The Lost Roles Of The Sunday School


When you think of Sunday School, what do you think of? For many of us, we picture a group of Christians sitting around on a Sunday morning, sipping coffee, and discussing the Bible. And that is a good image to have. But let me dive a little deeper.

If someone were to ask you what the purpose of the Sunday School was, what would you say? For most people, I think, the purpose of Sunday School is to meet with people to discuss the Bible. And that is a good thing. I definitely do not want anyone to think that I am putting down that perspective of Sunday School's role. However, if we think that the Sunday School only serves the purpose of gathering people together to study the Bible, then we have missed part of the purpose (as well as the power) of the Sunday School class. You see, when we stop here, we miss at least two of the major reasons for having Sunday School in the first place. In this post, I will discuss two of the functions of the Sunday School that we may overlook. I will not spend time elaborating on the teaching aspect of Sunday School, because I think that, by and large, we understand that part of the Sunday School's mission. Instead, what I am going to focus on are two other aspects of the Sunday School.


Discipleship and evangelism go hand in hand. If you are not evangelizing, you have no one to disciple. If you spend all your time discipling, but not evangelizing, then you end up with a church that never brings in new disciples. In the worst cases, you end up with little more than a social club that meets on Sunday mornings. The fact of the matter is that the evangelism aspect of the Sunday School is just as important as the discipleship aspect of the Sunday School.

In his book, "Unleashing The Lay Potential In The Sunday School," Raymond W. Hurn argues that the maintenance task of the Sunday School (that is, the discipleship aspect of Sunday School) is well-emphasized. However, he argues that the evangelism/outreach aspect of Sunday School is neglected. He writes,

"A devastating fact is that almost all Sunday School workers are assigned a maintenance task. Few are given a weekly assignment in outreach. Maintenance activity is honorable and scriptural.......But Sunday Schools do not grow unless they go beyond these 'maintaining the body' functions to include outreach efforts."1

In short, we tend to do a really good job at understanding our job as disciple-makers. The place that we struggle the most is with evangelism. We do a good job at doing Bible study. We don't always do a good job at bringing people into our Bible study. This is where we need to improve.

So what can we do? I would recommend that each Sunday school set some kind of outreach goal. Challenge your Sunday School students to reach out to one person each week and invite them to Sunday School. Do something special with your Sunday School from time to time that may serve as a catalyst for inviting people. I am talking about a Sunday School breakfast that the members of your Sunday School are expected to invite others to. I am talking about an outing with your Sunday School, where the Sunday School does something as a group, with a focus on connecting people with your Sunday School. So plan a trip to the museum, with the caveat that each member of the Sunday School brings a friend. Whatever evangelism looks like in your context, let's not ignore the evangelistic aspect of Sunday School.


One aspect of Sunday School that I think needs to be emphasized more is the accountability aspect of the Sunday School classroom. Ideally, those in your Sunday School class will be those who know you best in the church. In addition, small groups are ideal for accountability. This is, by the way, one thing that made the ministry of John Wesley so effective. He organized small groups for the purpose of accountability. Somewhere between the 18th century and today, we have gotten away from small-group accountability in the church. It is a practice that we should bring back.

So how do we apply this? Ask the members of your Sunday School about their week. Strike up conversation with them. You could bring back John Wesley's practice of asking his small groups where they are struggling. Create an environment in which the members of your Sunday School class will be comfortable opening up to you about their struggles. Since accountability is such an important aspect of discipleship, it is important that we integrate this into our Sunday School environment.


The point that I am making in this post is that, while we are good at teaching the Bible, we may not always be good at reaching out or creating accountability with those in the Sunday School classroom. Since this is the case, we should look to improve in these two areas.

1 Raymond W. Hurn, "Unleashing The Lay Potential In The Sunday School," p. 27 


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