3 Keys to Make an Evangelistic Sunday School Culture

Sunday school has a long history of being an evangelistic tool of the church.  I’ve visited growing churches that utilize their Sunday School to not only grow their members, but create a space where newcomers can connect and discover faith.

Recently, a small church pastor asked me about how to make their Sunday School evangelistic.   They are a small church in a semi-rural and under-resourced community.  I get the sense from the pastor that members have an apathy about Sunday School that may be hard to over come.

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As I listened to the description and function of their existing Sunday School, I found myself discouraged.

It was full of barriers to entry of newcomers, barriers that would prevent invitations of friends, and barriers that would discourage meaningful learning.  I don’t want to elaborate on their specific problems.  Instead, I want to share with you 3 key elements they need to put in place.

1.  Create a safe context for newcomers who are not yet believers.

Your newcomer is in a place of stepping into a group of people for the very first time.

  • Will they feel safe?
  • Will they feel welcomed?
  • Will they feel freedom to contribute their opinions?
  • Will they be invited back for the next week?
  • Will they feel like it was worth their time to make the investment next week?
  • Will their opinions be respected, even if their theology is not biblical?

Your newcomer needs to feel valued and respected.   Even if they say something that you disagree with, can you disagree with grace instead of being a fountain of correct biblical theology?  Nothing will kill spiritual thirst faster than well meaning Christians who have to correct bad theology.

We made this mistake in an evangelistic small group.  We killed the safety of the evangelistic small group the first night and never recovered.  The Christians had become a verbal fire hydrant of truth, ready to convince someone that they have to follow Jesus.

I’ve seen many people become Christians within 4-6 weeks of joining a group where they finally trust the people in it and realize they can ask their questions without getting a sermon in response.

Is your Sunday School class a safe place where seekers can safely ask their legitimate questions?

2.  Create a culture of evangelistic prayer.

Your existing Sunday school members will need a regular reminder to pray for their friends by name.    Have your class make a prayer list of friends whom you’d like to see following Jesus.

We might mentally agree to the the idea, but to actually make the list and use it may still be a challenge.  I’ve put together my practical model to make a friends prayer list today.

Some would say to put the list on a wall in the classroom, but I prefer to keep that list private and with my journal.

Beside the names on the prayer list, I’ll note specific prayer requests.  The idea is to get beyond the generic “I pray for Jose and Martha” and into more specific areas.

For example:

  • Give me eyes to see their spiritual thirst.
  • Give me opportunity to speak with them.
  • Give them a thirst, help me to see it.
  • Is God inviting me to spend a little more time with them?
  • What is the next “do” with them?  Call?  Coffee? Cookout?
  • Help them move another step closer to you.
  • Reveal yourself to them in undeniable ways.

People are in different places in their spiritual journey.  As I write each name, I ponder what might their next step be?

  • If they are hostile to God, how I can pray that they may start seeking God?
  • If they are seeking God, how can I pray they would talk with me about how I found God?
  • If they are studying the Bible in their search, I’d like to pray that God’s word would speak.

In other words, I try to pray in accordance with the work that God might be doing in their spiritual life already.

As the leader of the Sunday School, it is your job to set the pace and hold your current class members accountable for praying for their friends.

3.  Create an expectation of sharing

I hold the philosophy that evangelism is a process of sowing, cultivating, and reaping.  Some people would define evangelism strictly as an event – the verbal proclamation of the gospel.  Instead, I see evangelism as a process.

When I listen to testimonies, I see the journey of awakening, gathering evidence, reflecting on information learned, doing some reading, and talking out loud with friends about what one is learning of God.  It is a process of sowing, watering, cultivating, tending, weeding, and preparing a fruit for harvest.

You’ll want to encourage your Sunday school members to plant seeds for the gospel by sharing about what they have learned this week. They don’t need to regurgitate the lesson, but reflect on a key point with a friend. This plants seeds for future conversations about faith.

