Is Sunday School Important today?

Is Sunday School or small group Bible study classes really important to the health of a church? I believe it is not only important but crucial to the life and health of a church. Much has been written over the years about the 10 Best Practices, the Eight Great Essentials, or the Six Keys to a healthy, growing Sunday School and small group Bible studies as a main component of a healthy church. All of these are great to know and equip our teachers and other leaders to learn and pass on to the people in their classes.

It has been said that the one common denominator in all healthy, growing churches around the globe is starting new units; new classes, and new churches. One thing is certain, when we have a vision for continually starting new units and as a church we are looking forward to the next two or three classes we will need to prepare for, we will see growth and forward movement. Through this process we will be reaching people for Christ, but the growth will not only be numerical.

As our leaders and class members become equipped with the concept and need for stating new units, we experience spiritual growth in our members. Along with this spiritual growth comes leadership growth as well. Both our current and future leaders begin to grow in their spiritual walk and in leadership abilities. Healthy leadership breeds healthy leadership. Healthy spiritual leadership breeds healthy spiritual leadership. Seek resources and help in equipping and growing your leaders in leadership skills, teaching ability, and spiritual health. It is an investment that will pay great dividends in their lives, in the lives of others they teach and mentor, and in the life of the church.

A strong healthy Sunday School (or small group Bible studies) also brings ministry effectiveness to the church. Not only at the traditional 9:30 Sunday morning hour, but ministry effectiveness throughout the week for the church and God’s kingdom. I have for years used the statement, “Anything a church wants to do, it can and should do through the Sunday School.” I say this not only because I believe it, but because I’ve lived it. If our church needs to be more involved in mission work, we’ll take it through the Sunday School. If the Worship leader needs more choir members, we’ll take it through the Sunday School. Whatever it is that the church needs, we can and should attempt to meet those needs through the Sunday School (small group Bible study ministry).

To some this may seem a little odd, but if your Sunday School/small groups Bible study is structured as a caring organization, there is absolutely nothing you cannot do through those involved and engaged in small groups ministry. Sunday School is the largest organization in the church. Therefore it is in essence the church organized. A church organized is a fruit bearing body for God. However, this does require a healthy caring structure at every level of Sunday School and in every class. Healthy fruit producing ministry comes through effective caring structure involving everyone in the organization.

Learn to build healthy effective structure in your Bible study ministry and you can become a fruit producing ministry in God’s Kingdom.

For more information on how to build an effective, fruit producing, caring structure in your church contact George Yates and visit


Foudational Principle for Every Healthy, Growing Church

In the next couple of posts you’ll read about what I believe to be the foundation for every healthy, growing church around the globe. There is not enough space here to give anything except a snapshot of this principle foundation of a healthy, growing church.

This principle foundation is offering to members and guests alike a place to study God’s word for His truths to assist each person in daily living. There is a difference between open and closed small groups for Bible study. An open group – which is the basis for this set of articles – is a group (preferably of 15 or less) of people gathering on a regular basis to engage in Bible study to gain a joyful and abundant life with lasting satisfaction. Small Bible study groups also assist people by providing a natural channel to build relationships with each other. I will not go into the mechanics of small group Bible study (this term is interchangeable with Sunday School or your preference of titles). Rather we will address various factors of two principles for developing a healthy growing small group Bible study organization for your church. The first is passion.


Passion for biblical equipping

Your church leaders must have a passion for teaching and equipping people with knowledge and wisdom of Bible truths and how the truths of scripture apply to our lives today. Teaching in the biblical sense is more than dispensing knowledge. Teaching the way Jesus taught and the way we are instructed to teach is the act of causing someone to learn or to accept something. In the book Teaching That Bears Fruit, I referenced the definition for the words “teach” and the Greek word for teach “didasko.” The italicized and underlined phrase above is the combination of the two definitions. The definition for both of these words uses the word “cause.” The definition of the word cause is something that produces an effect, result, or consequence.”

