Evangelism in the Sunday School
Sunday school is probably the most important arm of the fruitful, evangelistic, church. The secret to long-lasting, exponential grown in the local church is in the efforts put forward by teachers who have an evangelistic mindset and desire to save souls.
Ken Hemphill wrote in Revitalizing the Sunday Morning Dinosaur:
The Sunday School must be plugged into a passion for evangelism; otherwise, it will settle into the comfort zone of a maintenance organization. By ignoring the evangelistic potential of the Sunday School, we have reduced Sunday School to a stagnant pool of introverted groups that look primarily to their own needs and interests and ignores the plight of the unsaved.
(“How Is Evangelism Related to Sunday School?” Sunday School Leaders, 19 Aug. 2014, www.sundayschoolleader.com/722/.)
The Tennessee Baptist Convention did a 25-year study that looked at the number of baptisms per year and compared it to the numbers of attendance in Sunday School programs. What they found was in the churches that used effective evangelism in their Sunday school programs had the highest baptism rates for the time period studied.
In 1923, Dr. P. E. Burroughs published a classic called Winning to Christ, a Study in Evangelism. In this publication Dr. Burroughs explains the purpose of the Sunday school.
Beyond all question the supreme business of the Sunday school is winning to Christ. We do not forget to obscure the necessity of divine grace in the saving of men and in their spiritual growth, when we urge faithful human effort. This is our task; taking the child at the threshold of ts life, we are, through the ministry of the Cradle Roll and through the instruction and training of the Beginners and Primary departments, to prepare him for Christ; very early we are, through divine grace, to bring him to a personal surrender to Christ and acceptance of Him as Saviour and Lord; then we are to seek to bring him to a personal surrender to Christ and acceptance of Him as Saviour and Lord; then we are to seek to bring his whole life into harmony with God’s will and to make him a Christian in all the depth and wetness of that term.
Failing here, we have failed utterly. It is of little avail that our youths shall grow up to know the Bible if they do not come to know by a vital experience the Christ of the Bible. It is of little moment that men shall come to know the framework of Bible history if they are not to know the living Spirit which breathes in every part of that history. We have signally failed it, having taught out youths the Ten Commandments of God, we do not bring them to know and obey the God of the Ten Commandments; if, having taught them to know the twelve apostles of our Lord, we do not bring them to know our Lord Himself. Let all the estates of Israel, let all the forces of the home and the Sunday school set forth this as the supreme goal, that the young life about us shall be redeemed by the blood and brought into complete subjection and conformity to the will of Christ. – Dr. P. E. Burroughs. Winning for Christ.
Many if not most Sunday school programs cannot grow because they do not have an evangelistic approach. There is focus on reaching out to new people. They are not prepared when new people show up. They do not even try to follow up with new members or guests attendance. When we talk of Sunday school, we are not just talking about the children’s church or the young adult’s classes. We are talking about the complete church program of teaching bible students in the local church, in order for the student to grow in the knowledge and fruits of faith in Jesus Christ. Sunday school is not just a church social club. It should be involved in evangelism, ministry, and discipleship. Without these three parts, the Sunday school program will dry up and wither away.
Developing effective evangelism and discipleship methods in the Sunday school is important to the local church. Effective training, coaching and practical application can be safely implemented in the Sunday school program. Implementation of weekend and afterschool/work activities of walking through neighborhoods handing out fliers, bibles, and even personal witnessing will get your church out where it belongs, in the marketplaces of the community. A culture of Sunday school evangelism creates an environment that holds one another accountable and encourages the young/new believer in the sharing of their faith.
Evangelist Dr. Summers states that 82 percent of all current church members come from the Sunday school program. A clear indicator of a church that does not have an effective evangelistic Sunday program is the presence of the elderly church. I travel to many different churches across Texas, and I can see the blatant signs everywhere. I know of churches that are filled with elderly who sit in the pews and classrooms, and whose tithes and offerings help the church with a great many things, and by their financial report, these churches appear to be very healthy, yet they only have one or two youths in the whole youth department. I mean of school grades from 3rd to college level, there are only a handful of youth. Those that are there only come because their parents make them come.
