Making Great Sunday School First Impressions

Monday 20th March, 2017
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If you want to create a great first impression, there are three questions you need to ask: Are you expecting guests? Have you invited them? Are you ready for them to come?

These are three critical questions. Sadly I have spoken to teachers who told me that they did not want new people to come to their classes. Thankfully that is not true of the majority of teachers. At the same time, many classes lack expectancy. They really don't think anyone new will come.

Expectancy begins with prayer and hope. Classes pray believing that God wants new people to come. There is an expectation every Sunday that someone new will walk in the door and join the Bible study experience. As a result, that expectation leads to actions of invitation and preparation.

Because the teacher and class expect guests to attend, they invite friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. These classes put together a prospect care list from which they make contacts with unenrolled people who would fit their class people group.

Relationships are developed with these prospects by extending care. Expectancy leads to contacts made by visit, phone, mail, and electronic means. Prospects are invited to class fellowships, projects, meals, Sunday School, and Jesus. When needs are discovered, the individual or the class responds in care to address needs.

Because the class expects guests and has invited prospects, they prepare for them to come. Greeters arrive early. Name tags are used. Registration forms are available. Prime seating is waiting. The teacher has prepared a great Bible study encounter. The class has worked hard to ensure the room and equipment will create a good impression.

During class, the greeter introduces the guest without embarrassing him/her. The teacher works hard to explain the lesson in a way that everyone can understand even if they are lost--since we may not know the spiritual condition of the guest yet. The teacher works to involve everyone without asking the guest to do any public speaking (read or answering questions). At the end of class, the greeter encourages the class to thank the guest for being part of the Bible study session.

Go back to the three questions at the start of this post. On which of the questions do you need to work? Start now. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about reaching prospects, check out these posts:

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When Do You Start Preparing for Sunday School?

Monday 13th March, 2017
I have seen some good "Saturday night" specials and I have seen some flat ones. Sadly, most lacked intentionality and Holy Spirit inspiration. In order to give God and His people our best effort, we need to establish lesson preparation discipline.
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Life is busy. In my experience, life has a way of filling up all our allotted time plus some. What do I mean? If you do not establish a consistent routine for lesson preparation, you will find many great things to do besides preparing for a great Sunday School experience. This means in most cases that we will wait until the pressure is the greatest: Saturday night.

I have seen some good "Saturday night" specials and I have seen some flat ones. Sadly, most lacked intentionality and Holy Spirit inspiration. In order to give God and His people our best effort, we need to establish lesson preparation discipline.

I recommend spending at least 30 minutes every day preparing. The first thing that needs preparing is your own heart. I call this the first encounter. You need to meet God in Bible study and be changed from that time with Him. You need to respond in commitment and obedience as a result. Out of that encounter, you can then prepare a plan for your class similarly to open God's Word and meet Him. That is the second encounter for you (ideally for them as well if they sought him during the week).

My 30 minutes daily on Sunday through Wednesday is often focused on God and on me as I listen and respond to him in Bible study and prayer. I read the word many times each day. I ask Him questions and write down questions. And I look for life illustrations He often provides.

Then Thursday through Saturday, I begin to consider the message for life today and for the learners in my group. I begin to look at commentaries to broaden my understanding of the biblical context, words, and customs. I start building a written plan for leading my class to encounter God in Bible study. Saturday may be longer as I finish and review my plan for the next day.

What is your preparation routine? What have you done to develop lesson preparation discipline? When do you start? What time of day works best for you? What tools do you use? What do you do when you have interruptions into your preparation plans? Make disciples. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about lesson preparation, check out these posts:

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Sunday School: Dangers from Covering Too Few or Too Many Verses

Monday 6th March, 2017
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I have been teaching Sunday School since I was 19. I started teaching a class for Grades 7-9 boys. I learned so much from preparing and teaching those boys. I learned much about myself, teenagers, God, and the Bible.

Over these last twenty years, I have been in many adult classes as an attender. I have had a variety of experiences. Some were great, some where good, and some were poor. Next time, I will share what makes a poor experience for me. But this time I want to focus on the results of covering too few or too many verses.

