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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--During the last decade or so there has been a lot of experimentation with Bible study ministries in churches. Some have changed the named from Sunday School to Bible fellowships, Life Groups or just Bible study in hopes of seeming more relevant to newcomers.
Others have tried larger groups for children as well as adults, striving to create more enthusiasm -- and deal with a shortage of committed leaders. A few have just given up on an on-campus Bible study ministry, launching small, off-campus groups instead.
For most, these experiments have produced only modest or short-term results. Many are now asking a "new" question: "What if we just tried to do really excellent basic Sunday School work?"
It's a good question, but first you need to know those basics. Here are a few:
-- Five step formula. Arthur Flake's "Formula for Sunday School Growth" still works today. A simple acrostic can help you remember it: "KEEP Go." Know the possibilities. Enlarge the organization. Enlist and train the leaders. Provide space and resources. Go after the people. For more information, check out a free download of "The Five Step Formula for Sunday School Growth." Visit LifeWay.com and type "Five step formula" in the search box.
-- Four critical elements. There are a lot of different elements in a vibrant Sunday School ministry. At least four are critical to success.
1. The ministry list, or class roll, includes the names of all members -- active or inactive -- and the class commits to minister to each person on that roll.
2. The prospect list, which includes the names and contact information for every prospective member. Remember that it is crucial to collect that information from every guest.
3. Open enrollment allows any person of any age to enroll as a member of Sunday School without regard to the requirements of church membership. Remember to invite prospects to enroll.
4. Sunday School is an open group, which means that a new person can come at any time and every lesson will be completed during the Bible study session even though it may be part of a larger unit of study.
-- Three dimensions. Every successful Sunday School class operates simultaneously around three dimensions. The classic terms to describe these dimensions are Reach, Teach and Minister. More contemporary words with the same idea are Invite, Discover and Connect.
Effective classes balance these three dimensions and typically have at least three leaders, one of whom takes the lead on each dimension. A ministry book, "The 3D Sunday School," is available for download at LifeWay.com/sskickoff.
-- Two marks. Release and Reproduce are the two marks of every outstanding adult Sunday School class. Such classes release members to serve in the preschool, children and student areas of the church's Sunday School program. These adult classes keep up with their associate members serving in other areas of the program and celebrate their service.
Excellent adult classes also plan to reproduce themselves. They enlist and train apprentice leaders in each of the three dimensions with the expectation that the class will eventually become two.
-- One textbook. The Bible is the textbook of a Sunday School class. Bible study is the most basic of all the basics of Sunday School. Curriculum materials that engage people in discovering the truths of God's Word are important, but they should never be viewed as a substitute for the Bible.
Leader guides provide commentary, teaching plans and application ideas. Learner guides help members prepare for the Bible study session and make excellent resources for outreach to prospective members. Just remember, we don't study "quarterlies" in Sunday School; we study the Bible.
Blessings as you get back to the basics.
David Francis is director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.