HOW TO USE SUNDAY SCHOOL TO CHANGE A CHURCH’S CULTURE
Of course, not every adult Sunday school program is equally effective at changing the culture of a church. Here are a few lessons we’ve learned across the past ten years about how to make Sunday school into a tool for changing a church’s culture.
1. Teach each class on a recurring basis.
It was only in the fourth or fifth year of teaching the dating class that we began to see a real culture change take place. If you address a topic only when someone “has a burden” to teach it, or when your denomination publishes curriculum on it, you will most not likely make a different in your church’s culture.
2. Make your notes available to everyone.
Our church has always posted class notes (including the teacher’s manuscript and handouts) on our website. Our initial goal in doing this was to give other churches that chance to use our material, but along the way it has given our members’ the ability to study those notes when a class is not being taught.
3. Encourage discussion outside of class.
As they teach, our teachers suggest books to read alongside the class. They set up informal times of Q&A outside of the class, especially for controversial topics. And they put their email address on a class handout and encourage the class to ask questions throughout the week. Ideally, Sunday school is not merely an event but the instigator of a dialogue.
4. Take the time to comprehensively cover a topic.
An effective Sunday school class does not need to answer every question, but it must be thorough enough to provide a framework that could answer any question. We’ve generally found that six to thirteen weeks is long enough to develop and apply such a framework.
5. Reference adult Sunday school in your preaching.
As a pastor preaches through Scripture, they often hit upon sermon applications that cover the same terrain as a Sunday school class. In moments like these, the preacher has the chance to direct people to the class: “If you want to think about this further, consider attending…”
6. Use the class to teach Scripture.
One of the dangers of topical teaching is that the substance of the class becomes wise advice, with the Bible used merely as proof text. Of course, there is a time and a place for wise advice, and a time and a place for proof texts. But while your people may change their behavior in response to wise advice, they are more likely to change their thinking and attitudes in response to a better understanding of the Scriptures. So wherever possible, we have found it helpful to walk people through larger passages of Scripture related to the topic at hand.
Suppose, for example, that you are planning a class on why we must live lives that support our evangelistic witness. You could brainstorm six different guidelines with a Bible passage for each. Alternatively, you could spend the whole time walking the class through the book of 1 Peter. This will probably cover those same guidelines, but much more as well. Along the way, you will not only ground your teaching directly in Scripture, but you will help your class to see things they have never seen before (such as the fact that submitting to earthly authority helps the church’s witness to the gospel—a key theme in 1 Peter). What’s more, your church members will walk away knowing a section of Scripture better so that they can mine it for years to come.
By Jamie Dunlop