Leaders believe Sunday school can revitalize church

7/13/2006

(UMNS) If you are not part of a Sunday school class you may be missing out on a great "combo deal."

"Sunday school is the place where you are known at church," said Chris Jackson, Christian educator at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.

"Worship may be glorious and inspirational, but you cannot create discussions or develop interpersonal relationships while sitting in the pews," he noted. "Sunday school is the 'combo meal deal' at church!"

Jackson is one of 13 speakers trained by the United Methodist Publishing House to go out and talk to congregations about the "promise of Sunday school."

A list of speakers and contact information is available on the Web site, Sunday School-It's for Life. Other resources available to promote Sunday school include posters, certificates of appreciation, postcards, door hangers and business cards.

By Aug. 1, a video workshop written by Bishop Scott Jones of the Kansas Area will be available for churches interested in revitalizing their Christian education and Sunday school classes.

"Beyond the Roll Book: Sunday School and Evangelism" explores the history of Sunday school, gives churches an inventory to use to access their classes and offers how-to tips on developing an action plan. To accompany the video, the Rev. Diana Hynson, director of learning and teaching with the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, has written a leader's guide.

The original intent of Sunday school was evangelistic, Jones explained. "Sunday school ought to be a place where unchurched people can come and find that community, that exposure to the Bible, that willingness to be in relationship with real Christians that will give them an opportunity to enter into the faith.

"We need once again to reclaim Sunday school as a great opportunity, a great tool, for helping to make disciples of Jesus Christ," he said.

"Many people say Sunday school is dead," said Gerald Chambers, project leader for Sunday School- It's for Life, "but it is really the best opportunity for churches to show Jesus Christ to people."

True believers
The 13 speakers trained by the United Methodist Publishing House are true Sunday school believers.

"It was my Sunday school teacher in second grade who left that year to be a missionary in India who had the first real impact in my life, so much so that I remember announcing in sixth grade that I was going to be a missionary when I grew up," said Corinne Van Buren, a United Methodist deacon and director of the Christian Education Fellowship.

"Sunday school, for me, has really been a place for life-long learning, support, and faith growth," she added.

Each of the speakers has a vision for Sunday school and is willing to share that story with congregations. They address some of the problems that may be barriers to having active classes.

"The ties that bind can sometimes become the ties that exclude new faces," said Pamela Deck, a member of Spindale United Methodist Church, Rutherfordton, N.C.

"Think back on your first time in a class. What did and did not make you feel welcomed? Use those insights to make your class easier to walk in to."

Liz Lippoldt, a United Methodist certified director of Christian education at College Hill United Methodist Church, Wichita, Kan., agreed.

"Make your room inviting; create a worship center, arrange the room so newcomers can easily slip in," she advised. "Be open to people about who you are, how the class operates and what they can expect to receive by participating."

Jackson urged Sunday school classes to share the joy. "Because a class is so valuable to others, why wouldn't you want to invite newcomers to experience the joy you have? But, knowing this is difficult, perhaps six leaders from an established class would agree to 'parent' a new class along for a year. They could be 'on loan' from their existing class, for leadership, and then go back to their old class."

Being part of a class is important, according to Deck. "Small groups are so important to your faith walk. Keep visiting a variety of classes to find the best fit." Those having trouble finding the right class might talk to the Sunday school superintendent and be willing to help start a new class if needed.

"I see Sunday School as an exciting 'filling station' at the end of a demanding week," Deck said. "Sunday school is a welcoming place of learning and support for children, youth and adults. It is a safe, engaging place where people can open up, learn, feed and be fed for their spiritual journey."