This may not seem bad, however; in just a few short years, the youth grow up and leave, the elderly die off, or become unable to come to services, and slowly and painfully, the church just dries up. If you can picture a dead tree, the tree is still standing yet the inside is rotten, and decayed, eventually it will collapse on itself because it has nothing inside, no root system, and no fruits. Yet just a few blocks away the church there has a vibrant youth program with 10 – 20 students in every classroom. What is the difference? An attitude of Evangelism is throughout the church. The successful church shows a constant desire to win souls for Christ. Like scripture reads, as you sow, so shall you reap.
An evangelistic Sunday school program has rewards other than the obvious spiritual rewards. These rewards have some very tangible advantages to the local church. The primary of which is that is opens the doors to local schools, and community events and outreach opportunities. An effective evangelistic Sunday school program puts the church on the front line of the battle for the hearts and minds of the community. The church is no longer a building that the lost just drive by. Instead it is a beacon of light in the community. The Evangelistic Sunday school draws the lost and allows the Spirit of God to reach out to individuals of all ages that would normally have not responded to other evangelistic means. The potential for evangelism in the Sunday school is unlimited.
Let us not also forget those who are in the Sunday school because they are forced to be by their parents, or a spouse. Yes; a spouse, we cannot forget the adult Sunday school participants. You see those that are there sitting in your classes, no matter their age, or how long they have attended, may not be saved. Pastor Richard Sumner (of New Hope Baptist in League City, Texas) relayed a story to me one time about a man that would come to his services faithfully every Sunday. This man proudly announced repeatedly that he did not believe, but that he came because it pleased his wife.
There are other couples, in my church, where one spouse comes and goes to the services, and the Sunday school, because their spouse is a believer. Some have even been saved, as the Word of God is explained to them through the Sunday school teacher. To be honest with you I know of more Christians who say that they were saved in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School, under the direction of a volunteer teacher, then those that were saved by listening to a corporate evangelist or a preacher. God is truly amazing.
The point is we never know what the spiritual condition of someone is, when they enter our Sunday school, whether it be for the first time, or the one-hundredth time. We do not know what they are dealing with in their lives, or what the Spirit is dealing with in their heart. We must keep in our mind that even though students come to our classes, they may not be saved. All of them know, deep in their hearts that they should be saved. Even though they may put up a front, they want to be saved. Paul spent time in the market places, daily making argument for Christ and Grace. This is your time to make your arguments. We cannot let the lost who come to our classes slip through our fingers.
Once saved we must instill, in the newly saved, the necessity to share their faith to others. We must teach them how to share their faith. We must disciple them and encourage them to live a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called. We must show them that there is an expectation from Jesus that they too are to share the gospel to their friends, their family, and their immediate community. In short, we must bring them up in the way that they must go, so they will not depart from it.
The student of the Sunday school classroom is of vital importance to the church, their family, the community, and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The student of the Sunday school then becomes a part of the body that is necessary for the whole body to function properly. Instruction must be given with how to read and study scripture, what is sound doctrine, historical Christianity and the importance of their role in the Kingdom of God. This brings us to an important part of the Sunday school program-the teachers.
Many churches will spend months or even years in selecting a Pastor. Personally, I think that is a bit extreme, but the role of the Pastor is extremely important. The Pastor has many responsibilities and his vision that God has given him for the church is very important. Poor leadership can wreck a church. However, many times churches will immediately take the first person who volunteers to teach a class. There is not formal vetting, no board review, or selection committee appointed to fill these vital positions. Teachers play a vital role in the church and are very influential positions. Most regular attending members of the church will spend more time with, and receive more biblical instruction from the Sunday school teacher, then from the Pastor.
In the book The Biblical Evangelist there is a good basic list of things we should look for in a Sunday school teacher.
