How Much Time Should the Teacher Talk during the Sunday School Lesson?

Monday 7th November, 2011

Over the last fourteen years, I have had the privilege to talk face-to-face with Sunday School teachers, pastors, and directors from all over the country as well as Germany, Italy, Tanzania, and England. From these thousands of interactions, I have learned many things. Some have affirmed basic Sunday School principles. Others have pointed out needs. Still others have led to considerable mental debate and paradigm shift.

One of those has to do with the amount of time a teacher spends talking on Sunday morning. In most churches, Sunday School is scheduled between 45 and 75 minutes. In many of these churches, attenders arrive late. In some of these churches, an assembly time precedes Sunday School with a brief welcome, announcement, and/or devotional time. The impact of these two issues is often a loss of 15 minutes from the Sunday School session. So in effect, we are already down to 30-60 minutes.

In many of the adult classes, someone at minimum leads the class in a time of announcements, prayer requests, and prayer--usually prior to the lesson. In other classes, there may also be a time for prospect assignments, care group gathering/reports, and other class business. The net effect is that the time for a lesson in many classes is further reduced to 20-45 minutes.

Many teachers spend hours preparing lessons, so they desire to share what they have learned and prepared. Reduced time often leads to frustration by the teacher and participants. It would be appropriate for Sunday School planning/training teams to address the issue of time management on Sunday morning. But I want to address a different issue.

QUESTIONS. Of the time available for the lesson, how much time should a teacher talk? In order to answer that question, I believe there are additional questions that should be considered first. Consider the following:

  • What are you trying to accomplish? Are you keeping them busy, feeding them content, or challenging them toward life change?
  • How large is the class? The larger the class, the more challenging it is to get everyone to participate in the lesson. On average, the more participants are involved, the greater likelihood will be retention and obedience.
  • What learning styles are present in the class? A learning style is how learners prefer to learn and how they learn best. Of the eight learning styles (verbal, visual, physical, natural, musical, relational, logical, and reflective), most classes will have all eight represented.
  • What would be the best way to encourage spiritual progress or life transformation? Think about how to help an individual attender as a result of the lesson to take one or two steps toward the goal of spiritual maturity.
  • What teaching method(s) will result in the greatest retention (remembering) and application (obedience)? Each age group, class, and learner is unique. Avoid teaching generic lessons. Customize the lesson to the realities of one or more participant.
DANGERS. There are dangers to avoid:
  • Do all the talking. Then you will miss many learning contributions from others in the room. Learning is less likely to be "owned" and applied.
  • Not listening. Learners will check out if you pay no attention to them.
  • Read parts. About 60% do not like to read; some of those cannot read. Reading without supplementary action often has low retention.
  • Ask for opinions. Opinions are not our goal. What does God's Word say? This may be a sign that the teacher did not spend time preparing the lesson well enough.
  • Common language. Hearing language and phrases often enough that teachers assume learners understand what it means. It is better to explain things thoroughly.
So what is the right balance? How much time should a teacher talk during a lesson? First, let the Spirit speak through you as much as you can. Second, talk as little as you can in order to steer the course of the learning experience toward the desired outcome. Third, in most lessons, that means most teachers should work to reduce the amount of time they talk.

In a recent series about storytelling the Bible, I mentioned the goal for the teacher/leader to talk no more than 25% of the time. If you talk 100% or 75%, I want to challenge you to begin now to make an intentional, gradual shift toward balance. Reduce your talking time by 25%. If you are already somewhat balanced, assess what you are doing and consider how you might make changes that will propel learners toward greater growth and discipleship. Pray. Prepare. Teach to change lives. Involve them. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about teaching, check out these blog posts:

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