CM 530: Educational Ministries
Anthony, Michael J: Introducing Christian Education: Foundations For The Twenty-First Century
Luther Rice Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the Degree
Masters of Divinity
Justin Z. DuBose
5218 Happy Hollow Court
Lula, GA 30554
I.D.# GC6831 / Phone: (678) 707-1491
November 17, 2013
Professor: Dr. Kreutzer
Hours Completed: 60 -- Hours Remaining: 12
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF SUNDAY SCHOOL VERSUS SMALL GROUPS
Presented to Dr. Bruce Kruetzer
Luther Rice Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
CM 530: EDUCATIONAL MINISTRIES
Justin Z. DuBose
II. THE EFFECTIVENESS OF SUNDAY SCHOOL
III. THE EFFECTIVENESS OF SMALL GROUPS
IV. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
Since 1780 in Gloucester, England, when Robert Raikes began Sunday school, it has remained a dominant force of Christian education in the church.  Even in churches that are considered to be “successful” from the standpoint of number of people in attendance on Sunday, Sunday school can still be a very strong presence. However, in many churches labeled as “progressive” or “contemporary”, the concept of Christian education in small groups has been and continues to gain momentum. So, the question is this: which of these two vehicles for Christian education are more effective for the twenty-first century church? While each church is unique, and there are many variables in each equation, this analysis will attempt to answer the question above in general terms for the twenty-first century American.
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF SUNDAY SCHOOL
Sunday school was initially created “to provide literacy and spiritual training to children who were working in the factories” in England.  In the midst of the booming Industrial Revolution, Sunday was the only day off from work, and so these “Sunday schools” ran the course of a workday every Sunday. With the formation of the Sunday School Society in 1785 and the Sunday School Union in 1803, Sunday school has been a part of church life since this time. Sunday school gradually made its way to America, and by 1824 the American Sunday School Union was formed.  Sunday school was a formational part of the church of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but began to decline in the years following World War II. The decade of the 1970’s saw a sharp decline in the effectiveness of Sunday school. Research conducted by Richard Allison notes that “forty million persons were enrolled in Sunday school in 1970. In the next decade, enrollment dropped to 31.5 million. This is a twenty four per cent decadal decline. Over half of U.S. denominations reported church membership growth in the decade of the seventies. Only nine registered any growth in their Sunday school for the same period.” These numbers have only continued to fall. The Associated Baptist Press cited a survey conducted by LifeWay Christian Resources which reported in 2004 that only 8.4 million were participating in Sunday school, and by 2010 that number had fallen to just 7.6 million.  Compare that number to the forty million recorded in 1970, and you have, over the span of just forty years, a decline in participation of eighty-one percent. When you also consider that the population of the United States has increased by sixty-six percent in that same forty year span, it is not difficult to see the sharp decline in the effectiveness of Sunday school since 1970.
So, what has been the reason for this lack of effectiveness? Obviously, some evaluation is necessary. Allison makes the following statement: “Evaluation is asking the question, ‘Is God well served by what we are doing?’”  Perhaps another way to ask the same question is: Is there a better way that we could serve God in what we are doing? If the goal is Christian education, then perhaps there is a different vehicle to accomplish that same goal. After all, the initial reason for creating Sunday school is now obsolete – the lack of time for education due to factory work. This is is not a consideration in twenty-first century America. As Anthony phrases it, “Sunday school, with its ill-advised tendency to mimic “schooling”, the typical learning situation is called a “class”, and the “classroom” is presumed to be where the important learning occurs. If only Christian education were to build its teaching-learning models around biblical examples from the ministry of Jesus Christ and biblical teachings about the church as a community, effective learning would be much more likely to result.”  What then does this environment look like – one that builds its teachings about the church as a community of believers? Perhaps it would be portraying the church as more than a building? Perhaps it would be focused on relationships as places where learning occurs as opposed to the building? The effectiveness of Sunday school can be that it seeks to educate children and adults alike about God’s Word in age-appropriate environments, but its glaring weakness may be its focus on the church building. Let us now examine the effectiveness of small groups based on similar data, and then compare the two for effectiveness in the twenty-first century.
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF SMALL GROUPS
There is substantially less data on the effectiveness of small groups as opposed to Sunday school simply because there is much less history with small groups than with Sunday school. However, research exists which shows how twenty-first century adults and children learn best. It is this research that will provide the foundation for the effectiveness of small groups. In many articles and books, small groups are synonymous with “cell groups”, and thus many referenced articles will have such terminology embedded within them. To begin this discussion, Joel Beeke notes that “studies by educators such as Malcolm Knowles and Sharan B. Merriam have shown that many adults learn more from class discussions, cell groups, case studies, and personal interviews than they do from lectures.”  This research alone does not conclusively prove the effectiveness of small groups, however. It simply speaks to the environment in which twenty-first century adults learn most effectively. Other pastors, missionaries, and theologians see this model of small groups as most effective for the same reasons. They note not only the environment for learning, but also the biblical benefits of discipleship that take place there as well. “Advocates of house churches argue that small gatherings are more faithful to New Testament models by providing flexibility and accountability.”  Beyond this, however, Walters notes that these gatherings are “the local expression of the body of Christ whether they meet in a house, a park, or a conference hall.”  Notice again the focus on the relationships and not on the building in which the teaching takes place. Walters uses as a case study Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York. He quotes Tim Keller, the pastor, as saying “nothing would compete with small groups as the main way we minister to individuals in the church.”  In a separate case study, Ken Canfield examined a small group focused of men who were seeking to be better fathers. This small group met weekly, in homes, with fathers and eventually with their children as well. After going into detail about data associated with fathers in the twenty-first century church, Canfield noted that “the small-group dynamic can mirror the work within the Body of Christ as a whole when it is fully functioning and engaged in equipping fathers.”  Additionally, Canfield notes that “facilitating a small group appears to be one of the most effective [forms of Christian education]. Why? As noted by other researchers, most social behavior occurs in groups. When fathers get together to compare and to discuss issues that arise related to their fathering, learning is enhanced.”  Notice again the focus on the learning environment and the positive effect this has on the proper functioning of the Body of Christ.