TOO FEW VERSES. There are many dangers that come related to covering too few verses. Consider the following:
  • The verse(s) is taken out of the context of the larger passage (others that follow start here).
  • The verse(s) is not understood.
  • The point (truth) of the verse or passage is missed.
  • This may be evidence of poor time management during class (other activities took up too much time).
  • This may be evidence of poor teacher preparation.
  • This may be evidence of poor class management (allowing too much time for chasing rabbits).
  • Without the Bible being opened, the power for God to change lives through Bible study was lost.

TOO MANY VERSES. Similarly, there are dangers from trying to cover too many verses. Consider the following:
  • There is too much time spent covering background, words, and culture (some of this is important for understanding, but too much usually limits application).
  • Multiple points (truths) are covered weakening the likelihood that any will be remembered, applied, or obeyed.
  • In the rush to cover so many verses, understanding does not happen (fire-hydrant syndrome).
  • Learning style preferences are ignored in favor of lecture in order to cover more verses.
  • Learner involvement is minimized resulting in lower understanding, ownership, and application of the truth.

How many verses are the right number? That completely depends on the group, the amount of time you have, and the passage itself. Do your best to prepare well. Part of that preparation is determining how much can be covered in the time you have with your class. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about teaching, check out these posts:

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Leading My Sunday School Class to Reach Out

Monday 27th February, 2017
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STEP ONE:  Our Lord was concerned for lost sheep. In Luke 19:10, Jesus said, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." And in Matthew 28:19, He calls us as His disciples to "make disciples of all nations." As leaders, we must be convinced before we can lead others. But when we are convinced, then we must help class members understand why reaching out is important.

If class members do not follow, then we are not leading. In order for them to follow, our explanation must be logical and biblical. And we must be trustworthy and be setting an example in reaching out. Ideally, we need to lead class members to examine the issue and need personally. Jesus did that with great success by telling stories and asking questions. In fact, I would encourage you to use some of Jesus' very own stories in your effort to lead your class to reach out. For instance, you might consider using the three stories in Luke 15.

STEP TWO:  Pray together for lost and unreached people. Move from broad to specific in your prayer. Move them toward praying for people by name.

STEP THREE:  Provide simple instructions (training) for taking the first steps. Keep things simple. Complicated kills motivation.

STEP FOUR:  Make contacts together. Write cards. Make phone calls. Make visits. Make electronic contacts. Some examples could include the following. Write cards on Sunday. Meet at church to make calls on a Monday. Go make visits on a Tuesday. Challenge the class to make electronic contacts on Thursday. Never reach out alone. Together is encouraging and more fun.

STEP FIVE:  Follow up on contact efforts. Ask how the contacts went. Share the stories.

STEP SIX;  Invite lost and unreached people to your class fellowships, projects, and meals. Have fun. Talk. Listen. Allow guests get to know you and your class. Pay attention to your guests but avoid embarrassing them. Invite them to class before they depart.

STEP SEVEN:  Lead your class to write, practice, and share their testimonies. Give 5-10 minutes of class time once per month to do so in pairs. Send them out to practice on family. Then send them out to share with lost and unreached people as the Spirit leads during contacts.

STEP EIGHT:  Set class goals for reaching out. Set a goal for contacts. Set a goal for guests at fellowship, projects, and meals. Set a goal for guests in class. Set a goal for new class members.

For more ideas about reaching out, check out these posts:

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Giveaway of My Upcoming Book

Monday 20th February, 2017
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My upcoming book, Disciple-Making Encounters: Revolutionary Sunday School, is set to release on May 1. Because loyal readers of this blog have encouraged me to write the book, I want to give away ten (10 ) advanced copies. Want one? Here are the rules:
  • Due to the cost of postage, you must live in the United States.
  • Comment to this post by March 31, 2017.
  • Tell me the name of your church.
  • Tell me how long you have worked with Sunday School.
  • Tell me your favorite thing about Sunday School.

It is that simple. I will randomly choose ten winners from all those who reply to this post with the three requested responses. I have already pre-ordered books. I will email you to request a mailing address as soon as my copies arrive.

