at 3:52 pm

I have always believed in and strived to maintain a strong sunday school. The key to SS is the teacher. If I were pastoring today I would shift my mentoring emphasis to SS teachers. I would spend time investing in them and teaching them scripture and how to teach. A good sunday school teacher is a good outreach tool. The teacher is also the logical person to minister to folks when there is a ministry need. If a pastor has 5 good teachers he has 5 good associate pastors.

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28 cbscott July 12, 2014 at 6:56 pm

“If I were pastoring today I would shift my mentoring emphasis to SS teachers. I would spend time investing in them and teaching them scripture and how to teach.”

Excellent statement

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29 John Wylie July 12, 2014 at 9:28 pm

To be honest I am not a fan of either age graded SS or Family Integrated Worship. I don’t think that age graded SS fully appreciates that everyone regardless of age are at varying spiritual, intellectual and emotional level. So although we do have a SS set up along age lines we allow people to go to whatever SS class they feel meets their needs. One of the best SS teachers I ever served with in a church I pastored was a 16 year old young lady, very mature. I also think that generational gap is often widened by our always splitting the ages up.

I’m not a fan of Family Integrated because I think it also fails to recognized the value of one being taught on their level. Also, if Family Integrated Worship would have been I vogue when I got saved I would have been out of luck because I did not come from a church family. Further, in the body of Christ aren’t we all family?

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30 Greg Buchanan July 15, 2014 at 10:53 am

From reading many of the replies, it would appear that too many folks have been encouraged to do so or they have in and of themselves come to the conclusion that SS is “discipleship.”

This misunderstanding falls squarely on the shoulders of Pastors who did not/do not understand the purpose of a proper age-graded/affinity graded SS program (yes, I used the dreaded P word).

SS is NOT primary or even secondary discipleship. Also, please do not make the mistake that preaching is primary discipleship either; it should be considered secondary at best: i.e. if they aren’t reading daily or studying daily, at least they hear me preach, so Lord let it be good to my people.

SS is an evangelistic gateway into church fellowship that includes a small teaching component. The primary function is to reach new people as your regular attendees bring friends (even my youth do that occasionally).

The second function should be to care for those who are members and also for visitors: “how can we pray for you today.” I fail in this one pretty regularly because I like to teach and get caught up in “gotta do the lesson.”

The third function is teaching. I’m no Hebrew or Greek scholar, but I’m pretty sure there is no 11th commandment stating that you have to teach every point or all points in on any given Sunday from the quarterly book. Teach what resonates, stop when you have to.

As for discipleship: that is long term, usually deep, should be personal, and should be done during living a life. It should never be mistaken as occurring on Sunday morning for an hour or two.

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