The Balance of Intentionality in Sunday School (Small Groups)
This is a radical statement: Sunday school is not just about teaching (hear me out before I'm deemed a heretic). I know this is a break from the traditional view of the small group purpose. So if it's not just about teaching then what is involved in Sunday school? The illustration can be used of a four legged stool (some have used only three). Anyone can tell when one leg may be longer or shorter than the others. Just as with there being an unbalance in the legs of a stool, so also can there be an unbalance in our Sunday school when one leg is emphasized over the other. What is the benefit of having a balance in Sunday school? Think about what usually happens when a teacher steps away from teaching that is heavily focused on teaching only in the group. There is a scramble that occurs, someone may feel pressured to step into a position where they are not called and then everyone in the class complains because the teaching is "not the same." Instead of being reactive in this process, by having a balance this gives you a proactive approach. Let's discuss though what areas are generally needed to maintain balance.
1. Teaching. Teaching is a foundational principle of Sunday school or small groups. Yet it is not the only work. Teaching must be intentional to not be the main focus of the group and in a traditional setting this is hard to do. While it must be dynamic in its preparation and presentation, it must encourage further maturing and discipleship. This means that it should lead to the exercise of the other four legs to be used in a small group setting. Yes, God's Word will not return void, also though it must be applied and practiced.
2. Reaching. The next leg on the stool would be that of outreach. Sunday school has shown statistically to be the most effective place for outreach. More prospects for church stick to a church most effectively when they are connected to small groups. The question comes then: are Sunday school groups intentionally being challenged to weigh evangelism in the same light as teaching? Is there as much dynamic preparation and presentation occurring in your church's small group setting as there are for other areas. It's not meant to be the last resort, it is intentional to keep a balance.
3. Ministry. This is ministry that happens both within and outside the group. This involves not only taking prayer requests at the beginning but connecting to needs. It may be a meal being provided to a hurting member. Ministry may also present itself as a group project for the community. A trap that we can fall into is thinking that this dynamic preparation is only for Sunday mornings. The ministry focus though shatters this and shows us how the small group is to minister and multiply outside the walls of the room where they meet. The issue of intentionality must be emphasized to keep the balance again.
4. Fellowship. The final leg that gives balance to groups is being intentional in fellowship. A constant complaint is hearing members of groups that say "our group doesn't do anything together." This attitude comes from people seeing their need to not just belong but to desire to spend time together. Please understand that this is not meant to be a promotion of a "fellowship program." Fellowship should occur naturally and yet the connections in small groups will strengthen when it is structured through small groups.
Keeping a balance is hard but if given intentionality, a group will experience a healthy growth structure.