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Re-Imagining the Adult Sunday School

adult class.jpgThis piece is an idea in the formational process. We have experimented with the format in venues other than Sunday School and were excited at its success. Several physical changes need to be made before we can implement it in adult Sunday School classes. In the meantime, I offer this as an innovative way to reach out to new adults and still remain effective in teaching long term members of the church. I have attempted to find out if any other congregation uses a similar format, but, so far, my search has been unproductive.

The secular learning experience in the past few decades has undergone tremendous change. While large classes taught by one lecturer still happen regularly in college and university settings, other formats continue to gain popularity. Distance learning, multi-media, field trips, study groups, practicums, dyads, roundtables and other configurations of education make up the learning landscape today. These innovations reflect the realization that people learn in many ways, not just one. This leads me to a re-examination of adult Sunday School. The adult learning experience in the church, in my observation, needs a radical upgrade. The two main objectives of adult Sunday School ought to be teaching the Bible and discipling people into a Christian lifestyle: in short, Bible and fellowship. Most traditional adult Sunday School teachers lecture adequately, but their classes fail in the fellowship aspect. For example, when visitors come to an adult Sunday School class, they rarely have a meaningful conversation with anyone except the person that brought them. They listen to the teacher, but hardly ever converse with him. They get introduced to other members of the class on the way in and out, but exchange little beyond “hello,” “we’re glad to have you” or “hope you come back and see us.”

My concept of a re-imagined Sunday School would be a format in which people enjoy themselves, want to be there, actively engage in the interaction both mentally and emotionally, have their needs of self-esteem and acceptance met, learn solid Bible principles, form wholesome relationships with others and see spirituality modeled not just before them but beside them. I envision a learning environment that is a virtual smorgasbord or banquet style of learning in which a number of round tables are set up in a Family Life Center like the one we have in Toledo. The teacher/moderator/facilitator at each table would explore a variety of topics and lead students in a conversational format. The topics offered would be Bible-based, people-driven, need-sensitive and would reflect the latest happenings and thinking in the world. Each table would hold a different discussion. Coffee, tea and donuts would be served from a main area. When people arrive, they would go to the refreshment area and then choose the table they feel the greatest need for on any given Sunday. They could—-and would be expected to—-change tables from time to time.

Topics offered may include Thru the Bible, Hot Topics, Marriage, Family and Parenting, Bible Doctrine, Spiritual Disciplines, One-on-One, Electives, Christian Finances, Christian Living, World View, Relationships, Theology, Practical Christianity, etc. They may even include such topical areas as New Converts, ACTS, Discipleship, Griefshare, Addictive Behaviors and other topics as needs arise. In addition to discussion tables, a media/literature table would be available that would be stocked with books, magazines, tracts, CD’s and DVD’s to enhance the educational experience of students. A TV monitor could be continuously looping with a selected DVD.

Each moderator would be trained to conduct “directed discussions” based on his or her subject range. Moderators would draw from their research, current events, their own judgment and from questions their participants ask to decide the specific direction they should go on a given Sunday. The key word that should drive all discussions is relevance. Because leading a discussion can be challenging, a thorough training session would be conducted to help facilitators to do an excellent job.

The Sunday School Superintendent and or designated assistant will coordinate the activities. This includes making sure of setup, the refreshment crew is doing their job, the check-in table is supplied with needed materials and the starting and ending times are observed. He would also need to be sure that the moderators stay on topic, provide help for them to get copies made of handouts, check out resources for them, be informed if a moderator is going to be absent, help secure substitutes for absent moderators, and keep the session running smoothly from an overall standpoint.

From an organizer’s point of view, the class names, attendance and offerings would be handled from a “check-in” table. All participants would stop by the table to check in and pick up a list which would show the topics, the moderators and the table layout. It would also include church announcements, flyers and tracts. Packets of church information for guests would also be available. Offerings could either be given at the check-in table or at the discussion table. Each table would conduct its own opening prayer. There would be considerable moving around in the room, but it should not disrupt each discussion. The atmosphere would be similar to a banquet where people have their own conversations going at each table and do not pay much attention to the noise and movement around them.

A committee would be appointed to prepare the coffee, bring the donuts, set up the counter and make sure everything is provided for refreshments. They would maintain the area during the session so the counter doesn’t get messy or unhealthy. If necessary, they should set up the tables and chairs before the session begins and stay afterwards to clean everything up and rearrange the room. If the senior adult classes need to use the FLC, they may need the room to be set up differently. This crew needs to be faithful, dependable and efficient. If there are enough people on the committee, they may be able to rotate Sundays of duty. Another option would be to hire a couple of teen boys to do the set up and tear down job. The class offering should take care of their wages.

Moderators need to commit to staying relevant, well-read, aware of current events and sensitive to the Spirit of God. Each one needs to be a seeker of knowledge and information; a listener; a counselor; a resource of spiritual and scriptural truth; and a friend to the people at their table. They need to know when a discussion is getting into areas that are potentially dangerous. They need to know how to handle obnoxious people. They need to know how to open, direct and wrap up a discussion so that the people leave with a solid grasp of truth.

Some discussion has led us to re-think the age-old title of Sunday School as it applies to adults. Twenty-somethings don’t respond well to that term because it seems too childish, especially when they want to invite visitors. While we would keep the term for the children’s programs, the name for adult education could be changed to something else. The following are either in use or have been suggested: LifeWord, Word of Life, Connect Point, Encounter, Sunday Morning Live, Sunday Friends, Foundations and other names. The name should be meaningful and easily explained.

This kind of format would require a large room and would need a qualified staff of facilitators. It may not work for some churches, but a larger church should be able to do this without too much trouble. The First Apostolic Church in Toledo will do several pilot sessions with this format before making a permanent switch. It is also possible that this set-up could be done on a six to eight week or a seasonal basis.

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Reader Comments (1)

Bro. Jordan, thank you for this wonderful idea. I teach one of our adult Sunday School classes at our church and I've been looking for ideas. My class is a "contemporary" Sunday School class for adults. The reason I say "contemporary" is because when I started the class I purposely made it exciting by never telling them what was going to happen from one Sunday to the next. The traditional class is not my cup of tea, so my motto is: You never know what's going to happen when you come to PrimeLIFE." It has definitely kept their interest up. We do have a time of fellowship before starting the "teaching time", but the "teaching time" might be discussion, question and answers with a panel, or having smaller groups discussing the subject that day, then they choose one to represent them to the class and tell us what they came up with in their "study together", etc. I try to find relevant topics to teach and discuss. I also use different people to teach which keeps it interesting. Again, I am going to think more on what you have presented and see if I can use this in some way in our church. Thank you!

June 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Elms

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