Bruce Raley and David Francis draw on their wealth of experience as church leaders of Bible study groups to present a compelling case for starting new Bible study groups in the local church. Raley and Francis identify the potential new groups carry in reaching a community and developing believers. Essentials for starting new groups are defined as well as starting points. The authors propose that new groups lead to reaching lost people, maturing disciples, engaging people in ministry, and increasing available resources for ministry.
To see the online resource page, including a free copy of the material,
go to Extreme Sunday School Challenge.
A definition of Sunday School reminds us of our mission: Sunday School is an organization of open ongoing Bible study groups designed to intentionally balance Biblical content and Biblical community with a view toward producing disciples. (p. 7)
This definition will guide us over the next few weeks as we engage the POTENTIAL to start new Sunday School classes.
Our desire, as a community of believers, should be to reach out to people and include them in our small groups on a regular basis. Not only does this fulfill the Great Commission but it also defines our Sunday School classes as OPEN GROUPS.
The authors call this A BALANCED GROUP. They state, “Maintaining the balance between content and community places the Sunday School organization in a position to be the primary evangelistic arm of a church as well as the entry point for the ASSIMILATION ministry.” (p. 8)
Not only is EVANGELISM a primary ministry of the Sunday School, ASSIMILATION is, too. Yet another feature is DISCIPLE-MAKING. All three require us to be intentional.
QUESTION: How would you define a disciple of Jesus Christ?
The questions on page 17 raise some important issues. Three things stand out:
- Is your class an open class (open to anyone and everyone)?
- How balanced is your class regarding Bible study and fellowship?
- What are you doing to reach new people while discipling class members?
On page 10, there are two points the authors make about desired Sunday School outcomes, both of which we ascribe to at KFBC:
- More people reached with the Gospel: Bible study and evangelism make up the Biblical model of the teaching ministry.
- More people being matured in Christ. This fulfills that part of the Great Commission which says, “Go and make disciples.”
As we see these outcomes develop, it is vitality important that new groups (classes) are started. This helps meet the potential growth, not just numerically but also spiritually.
Page 12 presents a case study in how people are drawn to Christ. Teachers, some of the people you teach are those who have been reached others ways – you are part of the outreach process!
As I read this chapter, a question came to my mind: Do we empower teachers to give an invitation in their classes? It is okay to do this and I encourage you to do so.
Finally, page 16 states why we should start new Sunday School classes: A new group will bring an average of 10 new people attending Bible study within a year. The outline (plan) for doing so looks like this:
– a target audience is identified
– leaders are enlisted and trained
– emphasis is given to the birth of the group
– an established class serves as the starter of the new class
Chapter 2 introduces the essentials of starting a new group.
The lesson is simple: Essential 1 identifies the catalyst, that is, the one who has a vision for a new group and then works toward the creation of that group (p. 18).
This person does not have to be a staff member. He or she can be anyone who has a commitment to starting a new Sunday School group/class (p. 19).
QUESTION: What does this have to do with our Sunday School?
This is the largest section we’ll look at in one lesson so rather than fill a page with commentary, let me introduce the Biblical rationale. We’ll then note several key comments the authors make that will remind us of how essential leaders are to growing Sunday School classes.
In I Corinthians 12:18, Paul wrote, “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose.” For the church today, this means that the Lord has placed everybody in our church at this time needed to accomplish what he wants to do. (p. 19)
Page 20: The best source of identifying new leaders is to ask existing adult class leaders to identify them from their own small groups. The main problem is that some adult Sunday School leaders don’t want to let go of their members!
Page 21: GREAT QUOTE, OUR CHALLENGE – The success of a Sunday School leader is not measured by how large the class grows but by how many leaders are sent out.
Page 22: Leaders reproduce leaders who reproduce leaders who reproduce leaders. It is not only true with Bible teachers but with other areas of the church: ushers, choir members, greeters, etc. IF WE FAIL TO REPRODUCE, WE WILL BECOME EXTINCT!
Page 23: If there are opportunities for the creation of new groups (and there are!), there are people in your church right now who can provide leadership in those groups.
Page 24: The ultimate goal is NOT Bible knowledge alone but APPLIED Bible knowledge.
Page 25: Equipping is not a one-time meeting or book reading. It is ongoing. One of the best methods for equipping is modeling.
Page 26-27: The authors give several suggestions for leader training.
Page 28: Experienced leaders should intentionally encourage new leaders.
This chapter is about essential elements for new groups (new classes) to survive and thrive. We’ve covered #1/catalysts and #2/ leaders. Now, let’s talk about #3: Enrollment.