In teaching of biblical truth, our aim is to produce life changing results or to bring about a life changing effect in our own life as well as the lives of our learners. Dispensing knowledge may produce biblical trivia buffs but it will not produce life changing learning. The Bible was not given to us for information but for transformation. We are to use our time in Bible study to produce life changing learning in the lives of our listeners. While there is a place for individual Bible study, it cannot take the place of studying with a small group of individuals learning together. You’ll learn more studying in a small group of six to twelve than you will ever learn on your own or in a larger group.

Passion for community

Your church leaders must have a passion for community. Community is a group of people with a common background or with shared interests within society. Open small groups participating in Bible study permit people to join the group at any time without feeling lost or out of place. Thus building community among all involved in the Bible study group is imperative.

There are at least two ways to close a group. One is to study the Bible using material or curriculum with a format for sessions building upon previous sessions. It is difficult for a person to join the group after the first session as he/she will be behind in the shared learning experience. In open groups the material may be related to previous sessions but not built upon the premise of having to have studied the previous session to gain from the current study session.

The second way to close a group is to put up relational barriers. This is all too common in many existing classes in churches today. Because a group may have been together for several years, they tend to forget what it is like to be new in the group. We become so engaged in our own relationships and interactions that we neglect to truly include the newcomer or guest. This is to the detriment of newcomers becoming an active part of our small group. Though our words to the newcomer are often, “We welcome you,” our actions speak much louder than our words, and newcomers seldom break through to become “insiders.” In case you have not noticed, outsiders do not stay around very long.

Studying together in a small group fosters relationship building and community among the participants. As we spend more time together, our friendships grow and we bond over common issues and struggles studied in our small group. As we grow together, we spend more of our lives together. Not only our stories, but sharing our time and talents as well assists in building community with those in our small group. As long as we work to keep our group open, we can not only grow in community; we will also grow our community with newcomers.

In the next post we will look at two additional passions that will enable your church and small groups to be effective in reaching and growing.

You can find more information on passion for biblical equipping in Teaching That Bears Fruit and Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church.

For more information on Passion for Community in Reaching the Summit or contact George Yates at SonC.A.R.E. Ministries

This article was adapted from chapter 12 of Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church

Sunday School and Worship

I recently attended a worship service at a church I had not attended for a little over a year. Due to my morning schedule, I arrived late. It turns out the church had changed its service time from 11:00 to 10:30, so I was later than I thought. I had missed the music, offering, and apparently the first part of the pastor’s message. When I arrived a young man was standing in front of the congregation giving a testimony.

This man’s testimony was of time spent in prison and the rough, streetwise, vengeful life he had given up since entering into a personal relationship with Christ. According to his testimony, he has been living a life for Christ for several years and has claimed victory over past lifestyles and attitudes. It was a very good, compelling testimony. It just made you want to go up to him, shake his hand (or hug him) and hear more from him. Indeed after the service many people crowded around this young man to speak to him though he had been in the church for some time.

After this man’s testimony the pastor stood up walked to the center aisle (did not go to the platform or the pulpit) and addressed the congregation. I noticed he did not have a Bible in hand. Instead he had a Sunday School Leaders Guide, opened to a particular lesson. After commenting on the testimony and thanking the gentleman for sharing, the pastor told where he was reading from. It was obvious he was teaching the Sunday School lesson, and many in the congregation had Sunday School quarterlies and were following along.

At first I was a little surprised, thinking this pastor was using someone else’s script as his message – a Sunday School lesson. However, it did not take long to realize what he was doing. This is a pastor who knows and understands some of the dynamics of small group Bible study, otherwise know as Sunday School. Small groups are relational, built on growing relationships that encourage us to share and learn.

The Sunday School lesson being covered that day was about Joseph (Genesis 40) and his years of imprisonment. The pastor had recruited the young man to give his testimony that particular day because it related to the message. The pastor related like Joseph we need to live a life worthy of the name “Christian” no matter what life circumstances we find ourselves in.

The pastor spoke to the congregation of the importance and their need to be in Sunday School. He gave the times for Sunday School and encouraged everyone to be part of Sunday School. He spoke to various age groups and social groups in the congregation and shared features and benefits for them of being in Sunday School. He preached Sunday School.

