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