The following is a full review of:
The 3D Sunday School – A Three Dimensional Strategy to Help Members and Leaders Fulfill the Great Commission, by David Francis
INTRODUCTION (pages 4-7)
In the introduction, the author, David Francis, discusses Sunday School as a member-led movement (the headline is “A Lay-led Movement”). While some might take exception to the “lay” title, we can say with certainly that every saved person ministers in some way and has a place of service as a member of his/her Sunday School class. This fundamental point will unfold as we read through the book.
QUESTION: Can you identify leaders within your small group?
Next, David introduces the 3 Dimensions of Sunday School: INVITE, DISCOVER, and CONNECT. We associate INVITE with reaching out to people in some way and introducing them to opportunities (in class, church, and life). DISCOVER is what takes place in Bible study. And CONNECT is, in its simplest form, assimilation (David often maintains that Sunday School is the most effective assimilation methodology in evangelistic churches today, pg. 7).
QUESTION: Which one of these is your class strong at doing? Which one needs work?
Every member should be involved in the 3D Sunday School (pg. 5). The teacher as leader must guard against the Sunday School class’ mission getting out of balance as members invite, discover, and connect. Each of these is equally important and “intentionally interrelated” (pg. 6).
INVITE (pages 8-10)
Author David Francis informs us that some 80-90 percent of people surveyed say they first came to the church they currently attend because someone invited them. He says, “People who are being blessed by their experiences at church invite other people to experience that blessing.
APPLY: This week, ask your class members (in all classes, young and old) to tell how they are blessed in the things they participate in at First Baptist.
David reminds us that Sunday School classes must be open, that is, they must receive new members at any time, “whether the group is meeting for Bible study or having a party.” I encourage you, as the leader of your class, to guard your class to be open to anyone so INVITATION is successful.
In speaking about enrolling new members, which we should be about doing rather than dropping, David infers that it is the responsibility of the class to make a commitment to the new member, rather than the class expecting the new member to make a commitment to them. Interestingly, the trend in Sunday School nationwide is for attendance to go up as enrollment grows. And when enrollment drops, attendance declines! We should be about enrolling people in our Sunday School classes on a regular basis.
QUESTION: What commitment does your class make to its members? New attenders? Begin now thinking about creating a class covenant – one that holds members accountable to others and each other. David gives a good example of this on page 9 in the example of a 3D Class.
INVITE (pages 10-11)
Author David Francis tells the importance of sharing your Sunday School testimony with others (outside of class, in the context of inviting). This is different from your personal salvation testimony. The difference between the two is:
– A salvation testimony has three parts: what your life was like before Christ, then a brief statement of how you came to faith in Christ, then what your life is like with Christ (this shouldn’t take more than 60-90 seconds, depending on the setting).
– A Sunday School testimony tells how a small group has helped you understand the Bible, tells what you’ve learned about the Bible, and tells how the small group supports you and lifts you up, especially in times of need or celebration.
APPLY: Last week, I suggested that you ask your class members to tell how they are blessed in the things they participate in at First Baptist. This week, ask them to share how they are blessed through their/your Sunday School class. Tell them that this is their Sunday School testimony which they can share with others when they invite people to Sunday School!
David sums up the section, “Open Doors of Opportunity to Invite,” by encouraging the following (p.11):
– Influence people by the way you live.
– Invest in them through acts of kindness.
– Invite them to join your Bible study group.
QUESTION: What is your Sunday School testimony? Would you be willing to share your Sunday School testimony with other teachers?
INVITE (pages 11-12)
Author David Francis encourages us to invite friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors to Sunday School. These are the people we “play with, care for, work with, or live near” (p. 11). They are the ones more likely to respond to your invitation as, say, inviting total strangers.
Also, take a look around worship. There are many who are not attending Sunday School.
APPLY: Ask your class members to look around the worship service they attend and invite someone to join them in Sunday School. If that person responds that they already attend a class, tell your members to keep inviting until they find someone!
Regarding the matter of this section, “Invite Whom?,” David reminds us to encourage children and teenagers to invite their friends. And not only their friends but their families as well. As he puts it, “Whole families will come… when we invite them!”
