Every now and then I am asked why Fellowship doesn’t offer Sunday school for adults. Behind this enquiry usually lies an equal part of tradition and preference. For these people, Sunday school is either all they’ve ever known, or it’s where they learned most of what they know. For them, Sunday worship without school is incomplete. I am unmoved. At Fellowship, we don’t offer adult Sunday school.
It’s not that Sunday school is a bad thing. Hardly, it has a noble history dating back 200 years. With the onset of the industrial age, children were put to work and were relegated to a life of illiteracy. Christian philanthropists were concerned for these children and began literary schools that met on Sundays. The Bible was the text and copying scripture was the approved method of learning. When mandatory schooling was legislated parents saw fit to continue the classes. Sunday school was an effective way to teach children the Gospel truth. It still is, and that is why we invest so heavily in our Learning Center.
Adult Sunday school was a later development. As biblical illiteracy grew widespread, it was decided that parents, like their children, would benefit from some schooling. The response to this initiative was positive and it quickly became the accepted norm. But in recent decades the predominance of adult Sunday school has slipped drastically. Fewer people are enrolling in the classes and fewer churches are offering them. Does this program’s dwindling presence signify some illness in the Church? I think not. It was a method that served its season well, but I believe that there are better options available for the church today.
We, as a church, are persuaded that more can be accomplished through small groups that meet apart from worship services in member’s homes. The following are some of our conclusions and convictions:
- A small group discussion allows God’s truth to be on the lips of everyone. It is an active, not passive, experience for those involved. This shared interaction with Scripture results in greater learning.
- When groups remain small the members grow increasingly connected with one another. Everyone becomes known and this translates into greater accountability and encouragement.
- Small groups are closed communities that provide safety for its members. Familiarity leads to trust, and trust enables truth telling. Confident in their relationships, members share their lives with each other.
- Meeting in homes allows people to practice the biblical value of hospitality. Furthermore, it creates a welcoming environment that erodes defensiveness. This is particularly beneficial for those who are new to God’s family.
Can’t these benefits be accomplished through the traditional Sunday school format? Perhaps, but I contend that they do it less well and less consistently. But my most strenuous objection to Sunday school is the cost. The cost of building adult classroom space is staggering, and while that is enough to cause pause, it is the manpower costs that really sting. Adult Sunday school effectively neutralizes the volunteer base of the church since the majority of the adults are sitting in class. I am not claiming that Sunday school is without benefit, it does some good, but I don’t think that it is the best available option. Small groups may not suit everyone’s preference, but their benefit is undeniable and this is why we are structured as we are.
Conceivably, a day will come when small groups cease to be effective, and if that happens, we will change our approach. The mission of the church is unchanging—our strategy is not. We will use whatever allowable means possible to make disciples.