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Small Church Sunday School

If statistics bear out that the largest number of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, and I would dare say in any denomination are smaller than 100-200 members, what is being done to seek to build these churches up, especially in the area of Sunday school?

I grew up in a small church (fewer than 200 members) in a small town (1000 population), and the main focus was placed on the worship service, which is fine, because that is where a great number of individuals participate and feel connected.  I also though remember that there was not a great focus placed upon Sunday school, even though this is one of the greatest "velcro" factors in churches.  Maybe I was young, maybe I was naive, maybe though a part of it was that when there would be any kind of Sunday school training the focus was placed on taking a "big" church model and putting it pro forma over a small church and saying, "here you figure out what part of this works and let it be..."

I believe though that the small church needs to given some more attention.  So I want to present to you just some simple keys to get things going in a small church atmosphere.  I believe these are respectful for the general issues that small churches face, while they should be challenging in making sure that Sunday school has the correct focus in the communities where churches are planted.

So what are some keys that will help to build a small church's Sunday school in a healthy manner:

1.Be contextual:  Yes the message of Christ never changes, we all need to agree on this, however, the context for how that message is communicated needs to be accounted for.  A small church in a rural area will have different obstacles in connecting to people as will a small church in the middle of New York City.  One of the main goals of a Sunday morning small group is to hit that "homerun" of application from a biblical lesson.  So how it applies should be accounted for in the audience of people that are coming to your Sunday morning Bible groups.

2. Develop new leaders:  Do you remember Discipleship Training Union?  From the stories that I have heard from people that were connected to this time and some churches may still use it, the focus was on discipleship training.  Somewhere along the way, DT became topical Bible studies, that were held at 5PM on Sunday afternoons before 6PM evening worship services.  I encourage though small churches to revitalize the DT where its focus is completely on training new leaders.  Set a goal of what you want people to learn out of  any kind of DT and communicate this with the congregation its purpose and goals.  An example can be having someone to get up in your morning worship and state, "Good morning everyone, we have a new discipleship class starting this Sunday and its focus is completely about being a leader in Sunday school.  Come and learn how to be a part of this."  You are setting the terms for discipleship growth in your church body by being intentional in developing new leaders.

3. Don't be counterproductive in change:  When any kind of SS training occurs, always one of the big questions comes about of how to implement changes.  The congregation will blame the pastor and the pastor will blame the congregation for lack (or abundance) of inertia.  It's counterproductive completely.  As ministers we desire to lead people to see a vision of where the church has potential.  As members of a congregation, we desire to see the healthy growth of the body, while maintaining the culture of the church.  It's not that there are two sides, please understand me when I say that, but often times this is where the biggest struggles come with either implementing new strategies or seeking to change the existing culture.  Make sure that you understand the DNA of the church before any changes are made.  Also though make changes that show healthy growth.  This will help the congregation to see that you are respecting the culture of the church, while also you lead them to the place where God desires for them to connect with people.

4. Find simple rally points:   Dr.John Kotter who wrote Leading Change has as one of his main points of leading change in any organization to celebrate small victories.  I think this has great value, especially in the small church atmosphere.  There are going to be certain things that you can celebrate as a congregation that no other church, large or small, would be able to celebrate.  Why?  Because they aren't your church fellowship!  You could try to explain it to others, but they just won't understand.  These are your rally points to build upon.  They are points that will encourage the church to reflect of where they have come from, while also they are there to help you build upon for the future.  You can use a high attendance focus, you can announce someone that has completed a DT leadership development class, whatever it is, it should reflect of where the church has come, and be inspiring for the future.

5. Keep finding and using connection points:  As I stated before, there are some churches that will do things well that no other church will or could do, because its not in their DNA.  We have to make sure though that we are not just inward focused but outward focused as well.  Find ways that new people can connect to the church.  It might be through having a booth at a local street fair, it may be through a local softball league, it may even be through the use of church facilities for community events.  Any time that you can connect the outside community to the church, there are benefits.  The key in this though is to be intentional in connecting people to the small groups in the church.  If you want to have a family festival, make sure that you have a young family class- that really is young families, that you can invite people to come to.  If you want to connect to business leaders in the area by hosting a community event, make sure that you have other business leaders that are able to connect with these people.

I know this is not an exhaustive list, but I believe these are just some starting points and keys to helping to get Sunday school to have movement in the local small church.

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