QUESTION (for reflection): Think about your class members. What is the makeup of each person’s family? What will you do to encourage each family member to attend Sunday School?
INVITE (pages 13-14)
Author David Francis says that the “visitation” model of outreach still works, although it is hard work. Notes, phone calls, and emails are effective ways to contact people, but face-to-face connections are best, whether it is in the privacy of a home or in a public venue (like a restaurant, ballgame, store, etc.).
Throughout the year, First Baptist offers many organized opportunities to visit, usually with training or orientation to evangelism as part of the effort: FAITH evangelism, Share Jesus Without Fear, One Hour Witnessing Workshops in the summer, and others.
REFLECTION: As leader of your class, you can encourage class members to be involved in any of several outreach strategies. Choose one to focus on with your class. You are not in this alone!
Our Sunday School rolls serve a purpose: to remind us that there are people who needs connections. One of the best ways to do this is to put something into the hands of those who are invited to attend Sunday School, especially Bible study material that you’ll soon start in your class.
QUESTION: Can you imagine what would happen to your class if you and active members of your class visited every person on your roll?! It’s a very achievable thing to do. Will you lead your class to do this once a year? Remember, you are not in this alone.
INVITE (pages 14-15)
Author David Francis says that it may take numerous touches of some kind before a person responds to an invitation the first time. Don’t give up!
QUESTION: Who are those who can fill the empty chair(s) in your class? See page 14 for the answer.
Outreach is a vital part of Sunday School. Remember, our classes are open classes – none are closed to anyone. To that end, I concur with the author that each of our Sunday School classes should have an outreach leader – “someone responsible for encouraging and equipping others to reach and enroll” (p. 14).
As we close the review of this chapter, let me encourage you to not go it alone (because you’re not alone in the work). INVITE members of your class to be part of the outreach. INVITE others outside your class to attend Sunday School. INVITE people to know Jesus. INVITE!
DISCOVER (pages 17-18)
Author David Francis suggests an immutable law of small group dynamics: Regardless of how much you encourage members to INVITE others, they won’t do so if the class environment and group experience are not inviting (p. 17).
QUESTION: Do the “dynamics” of your group support the inclusion of new people? As you think about that question, also think about the new people who are visiting your class and the commitment your class is making to them.
Members DISCOVER several things in the small group, as listed on page 17:
– the life changing power of God’s Word
– opportunities to share ways God is at work personally and with others
– the way God’s Word speaks individually and to the group
– the way God’s Word applies to life
– people who need ministry, hope, fellowship, prayer, discipleship, and a fresh encounter with God.
As for curriculum, the author advises to choose that which helps people DISCOVER the whole counsel of God over a period of years (p. 17).
RESPONSE: Tell what curriculum or Bible study methodology you use.
From page 18, we learn that DISCOVERY is about:
– telling the Bible story
– touching the Bible story
– and taking the Bible story to people outside the group.
DISCOVER (pages 18-20)
Our Sunday School groups/classes are open groups. This means that each class should make the effort to keep it open by:
– choosing curriculum that supports open groups;
– making each Bible study a self-contained experience that stands on its own;
– creating better learning opportunities as a result of members participating and cooperating.
QUESTION: The author, David Francis, asked, “What is the ideal spiritual gift for a 3D Sunday School teacher?” What do you think? (David’s answer is on page 19.)
DISCOVER (pages 20-24)
The author, David Francis, takes us on a tour of “How To Teach Your Class.” Here are the main headings and highlights from each one:
LIVEN UP LECTURES. When using lecture as a teaching method, add visuals such as maps, posters, and pictures. Ask questions and elicit responses. Back to the pictures: I like to show the class a thematic picture and ask them to identify features that stand out to them (we train this method in FAITH evangelism training).
DISCOVER THROUGH DISCUSSION. Keep discussion safe for your mix of believers and unbelievers. Post questions for members to see. Discover great questions. Steer discussion away from dominant debaters.
ASK THE RIGHT KINDS OF DISCOVERY QUESTIONS. David suggests using The Serendipity Bible (or another source familiar to you) to discover key questions. This Bible asks three types of questions for each Scripture: Open, Study, and Apply. Other Bible study resources offer similar suggestions. For example, in the Bible studies I post on my website, I also ask three types of questions or prompters: Creating Interest, Building Foundations, and Applying Truth.