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Follow up Matters in Sunday School

Monday 13th February, 2017
During the days that followed, my Sunday School class prayed and followed up. What do I mean? They showed they cared by praying and by simply asking how I was doing and taking time to listen.
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A couple weeks ago, I had a wreck. I managed to drive the van to the collision center for repairs. And about eight hours after the wreck, I was in such pain that I decided to head to the emergency room. After waiting over nine hours for xrays, I was sent home with good news of no broken bones and two prescriptions.

During the days that followed, my Sunday School class prayed and followed up. What do I mean? They showed they cared by praying and by simply asking how I was doing and taking time to listen.

My recovery has been a journey. I have had pain nearly every day in expected places and some surprising ones: neck and shoulders, lower back and hips, both palms, and pinkie and ring fingers on my left hand (I had the steering wheel between them). Life has not stopped during the days that followed. I only missed one work day after the wreck.

Then on Sunday after the wreck I preached and led a Sunday School conference for a church just outside of Somerset. Preaching by standing mostly in one spot was painful. The conference after the meal was a bit easier due to moving around more--even though it was longer. The pastor called me the day after the wreck. When he found out I had been in a wreck, he offered to reschedule. I hoped I would be better by Sunday. He prayed and asked his congregation to pray for me. Several asked about me that day.

After the conference, my wife and I headed to Hampton, Virginia, to help our Navy son load up and move to Petersburg, Indiana (I did more driving than lifting). I am grateful for hired help to load and unload in Hampton and Petersburg. If they had not been there, I would have forced myself to lift more.

The next Sunday I was able to return to our home church. There several in worship and then in Sunday School checked on me. Their interest was so encouraging. After two previous days with very little pain, Sunday was frustrating. I hurt all day. In fact, it was the next afternoon before I was surprised to discover the first relief from pain since Saturday.

Praying for each other matters. Care matters when you act it out. So voice your interest. Ask how people are doing. Listen--even if they take too long telling their stories. (Guilty!) We are all busy, but  follow up really does matter!

For more ideas about caring through your Sunday School class, check out these posts:

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Continue Learning Beyond Sunday School

Friday 3rd February, 2017
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What are you doing to continue the learning experience beyond Sunday morning? How are you extending the opportunity for class members to interact with God and His Word beyond after your gathering time?

If you want retention of what was learned to improve, then it is valuable to continue learning beyond class time. If you want the possibility of application and obedience to increase, then it is also important to continue learning. But how?

What can we do to continue the lesson, the encounter with God in His Word, and the application and obedience? Consider some of these ideas:
  • Plan for it. Lessons will end with prayer and dismissal if you don't plan for them to continue.
  • Give homework. Ask them to practice and report. Send them out to obey and return next week to share what happened. Ask them to read and answer one or more questions. Ask them to pray related to what was learned.
  • Make assignments. Ask some individuals to do some research to follow up on the lesson. Ask some class members to help you prepare for the next lesson by taking parts of the preparation and teaching.
  • Make a call. Start the class phone chain. Ask them to remind each other to do their homework, to practice the truth, or reread the passage and answer a question.
  • Send a text or email. Copy and paste the message. Keep it short. Personalize a little. Remind. Assign. Reinforce. Apply.
  • Post to social media. See previous. Start a class account. Make it easy for members to receive/find your follow up posts.
  • Send mail. While more costly, mail can be an effective means of reinforcement. Keep it short enough to fit on a postcard even if sending a letter. If your class is small enough, consider personalizing and handwriting. Divide up the assignment among attenders to include absentees.
  • Review the lesson. At lesson's end, spend 60 seconds asking questions about the lesson. Ask what God wants them to do as a result. Ask them to self-address and write a note about the lesson. Collect the cards/letters. Mail them to those who were present.
  • Assign accountability partners. Pair off. Ask partners to share lesson application and pray together. Then ask them to set a time for a 5 minute call during the week to check on how they are doing at applying the lesson truth and pray together.
  • Ask how they did. At the end of class, tell them next Sunday you will ask how they did at continuing the learning and obeying the truth during the week. Then do it.

