Our congregation took a turn June 5, 2016. Since our early days in 1978 we have had a regular practice of meeting on Sunday mornings for Sunday School. What happened June 5? It was our last Sunday to do Sunday School.
What I want to do is briefly summarize why we did this and speak to where we are headed.
Sunday School first began in England in the late 1700s. The original design was to educate children who worked and did not have access to formal schooling. Sunday School evolved from that to become what it is today, a Bible study for the church.
Our fellowship averages between 70-80 people on a given Sunday. Apart from the morning worship service, Sunday School has traditionally required the largest amount of time and resources. We lined up nursery workers for children ages 0-3 and teachers for the following children’s age groups (3-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17). Sometimes we would add or subtract a class given attendance and need. We then had an adult Sunday School class. Not surprisingly, Sunday School was the biggest ministry of our church! We have been blessed to have so many diligent and willing volunteers to teach and recruit workers through all these years.
So why would we do away with this ministry?
There are several reasons. One, the biblical model for the discipleship of children rests with the parents (Eph. 6:1-4). In the context of the home the parents both teach and model the gospel for their children. Within the predictable patterns of the home, children can be immersed in the expressions of a biblical faith. Within the home children receive verbal instruction attended with consistent expressions which they can imitate. Eventually, they leave their homes and innovate as they live out the gospel in homes of their own.
Two, without realizing it, our primary energies and resources are going to ourselves! Bible study is good and Christian education is good. But what are we communicating about discipleship if the balance of most of our resources go toward Sunday School? Discipleship, we believe, is more than accruing information about the Bible. Teaching and information is a critical part of discipleship but it is not discipleship in and of itself.
Finally, in assessing where we are, it has become apparent to us that we need to cultivate more missional DNA. What is that? We speak here of the posture of a fellowship toward the outside world. Do we speak a language that is understandable? Do we have patterns that are translatable? Are we answering questions that an outside world is asking? Does our fellowship have a culture that is pointed outward? By missional DNA we mean embracing and practicing habits that give local expression to the “Go” in Matt. 28.
These are the reasons for the change.
However, doing away with Sunday School is not enough. I like to think of it this way. One vehicle worked for a season but the season ahead calls for a different vehicle. The new vehicle for our fellowship is what we’re calling the missional community. What will this look like? This will be a non-Sunday gathering of believers from a particular area who meet together to do worship, community, and mission. This will be the expression of an Acts 2:42 kind of Christianity.
We believe that discipleship will be more efficient in this context as opposed to a Sunday School context. This vehicle will have the added benefit of greater flexibility when it comes to “connecting with the unengaged.” As we move forward our energies and resources are going towards equipping leaders to lead in this missional community context.
As I like to tell our people over and over, salvation comes from the Lord, not a vehicle! We put no trust in strategies or plans. Our trust is in the Lord and in him we put our hope. With the Lord as our strength we proceed forward by faith.