USE THE LEARNER GUIDE. Using a learner guide helps members feel more confident and guests feel more comfortable. Even a list of questions, quotes, an outline, or just the Scripture passage given to each person in class will help members and guests in the discovery process.
DISCOVER WHO WILL READ AND PRAY OUT LOUD. Before class, enlist people to read or pray. In class, announce, “I have asked so and so to pray/read.”
USE THE ROOM SET-UP FOR DISCOVERY. Arrange your room for comfort and personal security. Keep it clean and clutter-free.
RESPOND TO PEOPLE. I like what David reported about one young man said: “First, I fell in love with my teacher. Then, I fell in love with my teacher’s Bible. Then I fell in love with my teacher’s Lord.”
CONNECT (pages 26-29)
The author, David Francis, reminds of us two facts: 1) People exposed to the gospel a number of times before accepting Christ are more likely to remain active than those who only hear the good news a time or two before that decision; 2) People who establish friendships with several people in their church within a few months of joining are far more likely to remain active than those who can name only one or two friends (pg. 26). These two statements, supported by research, tell the importance of CONNECTION.
Because the Bible calls us to practice hospitality, we can do that in our Sunday School classes. First impressions are everything. The author suggests beginning a greeter ministry in your own class, even if the church has a greeter ministry overall (as we do).
QUESTION: Does your class have a class greeter – someone who meets new visitors as they enter the room and provides every measure of hospitality?
Sometimes getting visitors to fill out a card is overlooked (by either us or them). A greeter in your class can approach the task conversationally, assisting the visitor in filling out information for outreach purposes (pg. 27).
Use name tags in class! The author suggests asking people to include under your name something different each week, like favorite sport, anniversary or birthday, favorite food, etc. (pg. 27).
APPLY: Sometimes as Sunday School teachers, we feel like we’re alone in the process of outreach. We’re not! Look around your class and identify people who you can enlist to serve as a greeter, small(er) group leader, outreach coordinator, social networker, etc. Children’s teachers can enlist parents to help in these ways.
CONNECT (pages 29-32)
The author, David Francis, concludes the CONNECT chapter, and the 3D booklet, by presenting 10 ways we can connect people to the work of the Sunday School. The first five are:
1. Connect Members to Ministry in Preschool, Children, and Student Sunday School
One of the things we do as adults is disciple our members with the purpose of preparing them to be leaders in other areas of the church. David calls this “release,” that is, releasing class members to serve in other church-wide ministries. Remember, growth is not about numbers – it’s about personal discipleship and what one can do for the Kingdom. The following Sunday School teacher testimony exemplifies this:
Yesterday, God blessed me in many ways , I want to share what He did to hopefully encourage other teachers. I have taught our women’s Sunday School class for a few years now, and my personal goal has been to teach in such a way that the women will be equipped to go out and serve in whatever capacity that God has need for them. Our class is very diversified in age and talents, so the opportunities are many for them to serve. Some have moved on to be teachers, others serve in the hospitality area, some in the community. Yesterday was a special blessing to see the class being obedient to God, to be used by Him. A week ago, one of the class members asked the class to pray for the upcoming 3rd grade class and the teacher (one of our group who is serving). It seems the class will be quite large and only one teacher, so her suggestion was to pray about the class members supporting and helping her out for a month at a time. They would only be out of our class for four Sundays, so not a burden on anyone. We did pray. Yesterday we talked about it again and one lady who is somewhat new to the class had not been there the week before, spoke up and said, “I love 3rd graders and I did puppet ministry for 5 years. I prayed this morning for God to give me something to do. I will help her full time for the year.” Then another spoke up and said, “I also will help as needed.” Then the class decided she probably needed more than one helper just for crowd control, so they also will help one Sunday at a time. Another said, “If it were 2 year olds I would love that.” So problem solved. The blessing for me was that God allowed me to see the fruits of my labor. Hebrews 11:13 tells us that many who serve don’t always have that privilege, but have the faith to know it will come about. So I feel really blessed to see these results. My real goal is to either work myself out of a job or be motivated to go out looking for new members to start all over. I know it is comforting to have your close knit group there every Sunday, but God’s purpose is for all of us to serve, not to sit and soak. I hope that all teachers will be blessed as I have been.