Qualifications for Sunday School Teachers:
- Must be a person who loves people
- Must be a person wo believes God
- Must be a person who lives Christ
- Must be a person who knows the Bible
- Must be a person who visits
- Must have sound Doctrine (added by me)
- Must be able to pass a background check (added by me)
- Must be a member of the local church for at least 6 months (added by me)
These may seem like they are obvious, however; I met a man who has taught Sunday school for over 10 years at a youth program. Eventually this young man became the head of the youth department. Once we were alone and began to discuss in detail his approach to Sunday school, he confessed to me that he does not even believe the Bible. He is not sure if God even exists as the sole creator of the universe. When I asked him what he teaches, he said he mainly just teaches the philosophy of the scriptures. Folks this is Gnosticism! This is the very heresy that divide the early church.
Think of all of the hundreds of souls that were lost because of the failure of the church elders who did not vet or monitor this Sunday school teacher. Even worse, they promoted him, and gave him a salary to spread his false doctrine into all levels of the program. No purpose for saving souls was in this Sunday school. How many others were lost because of the false doctrine his students then shared. Sunday school should not be a second-hand venture passed off to the first person who comes along.
The Pastor should take time to intentionally disciple the Sunday school teachers and administrators. The direct involvement of the Pastor will let his vison of evangelism guide and direct the teachers and will unite the church in the common mission of saving souls and raising up disciples that will unashamedly seek souls for the glorification of Christ.
We should also create an environment in the Sunday school that allows the unchurched or unsaved newcomer to feel accepted and valued. They should feel comfortable in asking, “the stupid questions”. They should be invited back. Invited into the sanctuary to listen to the preacher and see how worship is conducted. Taken out for coffee or lunch after the services. We should teach with substance, so that we are not wasting their time, or our opportunity. Summarize previous lessons to bring them up to date on the current lesson.
We can also create a culture of Evangelistic Sunday school by having regular prayer meeting with all the teaching staff and administrators.
Some things that the Sunday school staff could pray for:
- Eyes to see the needs in the community and the opportunity to evangelize
- Pray for boldness to testify and share the Word
- Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit
- Hunger for the lost
- Desire to serve Jesus faithfully
- Confidence in the scriptures
- Patience and awareness to be a good living witness
- Pray for the lost
Soliciting prayers from students and praying for them before the class starts. You can also pray for the class to have the same things we mentioned for the staff.
You should also develop an expectation of sharing in the class and out in the world. Give a few moments for someone to share a personal testimony. Encourage your Sunday school members to plant seeds for the gospel by sharing what they have learned this week with a friend or a family member, or a co-worker. Then the following week ask for testimonies of how they shared what they learned in class.
Dr. Joseph Clark wrote a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 for Sunday school workers. I thought this would be something that you might want to share with your Sunday school workers in the future.
“Though I speak with the tongues of scholarship, and though I use approved methods of education, and fail to win my pupils to Christ, or to build them up in Christian character, I am become as the man of the wind in a Syrian desert.
And though I have the best of teaching skill and understand all the mysteries of religious knowledge, and lost not myself in the task of winning others to Christ, I become as a cloud of mist in an open sea.
And though I read all Sunday school literature, and attend Sunday school conventions and institutes and summer schools, and yet am satisfied with less than winning to Christ and establishing my pupils in Christian character and service, it profiteth nothing.
The soul-winning teacher, the character-building teacher, suffereth long and is kind; he envieth not others who are free from the teaching task; he counteth not himself, is not puffed up with intellectual pride.
Such a teacher doth not behave himself unseemly between Sundays, seeketh not his own comfort, is not easily provoked.
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things.
And now abideth knowledge, methods, evangelism, these three; but the greatest of these is evangelism.”
I hope that this has been an encouragement to you and to your way of looking at the Sunday school program. Evangelism in the Sunday school program is the seed that is planted that will eventually grow a strong and vibrant church for years to come. Like any crop, it must be tended to, watered in due season, and fertilized. A hedge should be built about it to keep out the wolves. Constant monitoring is necessary to keep out the weeds.
“How Is Evangelism Related to Sunday School?” Sunday School Leaders, 19 Aug. 2014, www.sundayschoolleader.com/722/.
Burroughs, Prince Emanual. Winning to Christ: a Study in Evangelism. Sunday School Board, Southern Baptist Convention, 1923.
Sumner, Robert L. Biblical Evangelism in Action. Sword of the Lord, 1966.