Those who know me know I am whole-heartedly, 100% pro-Sunday School (small open group Bible study). It is the one common denominator around the world that produces sustained “church” growth.

I left that church feeling good about what I had witnessed. God spoke to me and encouraged me through the service that day. I asked the pastor permission to write about my experience that day. I pray that more pastors would take his example. It is not about the next great program, gimmick, or fad. It is following Jesus’ example; share with the multitudes, influence as many as you can, and teach a small group how to live and how to pass it on in their daily lives. This is Teaching That Bears Fruit.

Application: The Fuel For Christian Learning

Jesus used different approaches and teaching methods depending on His audience and the lesson/truth being taught. Jesus taught to bring about life-change.
Some of the approaches or techniques used by Jesus during his ministry years are: 1) Discovery learning – leading His learners in self-discovery of how truths apply to each one individually and corporately. 2) Object lessons – using objects common and familiar to his listeners. 3) Illustrations and parables – stories, examples, and comparisons relational to His listeners. 4) Teachable Moments – ready to take advantage of a situation or need as it arose. 5) Practice – Jesus gave His learners time and opportunities to practice what they had learned. 6) Questions – Jesus used questions to activate higher order thinking.

As teachers we must realize that learning our subject matter isn’t good enough. We must know how to enable our students to learn the subject matter and live it. What good is all of our knowledge if it does not affect the lives of the people whom God has placed around us? You can have the nicest newest car around, but if you do not have any fuel to drive it, it becomes nothing more than a conversation piece. The same is true with Christian education. You can have all the knowledge – information, facts and figures – available, yet without application it will get you nowhere. It is the application, integration of the principles and truths into our daily routine, that fuels knowledge into life-changing behavior.

I once went on a weekend excursion with three friends. One of these friends was in his late twenties, living at home and generating a good income. He loved to buy things – materialistic things. He had his own boat, a nice car, several firearms, and expensive camera equipment to name a few. While on vacation he would pull out his expensive light meter place certain filters on his camera lens, make adjustments in his aperture and focal settings, double-checking before taking a photograph. I, on the other hand would take my used camera, make estimated adjustments and snap away.

During the entire trip I kept hearing, “Those pictures will never turn out. You need a light meter. You are wasting film.” I kept on shooting the way I always had. He kept on tormenting. When we returned home, I had my film processed and gladly showed my work to everyone. I still have those photos some twenty years later. My friend? No one ever saw his photographs. Every time someone would ask about them he would give an excuse. It did not take long to realize that his photos apparently did not come out. Being the nice friends that we were, we did not let him live that one down for a long while.

You can have the newest and best equipment money can buy. However, if you do not know how to properly utilize what you have acquired, you’ll never create a work of art. I believe God intends for us to use Christian education to become works of art for Him. Not works of art that hang on a wall, or sit in a pew. Rather, laboring works of art. Laboring for His Kingdom. It is not the knowledge – the facts and information – that matters. The value is in what each of us does with the knowledge we have.

As Christian educators we need to ensure that we are not merely passing along knowledge. We need to be the paintbrush in God’s hand, allowing Him to use us to produce great works of art. The canvas is the learners He has placed in our trust. This is Teaching That Bears Fruit.

This article is from the book Teaching That Bears Fruit, chapter three.

Learning Through Expressed Experience

Learning is validated and manifested through expressed experience. Parents and early childhood educators realize children are learning when they begin to name colors and point them out correctly. In school, teachers recognize learning is taking place as children begin to form letters into words and words into sentences, and when they begin to accurately complete simple mathematical equations. Throughout life this pattern continues as we learn to tell time, count out change, drive, develop relationships, discern, and work through situations and circumstances we are faced with.

As teachers and Christian leaders we need to take this observable reality into consideration as we prepare and present each lesson. Findley Edge in Teaching For Results says, “Christianity is basically an experience – an encounter with Christ that must express itself in experience. You do not truly learn a Christian ideal until you have both experienced it and expressed it in experience.”

