10 'excuses' for new Sunday School classes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--At a conference held last year at LifeWay, Rich Smith, minister of discipleship at First Baptist Church in Ellisville, Mo., asked for input on starting classes that match teaching and learning styles. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that just about any excuse to start a new Sunday School class is probably worth trying.

Following are a few ideas:

1. A life stage class. How about a class for Nearlyweds & Newlyweds? Parents of Preschoolers? Parents of Children? Parents of Teens? Empty Nesters? LifeWay's Bible Studies for Life (BSFL) series includes resources aimed specifically at such classes: Life Matters for younger adults; Life Truths for parents; and Life Values for empty-nesters. LifeWay magazines BabyLife, ParentLife and Living with Teenagers are perfect supplements for classes for parents as well.

2. A "Couples without Kids" class. One of the negative responses we have received about the life-stage approach with the BSFL series is that adults -– notably median-age adults -– who don't have children feel left out of classes designated for parents or empty-nesters. That's a good excuse to start a new class specifically for such folks! They could even study the same Scripture passages as other classes using BSFL by using Life Lessons or Life Words. Both of these titles are designed for adults of all ages and life stages.

3. A KJV class. Some people have a strong preference for the King James translation of the Bible. The Life Words title mentioned above utilizes the KJV exclusively and is a complete family of resources, including learner guides, leader guides, a leader pack and even audio CDs.

4. A "Through the Bible" class. LifeWay's Explore the Bible series is perfect for such a class, covering all 66 books of the Bible every eight years. The series balances studies from the Old and New Testaments and also provides a balanced approach to the various types of biblical literature in each two-year "mini-cycle."

5. An affinity group class. These classes might include such groups as teachers, medical professionals, peace officers, bikers, etc. Use your imagination! Just about any curriculum choice would work.

6. A "No Teacher" class. What? How would you do that? By using a curriculum resource like LifeWay's MasterWorks. This Bible study series, based on books by popular Christian authors, includes only one book that is used by learners and leaders. Ideas for guiding the discussion are found at the end of each lesson, so the leadership could rotate among members. In such a class, it would be wise to designate one person as the "shepherd" of the class –- functioning like a teacher in all regards except actually "teaching."

7. A college class. Recently while dialoging with a group of pastors in Princeton, Ky., a pastor shared that he had started a college class. In a small town. In a church with an attendance of about 70. In jest, I said, "You can't start a college class in that kind of setting!" But he did and now has about 10-12 collegians each week. LifeWay's Collegiate Bible study materials are perfect for starting such a class.

8. A special needs class. Churches are rediscovering the joy of serving the needs of adults and children with special physical and developmental challenges. For many years, LifeWay has published Access, a Bible study resource for teaching special needs adults. Now we also publish a resource for special needs children in grades 1-6, Special Buddies. Leaders and parents also benefit from the LifeWay magazine, SET (Special Education Today). Beginning in 2008, LifeWay's VBS materials will include materials for special needs kids: Outrigger Island: Special Friends. One of the big surprises reported by churches that begin such a ministry is how many people are willing to help. They don't want to teach a big class. But they are eager to help out in a special needs class.

9. A "transition year" class. Kindergarten and sixth grade are two of the toughest years for kids to navigate. Even churches struggle with where to put these kids. In some churches, kindergarten is in the preschool division; in others, it is in the children's division. In some churches, especially in communities where the schools operate middle schools, sixth-graders are in the youth division and often grouped with seventh- and eighth-graders; in other churches, they are in the children's division and often grouped with fourth- and/or fifth-graders. The solution is to start a class just for them. LifeWay has curriculum choices specifically for both of these transition years: Bible Teaching for Kids: Kindergarten and Everything You Need to Know to Be a Teenager.

10. An off-campus, not-on-Sunday class. You mean you can have a Sunday School class that doesn't meet on Sunday? Of course you can! Funny thing is, the term Sunday School has such a strong "brand identity" that you can even call it a Sunday School class. Wayne Poling, lead Sunday School leadership specialist at LifeWay, recently led training in Guam along with Clyde Kakiuchi, who directs Sunday School work in the Hawaii-Pacific Baptist Convention. Clyde was headed on to Saipan, where one pastor holds Bible study classes every night for different groups of factory workers after they end their nighttime shifts. A perfect opportunity for gathering for fellowship and study.

Every church has unique needs. I hope these ideas have started to generate some ideas that will need some of those needs.


David Francis serves as director of Sunday School for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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