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.


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

Order Your Church Greeter DVDs

You’ll be taken to the product order page in the EvangelismCoach.org store

Different Greetings to Welcome Church Visitors

Things to say to church visitorsI asked some peers in some of my networking groups:

Is there something more Church greeters can say than “Good morning?”

What are some of your suggestions? Please comment on site and join the discussion.

This was a response to a prior article:

What do you say greeting church visitors?

Some Greeting Options

Here are some responses from my the groups:

Steve: I like to get high fives from all the kids…it wakes them up a little and gets the parents smiling. Also, I’m starting to have custom t-shirts made to spark conversations. “Where are you serving”. “Ask me how to become a member”, etc. Anything that might strike up a conversation when they stop to read the shirt. Of course, the best thing I have found is really getting to know people and greeting them by name. Recognizing when they haven’t been attending regularly, when their spouse might not be there, that someone was sick the previous Sunday. Just a few ideas that seem to work well for me.

Gregory: Many times we don’t see things from the visitors perspective so we say the wrong thing, or we do not say anything at all. The article reminds us of the need to be intentional in our training for real ministry in the church. The fact that a visitor forms an impression of the church in the first minutes that he is on the campus is indicative of the help Chris has been to all of us.

Rick: We have a very small parish (approximately 30 active members) and it’s obvious when someone new comes to visit. Often, the pastor will actively introduce them but usually by then, at least half the congregation has already talked to them.

Lani: Here’s what we say at Abundant Life Ministries in Waikoloa, Hawaii: “Aloha-Welcome, great to have you with us today!” Hi I”m ________________, what’s your name? Where you from? How did you hear about us?

Victor: Welcome. Thank you for coming. Enjoy the service. How can I help or direct you? God bless you. And yes, good morning works well. Above all, be welcoming and genuinely loving.

Steve: Before worship service I would walk through the sanctuary greeting everyone, shaking hands, making conversation. With visitors, I would recognize that they were new or an usher would let me know. I would talk with you and connect with someone nearby who offer to help them navigate the service and accompany them to coffee afterwards. Several parishioners were designated and trained to greet/meet visitors.

Clive: I would tell new visitors my name & ask them theirs,tell them about our Church & ask them about themselves. No set words but it is good to be friendly & take a genuine interest in all folks at Church including new visitors, not to just be a clique with the friends you know. As Steve says some new visitors won’t want to say much but still be friendly & make sure they know they are very welcome & where they do show interest make sure they are aware of other Church Groups,Events & Activities which they would be very welcome to attend.

Steve: Last Sunday, I was manning my post, out front greeting folks as they came in, and some 1st time visitors came up. I knew they were 1st timers since they parked in the designated visitors parking spaces (convenient for me!) and I didn’t recognize them. As they walked up, I greeted them and introduced myself and asked what brought them to our church that morning. I then gave them a quick rundown of who we are and the basic layout of the place (we meet in a school auditorium), then invited them to our New Connections dinner we have once a month-ish that we use to connect new people to the Elders and staff. But…I have found some visitors don’t want to talk. They are coming as an obligation to someone else or something, so I just try and read their body language and know that there are some that will not respond to me but will prayerfully, respond to the Holy Spirit while in service. Just a few thoughts. I take Sunday morning greeting very seriously! :)

Your turn:

Share with us in the comments below your answer to this question:

What more can church greeters can say than “Good morning?”

More Greeter Training Resources


Break the Barriers Hospitality Training on DVD

You’ve worked so hard to attract church visitors. . . . .

You passionately desire to reach these newcomers for Christ.

You know that Jesus can make a difference in their life.

Perhaps you’ve spent money on advertising like a direct mail campaign or business cards members give away. You’ve designed sermon series to hopefully entice a second visit.

You’ve done a lot of hard work to get visitors to come to your church, but they fail to return.

It’s frustrating to work so hard and then feel like it’s all in vain. It leaves you wondering –

Will our church ever reach new people for Christ?

Visitors are coming . . . . but not coming back

You’ve spent the money on advertising.

You’ve designed the perfect sermon series.

You’ve even motivated the congregation to invite their friends to church!

You celebrate the fruit – they have come, but then the following Sunday, you discover they don’t come back.

I’ve seen statistics that indicate that most churches only keep 1-2 out of every 100 first time church visitors. That’s dismal.

Just to stay stable, you need to keep 3 out of every 100.

In order to grow, you need to keep 5-7 or more out every 100 visitors.

Do you accidentally keep your church visitors from returning?

Read more about Break the Unseen Barriers DVD Set now available for shipping in the US and Canada

Podcast: Christmas Outreach to the Community

Listen in as one church tells the story of getting their Christmas events out to a few thousand people during a town Christmas event.

I interview Kevin Cunningham, outreach pastor of a church in Nashua New Hampshire, a town of about 80,000.

Christmas Outreach

Outreach Table for Christmas Church Marketing

Each year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the city turns Main Street into a walking district.