This is another reason why it is important for teachers to know their learners, know who is sitting in front of you on Sunday morning (or whenever you teach). Knowing who they are by name is not enough. A teacher should strive to know about each person in his/her Bible study. What are their interests? Know about their family, work or school. How does she approach learning? Which learning styles really invigorate his approach to learning?
This may seem daunting or even overwhelming at first thought, to try to know all this about each person in your class. But trust me, with trust in the Holy Spirit and a little practice this will become a natural part of your teaching and it will produce life-change in your learners.

By simple observation and listening you will be able to learn much about your learners while you are with them in class. These are your two keys to knowing your learners. Observe and listen before, during, and after class. Who do they talk to? What do they talk about? How quick are they to leave? Do they arrive early, on time, or late? Do they sit with and talk to the same person(s) each week? People talk about what they are passionate about. Especially when they get together with friends.

I encourage teachers to also attempt at least one personal visit with each learner every year. This visit could be in his/her home or out for a meal or coffee, or soft drink. There is something about food and drink that breaks down communication barriers. This is another reason I encourage light refreshments in the Bible study classroom. It breaks down the communication barriers and people are more likely to open up and talk if he/she has a doughnut and cup of coffee or orange juice in hand. I also believe one important position or area of responsibility on the Sunday School classroom is the “Keeper of the Doughnut list” – Who’s bringing doughnuts next week? Spend some time with your learners one on one or with couples if you teach married couples.

The point is, if you want your learners to truly experience life-changing learning, you need to get to know them. Then plan and prepare your lesson so they can carry the learning experience into their world and express the learning in experience. The evidence of learning is not that they tell you it was a good lesson as they walk out of the classroom. Evidence of learning comes from actual application of the principles of the learning experience in real life situations – Monday through Sunday. This is teaching that changes lives. This is Teaching That Bears Fruit.

Sell the Dumptruck: Teach Like Jesus

As I visit churches and Sunday School classes or small group Bible study classes, I am often dismayed at the number of knowledge and information dispensers we have leading our classes. Knowledge is good, and biblical knowledge is wonderful and great to acquire. However, if biblical knowledge is all we are teaching in our classes it is my opinion that we are missing God’s plan and purpose for our teaching.
In a recent conversation with an Minister of Education, I noted that some of his teachers (information dispensers) are teaching the only way they know. In some cases it is the only way he/she has ever seen demonstrated. In many situations it is the easiest, most comfortable to the teacher and it seems reasonable to pass on what I read and understand from scripture.
Teachers (and preachers) spend several hours each week studying and preparing for the lesson to be delivered on Sunday (or their particular meeting time). We study reading scripture, gleaning from our 27 commentaries and the thousands of resources available on the internet. Teachers are to be commended for their time spent in study and preparation. The reward is theirs for studying and learning more about God and His plan. The problem comes at the end of our preparation when we walk into the classroom carrying with us all the information we have been able to glean in 3, 5, 7, or even 10 hours of study, and we set out to expend all of our newly acquired knowledge on those sitting in front of us – in 30 minutes.
In Teaching That Bears Fruit, I call this the Dump Truck method of teaching. We spend all week loading our dumptruck up, back it into the classroom on Sunday morning and dump the whole load on our listeners. The drawback is it is unusable to our listeners, unless we are attempting to build Bible trivia buffs. Information dispensed in this manner can become an obstruction rather than an aid in living the Christian life.
An experienced dump truck driver carrying a load of gravel knows how to raise the dump bed gradually as he drives along unloading the gravel in a smooth and immediately usable manner. The first time I attempted to unload a truck full of finely ground limestone, it all came out in one pile. Needless to say it was not usable. It took an entire crew of workers with shovels and rakes to come behind me and smooth out limestone so it could be used. I was not the MVP on the job that day.
In Bible study, we do not have the luxury of having a crew come in behind us and work our information dump into a usable road for our listeners to travel. It’s time to put a for sale sign in the dump truck and begin teaching the way jesus taught. If we want our listeners to become life changing learners, we must teach for life change. We must move from being knowledge dispensers to agents of life-change, and initiators of learning experiences for our listeners. This is teaching the way Jesus taught. This is teaching that bears fruit.
For more information about Teaching That Bears Fruit visit