What would you add to these ideas? What have you done to reinforce the learning experience, to continue the encounter with God in His Word, and to help attenders apply and live out the truth? Share your experiences and ideas by pressing Comments.

For more ideas about teaching and learning, check out these posts:

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Turn Sunday School Lessons into Discipleship Experiences

Monday 23rd January, 2017
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What can a class member do to get even more out of Sunday School group time? What can a member do to turn a lesson into a discipleship experience?

I offered 14 ideas for doing so in my post on, Turn Lessons into Discipleship Experiences. Here are the first 3 of the 14 ideas:
  • Pray: Pray for your group. Pray for your leader. Pray for guests. Pray for fellowship and Bible study time. Pray for insight and growth.
  • Rest well: Give God and your group experience, your best effort by getting enough sleep. Avoid staying up late the night before.
  • Prepare: Look at the scripture, lesson, or topic which will be the focus of your group. Read. Study. Meditate. Ask yourself questions. Seek God's insight. Come prepared to share and ask questions.
To read the other eleven ideas, go toTurn Lessons into Discipleship Experiences.

For more ways Sunday School can contribute to discipleship, check out these posts:

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Sunday School 101: Breaking the 100 Barrier

Friday 20th January, 2017
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Sunday School 101: Breaking the 100 Barrier
will be offered quarterly on Saturdays, 9:00-11:30 AM, Eastern time. This Sunday School team training will be offered at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 1220 Old Frankfort Pike, Versailles, KY.

This training is offered in partnership with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the Central Kentucky Network of Baptists, and Mt. Vernon.  You are invited to attend these free events for Sunday School, small group, and lay leaders as we seek transformative ways to have effective Sunday School and small groups ministries in our churches.  Whether you want to break 100 or add 100 to attendance we invite you to join us. For more information or to register, contact in advance of each session.  Doors open at 8:30 with a light breakfast to be served.

  • March 25:  Transformational Teaching -- teaching to change lives.
  • June 17:  Mission & Purpose -- reaching beyond and impacting your community.
  • September 23:  My Group Matters -- engaging and retaining members.
  • December 2:  Multiply --  developing new leaders and groups.

pastor, director, teachers, assistants, and potential leaders. Come prepared to learn and chart a course to break the 100 barrier in your Sunday School!
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When a Sunday School Teacher Has an Emergency, Part 2

Tuesday 17th January, 2017
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In Part 1 of this two-part series, I shared a recent experience of filling in for a teacher who had a last-minute emergency. I don't hold up the way I responded as the only or ideal way to respond. This is true for three reasons: (1) churches are unique, (2) situations are unique, and (3) leaders are unique.

In Part 2, I want to share a few options for responding when last-minute crises occur. Consider the following:
  • SMALL: in a small Sunday School (five or fewer classes), the Sunday School director may be prepared to step into any class with a need
  • SMALL: in a small Sunday School (five or fewer classes), the Sunday School director may be called to enlist a replacement
  • SUB FOR EACH CLASS: keep working until every teacher has enlisted at least one person who can fill in at the last-minute if necessary (ideally with advance notice)
  • SUB FOR EACH AGE GROUP: enlist a list of leaders for each age group (preschool, children, youth, and adult) from which a teacher may contact when needed
  • COMBINE: combine that class with another for that Sunday (when space and the required leader ratio allows); this should not be the perpetual response since it can lead to attendance decline
  • SAME LITERATURE: keep in mind that substitution (even at the last minute) is always easiest if every teacher in an age group is using the same type of literature
  • CO-TEACHER: if a teacher has declining health or frequent emergencies, enlist a co-teacher or apprentice teacher who will be ready every week

My experience has taught me a few things. First, if a teacher does not have someone who can fill in for him/her when needing to be away, the teacher will burn out and quit. Second, if teachers all contact an intermediary (Sunday School director or staff person), complications can occur. Third, it is best if the teacher has direct contact with more than one substitute option who is comfortable filling in at the last-minute. (Sometimes the first choice is not available.)

What would you add to the options I shared? What has worked for you? God and His people deserve our best effort. Nothing less will do. Be prepared even for emergencies. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about growing your Sunday School, check out these posts:

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