I’ve watched it happen multiple times in my own life.  Let me give you a few examples:

  • We talked about being a better husband.  How do you want to grow as a husband and father this year?
  • We talked abut how God answers prayer.  Share a specific example of how that has come to pass.  Have you seen a possible answered prayer?
  • We talked about raising kids.  I shared how I want to raise my kids to be a follower of Jesus.  What do you want for your kids?

In other words, encourage your Sunday school members to “verbally process” what they are learning with their non-Christian friend.  That assumes they actually have non-Christian friends.  Such conversation topics prepare a context for future gospel centered conversations.

To cultivate this ethic, we use this one question very week.

With whom can I talk with this week about this lesson?

It might take some time

As I shared these three thoughts with the Pastor, it was clear they have a long way to go in adopting these three points.  Their existing Sunday school structure doesn’t foster personal invitations.  They admit that their material is boring, and they recognize that they’ve not created a safe space for non-believers.

How they will change this is something they will need to work out.  They will need to change in-grown patterns that have produced apathy.

These three keys will not produce change overnight, but working towards them will start to create a different culture.

Learn 13 more ways to Cast the Vision for A Great Welcome

Catch the Church Hospitality VisionThese are just a few different ways to reset the vision for a great welcome in your church.

On this MP3, I offer 13 more different ways and places where you can cast that vision in under 5 minutes at various places in the church life.

I want to help you answer how can you develop a passion within the congregation for welcoming first time visitors?

In this 79 minute audio MP3, pastors, hospitality ministry leaders, and volunteers will learn:

  • 4 Reasons Church Visitors Don’t Return and Which Ones You Can Fix
  • Evidence of Poor Church Hospitality Practices
  • Meeting the Expectations of Your Church Visitors
  • The Importance of Initiative in Greeting Church Visitors
  • 14 Ways to Cast a Hospitality Vision
  • How to Pray With Your Church Visitors
  • 7 Next Steps for the Next 30 days.

Format: MP3 audio download (70 MB) Price: 10.00

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Evangelism Strategies Podcast and Webinar Replay

In this complimentary Evangelismcoach webinar, I’ll share with you 3 major areas of evangelism training for your congregation to help you develop your evangelism strategy for 2012.

Among other things you’ll lean:

  • 3 areas of focus for congregational evangelism to start your planning
  • 6 different evangelism styles to match the right program for your congregation for personal evangelism
  • how one church implemented a personal evangelism strategy and baptized 3 new believers in 6 months.
  • Possible action steps in each of 3 areas to get started right away.
  • Find dedicated champions of evangelism to develop your team
  • how hospitality ministry can lead to new baptisms.

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Webinar: You can Double Your Small Groups

I’ve prepared a video for you. Excuse the background construction noise though.  For you who are really attentive to details, I know I gave Josh’s book the wrong title. It’s really titled

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You Can Double Your Groups Webinar

Most all churches have small group ministry or Sunday school program.  Yet many of these groups are closed to newcomers, or haven’t grown in size.

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  • 8 to 16 and so on.

Yet we also haven’t really seen that happen in our lifetime.  The multiplication system often breaks down after the first split.

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Who is Josh Hunt?

Josh is nationally known for his ability to lead churches to double their small group attendance.

Josh Hunt is the new pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Salem New Mexico. Hunt has been a Minister of Education in addition to consulting nationwide. He also writes Sunday School helps in a format he calls Good Question which he publishes on the Internet to correspond with two of Lifeway’s curriculum outlines.

Hunt is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Wayland University. Hunt’s a creative thinker and an energetic speaker whose passion is to see people come to know and enjoy God. He has spoken at some of the leading churches in America, has authored 7 books and produced 7 video series.

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3 Places to Greet Visitors in a Sunday School

During these first several days in January, I am on a mission trip in Nicaragua.  In my absence, I have scheduled a few posts and guests articles.

Today’s article gets into Welcoming First Time Visitors in your Sunday school class.

It comes from Sunday School Revolutionary.com and I have their permission to reprint it here.