The authors state, “The more lost people enrolled in Sunday School, the more likely we are to see people come to faith in Christ” (p. 29). But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus, in giving the Great Commission, told us to GO. I personally believe that He means to GO somewhere AND to GO out of our way.
When we enroll people in Sunday School, we must be prepared to accept them, love them, and pray for them. This means being intentional in outreach TO them. This is how Sunday School does evangelism. This is why equip you, the teacher, with the Biblical equipment you need as we reach people for Jesus and teach them how to live for Him.
We’ve covered #1/catalysts, #2/ leaders, and #3/enrollment. Let’s examine the 4th essential: Start with the right DNA.
The authors use the acronym, DNA, to list the essentials that make for successful new group launches. The first, letter D, is “Disciple-making at the core” (p. 31). Not only are we seeking to win lost people to Christ in Sunday School but we also have the task (commission) to disciple believers young and old. The truth is, disciple-making begins with evangelizing and “ends” with the lifetime discipling of the believer. The authors remind us that discipling is about justification (being saved) and sanctification (continuing to be saved.
The second letter is N, “Network of people on mission). The new group, and even the seasoned group, “should begin to feel a sense of trust and openness” (p. 31), responding to that one hour of group Bible study by living out the lesson throughout the week – this is the response to application.
I like what the authors say about developing relations on page 31: Every older preschool, children’s, student, and adult group should have identified mission projects in which members can engage. We are reminded that our Christian culture has transitioned from one of door-to-door evangelism to one of servant evangelism. This happens in groups in which members NETWORK with each other and NETWORK with other groups.
The last letter, A, is “Accountable for sending leaders and starting new groups” (p. 33). Sending out new leaders is a vital part of the Great Commission. When we think of sending, many times we have the idea of “sending” outside the walls of the church. Reaching people in Sunday School happens INSIDE the walls of the church, too. We are challenged, then, with sending out group members to start new groups or to strengthen existing groups.
In this session, we’ll orient to opportunities for starting new groups. Remember our DNA as we do: Disciple-making at the core, Network of people on mission, and Accountability for sending leaders and starting new Bible study groups.
On page 35, the authors assert that “our nation is no longer ‘post-Christian.’ We have moved beyond that stage, coming full circle. Much of our society is now “pre-Christian.’” They go on the say that most of these pre-Christians in our country are not anti-church; they’re just apathetic toward the church.
As for the life cycle of small groups (including Sunday School classes), there are three types of growth:
1. Starting new groups keep growth causes growth (in people’s lives and church health).
2. Keeping groups as they are leads to a plateau of growth, and maybe some declining in growth.
3. Combining groups causes decline. (p. 36)
In certain settings, new groups can be started outside traditional Sunday School. We see this in home groups, gender or age specific Bible studies, and even with intentional mentoring.
Finally, the authors ask, “If a percentage of people in your community cannot attend on Sundays, could you go to them?” (p. 37) This question, and of course the answer, reminds us of the Great Commission: go to people, lead them to Jesus and teach them how to live for Him. I don’t think it’s a stretch outside the meaning of the Great Commission to not only say GO TO THEM, but to also say GO OUT OF YOUR WAY.
This is our last session. My goal has been to introduce you and excite you about the opportunity for your class to start another class. If you are a children or youth teacher, your contribution is to provide information about parents you know who are not in Sunday School or do not have a class that meets their needs. We’re all in this together!
So what are our opportunities for starting new classes? On page 38, the authors begin a list of 26 groups or events that can lead to a new class. As we conclude our 8 week study, let’s identify a few of the opportunities listed that we have embraced:
#1 (p. 38) – On several occasions, we have started new groups out of large classes.
#8 (p. 39) – What a great idea, that is, starting a weekly Bible study for patients in hospitals! That would be a great class project, even if seasonal.
#9 (p. 39) – Starting a Bible study group at local campgrounds is obviously a seasonal venture.
#12 (p. 40) – Again, another opportunity exists with local childcare centers. A class could take on the mission of doing story time once a week.
#16 (p. 41) –Meeting with parents of teenagers is a great outreach and one that emphasizes our focus on families.
#20 (p. 41) – Our pastor regularly teaches Basic Training for new members to church. It’s also a great class for anyone wishing to learn more about FBC, especially before joining.
#23 (p. 42) – Recovery/Life Issues Groups extend a grace-filled way to minister to people who are struggling with life issues.
And now, it’s your turn:
ASSIGNMENT: Use the two reflection exercises on page 43 with adults in your Sunday School class or with parents of kids in your Sunday School class.