Close to 30,000 people from across New England visit downtown Nashua to officially kick-off the Christmas season.

The evening starts with a procession from City Hall to Railroad Square where the City’s official Christmas tree is lit.

Much of the downtown is closed to traffic for the evening, allowing strollers to enjoy the live entertainment, sample offerings from street vendors, dine in downtown’s fine restaurants and do holiday shopping at specialty shops and boutiques.

Promoting Special Christmas Events

This church used this event to promote two Christmas activities.

  • Group’s A Night in Bethlehem—converting our church grounds into a first-century experience of what Bethlehem must have looked like on the first Christmas.
  • Our Christmas Eve service—that will feature a lot of drama vignettes, special music and group carol singing.

Conversation Starters

Kevin also shares what was on their table as giveaways.  Click on the images to see larger versions of the Business Cards they gave away.

  1. Bibles
  2. New Testaments
  3. Business card-sized invites to our Christmas activities
  4. Booklets (from Outreach Marketing) with the Christmas Story and a message for non Christ-followers that presented the Gospel and a message for believers who are not in fellowship.
  5. Gary Rohrmayer’s Your Spiritual Journey pamphlets (Read my review of Spiritual Conversations)
  6. CDs from a Marriage Event with authors and speakers Drs. Paul & Virginia Friesen on how to “Be Part of a Great Marriage.”
  7. Candy Canes

Intentional Conversations about Faith

Besides marketing the Christmas activities, the volunteer team was also intentional about faith sharing conversations.  Make sure you listen in to see how they held normal conversations during this Christmas outreach.

Read 7 Habits for Highly Effective Personal Evangelism to get a feel for what this might look like.

They included

  • a parent needing help raising a middle schooler and looking for a church with a good youth group.
  • A couple planning to get married and looking for a church
  • A number of people who had drifted away from church over the years and sensing the need to get back on track.
  • Some were believers—others from a ritualistic background and looking for something more meaningful.


Showing Church Hospitality to First Time Visitors

About midway through the interview with Kevin, we talk about hospitality issues:

  • How did you prepare your volunteers for this table?
  • How are you preparing your hospitality and church member to receive them and make intentional connections?
  • Plans are you making to help your first time visitors return after the events are over

What would you do differently?

Finally, Kevin shares some practical principles he learned doing this kind of outreach and the one thing he would do differently.

  • Find areas or events that already exist in your area where you can generate interest.
  • Don’t say no for people.  Even though our town’s event is called the “Winter Holiday Stroll” they included a section for non-profits that we were able to take advantage of.
  • Start early.  Our application had to be filed by mid-September.

Podcast of Christmas Outreach

Use Christmas services to re-invite inactive members

Advent Wreath for church CelebrationsHave there been members of your church who dropped out this year?

Maybe they just stopped coming and your not sure why.

Christmas events at your church provide you with an excellent opportunity to reach out to these inactive members once again.

Here is how you can do this.

1.  Look over your list of inactive people.

These could be regular attenders who have stopped coming to church, or a more formal category in your membership rolls.

For example, the membership rolls of the Presbyterian Church (USA) includes a category of “Inactive members.”

Look specifically for those who haven’t been 6 weeks or more in the last 6 months.

2. Identify those that could potentially return.

Some of these people have already shared reasons for dropping out of your church.

  • They’ve moved out of town.
  • They’ve started attending somewhere else and making new friends.
  • They realize your congregation wasn’t a fit for them.
  • They had a painful conflict with someone that hasn’t been resolved.

They have moved on.

But there will be some people whom you have not heard from, nor do you know their reason for their prolonged absence.

These are the people you want to make an effort to reconnect.

3.  Send them a handwritten personal invitation.

Hand write a note and invite them to attend one of your Christmas celebrations.

At least in the US, the mail system is still pretty good at delivering mail.

A hand written note from a member, or from the pastor, can communicate a lot of pastoral care.

In other countries that may not have a developed mail system (like certain ones in Latin America), find some other way to make that personal invitation.

  • Maybe a personal email, text message, or blackberry message.
  • Maybe a personal phone call.

In other words, make this form of contact highly personal to the people you want to reconnect.   Don’t send a bulk email to everyone.

Customize it and personalize it.

Invite them to celebrate Christmas with your church family.  It might be that special musical production.  It might be for that Christmas Eve service.

Pick something in your Christmas celebrations to make your invitation.

4.  Pray for the results.

Before you send out the letters, and while you are waiting for a response, spend time in prayer.

Pray for the families you are inviting.

Pray that the Lord would show you and your team how to minister to any need they may have.

Ask the Lord to give you eyes to see their need and see how to potentially help make new connections with new friends.

Each person is unique

People have their reasons for dropping out of your church.

Christmas is a great time to re-invite them to connect and a chance to perhaps start a new relationship with them.

It’s a time to bring healing, a time to make ammends, and a time to start over.

How you minister to people who do return is dependent on how the Lord leads you all.

But at least use the Christmas season to make a step towards inviting people to come back to your church.