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Greeting church visitors is everyone’s responsibility.

However, it doesn’t always get done so many churches have organized greeting teams to serve a few weeks in a row.

The same principle applies in Sunday School.

You would think this would not be a problem in Sunday School. Classes are smaller than worship attendance. The group should be able to recognize when someone is a guest. But, as I have said before, when it is everyone’s job this often results in no one taking responsibility for the job. It often has to be assigned in order for the job to be done. And frequently when it is someone’s job, then many others will join in carrying out the work–in this case greeting guests.

I believe Sunday School class greeters need training.  Some people are naturally gregarious and yet they still may not know the best things to say and do as a class greeter.

That is why I wanted to share the points from the above-mentioned article. It offers some concrete suggested which are directed toward welcoming “church visitors” but which can easily be applied to welcoming Sunday School guests.

The article mentions three times/places where we need to greet guests: entrances, the front, and after. Allow me to adjust the article’s suggestions to apply to the class:

  • ENTRANCE: As members and guest enter, welcome them to the class. Use the name of the class. It can help them to know which one they liked and want to return to. Look them in the eyes. Make sure you smile. Put in a breath mint. Don’t be afraid to shake hands, but don’t squeeze too hard. Don’t pound people on the back–I learned this lesson the hard way with a lady who had just had shoulder surgery. Tell guests that you are glad they are here today. Share your name with those you don’t know. (They will usually share their names in return.)  Listen carefully when guests speak. If the class uses name tags (recommended), make sure you complete one for them or ask them to do so. Call guests by name and tell them you (or the teacher) would like the privilege of introducing them to the class in a few minutes and ask if they would be willing to complete a registration card. Sit with them during class–if possible. Introduce them to others around them. Don’t be afraid to ask if adult guests would like to join (on the first and successive Sundays). Invite guests to join you at the next class fellowship or invite them to your home for dessert or a meal.
  • FROM THE FRONT: During announcement time, make sure to introduce guests to the group (so everyone has an opportunity to hear the guests’ names hopefully again). Keep this somewhat low-key for the guests who may be a little less comfortable socially. When you (or the teacher) introduce them, make sure you avoid embarrassing them. Check on any uncertainty in name pronunciation. Don’t be afraid to look at the guest registration card to make sure you call the correct names. Give the teacher the card so he/she can thank guests for joining in the group at the end of the lesson. Include them in small group activities. Be open to their input during the lesson without forcing them to talk.
  • AFTER CLASS: Ideally class greeters are not choir members who have to leave class early or rush out at the end of class. The teacher’s words of appreciation of the guests at the end of class should be a reminder that members should also affirm the guests’ attendance. These moments just after the end of class are critical for conveying your interest in guests. Don’t rush out of class and ignore the guests. Smile. If possible, call them by name (especially easy when they are still wearing name tags). What to say can be as simple as shaking their hands and saying, “My name is … and I glad you were in the … class with us today.” (Can be easier for them to remember your name when you are still wearing your name tag.) As the class greeter, ask guests if they need you to help them locate their children and/or restrooms. If so, walk them there. If worship is after Sunday School, ask if they are staying for worship today. If so, walk them to worship. Engage in casual (not nosy) conversation and express your own appreciation of their attendance in Sunday School. When you arrive in worship, ask if the guests would like to sit with you. If they do so, casually introduce them to others in worship before the service begins. In worship, watch guests to see where they may be confused or need help. Do so to encourage and help without embarrassing. After worship thank them for attending. Ask if they have any questions or prayer requests. Contact them within 72 hours to express your appreciation, remind them of the upcoming class fellowship, and pray with them about prayer requests.

What else have you found helpful to say to (or do with) a guest? Engage in active listening. Care–do it and have it. Be present. Don’t embarrass. Be sensitive. Help. Be revolutionary!

Source: Sundayschoolrevolutionary.com, by Darryl Wilson, Kentucky Baptist Convention.