Why Do We Need a Sunday School Reformation? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

After teaching both adult and youth Sunday school classes for over a decade, I have determined that we need a Sunday school reformation. If the primary purpose of Sunday morning small groups (SSG’s) is to educate church members on the contents of the Bible, the Word of God, then we are failing badly. This is not just a criticism of my own church, because we are just one of thousands of churches all around the world that are not fulfilling the purpose of SSG’s.

Let me stop here, because some of you are already disagreeing with me. You deny that the primary purpose of SSG’s is to learn the contents of the Word of God. You believe that the primary purpose is evangelism, or building community, or even prayer. While I agree that these are important secondary purposes of SSG’s, they cannot be the primary purposes. Why?

There is no point in evangelism if we don’t know what we are supposed to evangelize. The contents of our evangelism comes from the Bible. It makes no sense to carry a message to the lost when we aren’t too clear on what that message is. We can only get clear through studying the Bible.

What about building community? A community is only as strong as what it is based upon. A church community must be built on the doctrines and teachings of that church. The doctrines and teachings of a Christian church come, first and foremost, from the Bible. Therefore, there can be no meaningful church community if the community doesn’t know what the Bible teaches. The liberal Christian churches have tried to build community on anything but the Bible, and their numbers have been in precipitous decline.

What about prayer? Well, prayer is pretty ineffective if we don’t know who we are praying to. God is known, most fully, through His Word. If we don’t know his Word, then our knowledge of the one to whom we pray is shallow. Shouldn’t we know a lot about the person to whom we direct all of our prayers? Prayer is also ineffective if we don’t know what God wants us to pray about. The Bible tells us exactly what God wants from our prayer life, so our knowledge of the Bible reflects directly on our prayers.

So here is where we are so far. Although community, evangelism, prayer, and possibly other things are important for SSG’s, those secondary purposes can never be successful without first taking care of the number one purpose for SSG’s: learning the contents of the Word of God, the Bible.

This point is worth repeating. If your goal through your SSG’s is to build community among your church members, you will fail unless you make sure that your members are learning the Bible in a systematic and thorough manner. There are no shortcuts. There is no way to get around this fact. The strongest communities are built around common language, common stories, common knowledge.

In part 2, I will talk about why we are failing to teach our church members the contents of the Bible in a systematic and thorough manner.

  • sean

    The liberal Christian churches have tried to build community on anything but the Bible, and their numbers have been in precipitous decline.

    I think you’ll find that liberal Christians disagree with you. They think their teachings are entirely compliant with the Bible. That’s why they call themselves Christians. To them, it is those who spend so much energy on issues like gay marraige that have twisted Jesus’ word. Do you have a definition of liberal and a study that looks at a decline in church attendence that’s greater than drops expereinced by Churches that do not identify as liberal?

  • My definition of “liberal” is any church which denies any of the essential doctrines of Christianity. It is well-known in the US that the liberal denominations have been shrinking for decades. The traditional, or orthodox, denominations are much larger in size.

  • sean

    Lets talk math. Size is different from rate of change in size. Your claim was not that their numbers are small, but that they are in decline. The size of orthodox and liberal denominations at any given point has nothing to do with rates of growth or decline, so claiming that the church is larger isn’t to the point you made. Moreover it’s my understanding that the US is becoming more secular in general, which might mean a drop in all religion, not just liberal religion. I’m asking about a comparison of rates. That’s the only way to test your claim. Not the size of either or the rate of just one, but the rates of both liberal and orthodox Christianity.

    Common sense and well known are big markers for you observing this in circles close to you, which are clearly biased. I know my own experience happens to be biased towards people getting more liberal, and towards leaving religion. It’s certianly not the general trend I observe that people are getting more conservative. However that’s me, and I’m aware of the bias, so I’d look to studies for better answers.

    To your definition of liberal, that seems fine, but I’m curious to hear an example of what you think to be a core doctrine that is being denied by a particular branch.

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