2. Connect through prayer
Our classes need outreach leaders AND prayer leaders. The prayer leader, according to the author, communicates prayer requests and praise reports to the group – everything from international missionaries around the world to missionaries from their class who are teaching preschoolers around the corner.
3. Connect through Fellowship Activities
The author reminds us that fellowship is a spiritual discipline. Many of our classes do this on a regular basis. Be sure to include your associate (missionary) member, that is, those from your class who are serving in other areas of Sunday School (see Carolee’s testimony above).
4. Connect through food
Building relationships over food (meals, snacks, etc.) “makes for a more inviting environment and a connecting experience” (pg. 31).
5. Connect with Absentees
“Never give up on anyone. Stay after them and maintain contact with them.” The author also encourages us to make contacts with everyone on our rolls EACH WEEK. Not just to get them back to Sunday School but to minister to them. The class roll is “not a commitment for the member to attend the class… it represents a commitment for the class to minister to the member” (pg. 32). The only time we remove people from our Sunday School roll is when they die, they move, or they join/attend another church.
QUESTION: Does your class have an outreach leader? A prayer leader?
CONNECT (pages 32-35)
The last five points of author David Francis’ presentation of how to connect to the work of the Sunday School are:
6. Connect through Affinity Groups
The author reminds us that Sunday School is a good place to keep people informed of the various affinity groups and events. In our church, this includes men’s and women’s Bible studies, prayer fellowships, and mentoring groups; Lydia’s Sow-ers; book clubs; recreation events; children’s events; and other specifically targeted people groups or small groups.
7. Connect Newcomers to Worship Experiences
Can you name a time when you sat with a new attendee in worship? Does it move you out of your comfort zone to do so? Your class members can be missionaries in their very own worship service! Challenge them to seek out newcomers, or at least people they don’t know, and get to know them during worship. The transition (and invitation) to Sunday School can happen naturally. Remember, one of the most overlooked mission fields for inviting people to Sunday School is our worship services.
8. Connect with Families
Sunday School is family-oriented. At First Baptist, we offer a complete Christian education experience for every member of the family. We also offer resources like parenting magazines, life stage specific magazines, daily devotional guides, the church website, my website (!), etc. We work hard to make sure every member of the family can connect through Sunday School. Our teachers are on the front line of this effort.
9. Connecting to the Discipleship Ministry
Bible study is the main goal of our Sunday School. As a result, foundational discipleship occurs. More in-depth discipleship is reserved for other occasions in studies that are closed (the author defines a closed group as a study group focused on a specific subject for a defined period of time, primarily composed of believers). Our Sunday School classes should be OPEN to everyone, and while it might be somewhat basic for seasoned believers, they are just the ones needed to mentor unbelievers, new believers, and other growing believers. Remind your class of this. Encourage them in this.
10. Connecting through Small Discipleship Groups
Discipleship groups grow out of Sunday School classes. The author states that discipleship groups are for “(p)eople who want a deeper experience of accountability and discipleship” (pg. 34). A Sunday School class can, in fact, hold its own discipleship group (at limited times of the year outside of the Sunday School time) that would specifically target those in the class who desire a deeper study of a theme or Biblical text. Your church staff (pastor, associate pastor) will be glad to assist you in doing this. Be sure to work through them (us.)
Author David Francis summarizes “the awesome power of a connected Sunday School” this way:
A church with an effective 3D Sunday School need not create lots of redundant ministry “silos” that compete for attention and leaders, especially if a church adopts “universal enrollment,” a plan by which every church member is assigned to an open Sunday School class regardless of whether they attend. It’s just part of being a church member. Enrollment communicates expectation and ensures that someone is responsible for each person… …A 3D Sunday School accomplishes foundational evangelism, discipleship, ministry, fellowship, worship, and so much more. It invites. It discovers. It connects. Purposefully. Intentionally. Strategically. (page 35)
So what are the 3 Dimensions of Sunday School?