While more historical data exists on the effectiveness of Sunday school programs, for children and adults alike, there exists plenty of material on the environment created by small groups and the benefit this provides to learning. The question that everyone in the field of Christian education must ask themselves the question, “How can we best educate our people about who God is, how He works, and how we are to live?” There are many approaches to accomplishing this mission and Sunday school and small groups within the church have both seen success. However, when applying these to a specific church situation, which of these works most effectively? Let us first paint a specific scenario and then apply these principles.
The church that I pastor is located in rural North Carolina. The church has a Sunday school program that is fairly strong, in comparison to the national percentage of Sunday school attendance. There are no small groups to speak of. There is, however, a strong Wednesday night program for kids and youth in the form of AWANA and youth group. There is also a strong Christian school connected to the church. Overall, the children and youth ministry seem to be rather strong while the Christian education for the adults is lacking. The other issue connected with this is that some of the elders do not seem to understand, or even fit, the biblical role of an elder plays in the church. Now, let us apply these two methods of Christian education to this rural church situation.
The traditional method of Christian education has been in place in this church for decades. They have several Sunday school classes broken up by age, in some cases, and by sex in others. I have found that certain Sunday school classes are very strong and others are very weak. In general, the classes that are doing well typically include men and women who do not have children in the home. Those that do have children in the home are consistently in attendance when the parents are also involved in some church function on Sunday mornings before the main worship service. The reason for this, in my opinion, is because the education takes place at a fixed time and place – early Sunday morning in the church building. The question remains of whether a change in time or place would increase the effectiveness of education among this demographic. Conversely, Wednesday night attendance in the various functions of Christian education is very high among children and youth. However, the Wednesday night bible study and prayer for the adults consistently has low attendance. Many of the adults are involved in the educational programs for their children on Wednesday nights.
So, which of these two would be more effective in this situation? Firstly, if the elders of the church were spiritually leading and shepherding the congregation, specifically in the realm of education, they would either be teaching Sunday school or a particular small group. In our case, they often cannot teach Sunday school because they are carrying out some other function in the church. Another problem that we have discovered is that those who do not attend Sunday school are often unknown to those who do, because even after Sunday school is dismissed these groups typically stay together during the service. Would these observations be different if the church were to implement small groups as the primary form of carrying out the function of Christian education? I believe that they would.
If small groups could be implemented into the home there would be several benefits. Firstly, it would put the elders into a position to be teaching as well as shepherding their groups. It would provide direct access of the congregant to their elder and give them a forum in which they could more freely express their needs than in a highly structured Sunday school environment. This would help facilitate ministry at the lowest level before immediately bringing all needs and concerns to the desk of the pastor. In this case the elders are actually serving their biblical purpose. Secondly, it provides the easiest and most comfortable means of integration into the local church body. Visitors are much more likely to “visit the church” if they are initially coming to the homes of those whom they already know and trust, as opposed to immediately setting foot into a large group of complete strangers.
All of this discussion speaks to the difference in the learning environment created by small groups as opposed to Sunday school as discussed earlier. Why has the percentage of people participating in Sunday school dropped so drastically in recent decades? The reason, I believe, has everything to do with the learning environment. The problems that we have experienced in the disassociation of regular members and visitors have everything to do with the environment created by Sunday school. If a visitor finds their way into the lobby on Sunday morning, they have no idea as to the classes offered, where they are located, what the material is, and so forth. When they are invited into someone’s home, they are not stepping immediately into a classroom of strangers, but into the living room of their host. There is typically refreshments and introductions, all of which make the visitor more comfortable. They immediately meet an elder of the church, in their own home, and begin a relationship with them. When this is accomplished, integration becomes a very fluid and easy process.
The advantages are not for the visitor only, however. The congregants also benefit as well. In addition to the benefits created by being ministered to by their elder, they also have more accountability and vulnerability in small groups. The atmosphere in a Sunday school classroom with its curriculum and time crunch is not nearly as conducive to vulnerability as a small group which meets in the home. This speaks to the case study referenced above by Canfield in which fathers found a place of safety in meeting in small groups with other fathers.
In each case, a local congregation must evaluate their own needs and methodologies. However, as a general rule, for the twenty-first century congregant small groups seem to create an atmosphere in which people can be ministered to. The statistics of declining Sunday school numbers, in my opinion, have everything to do with the learning environment. Because there is more freedom of expression in small groups, and because of the teaching and shepherding role of church elders, and because of the importance of the integration of visitors into the body, I believe small groups are the better way for churches to accomplish the function of Christian education.
Allen, Bob. “Can Sunday School Be Saved?,” Associated Baptist Press, January 6, 2012, accessed November 16, 2013, http://www.abpnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/7049-can-sunday-school-be-saved#.Uoeac-Ilhws.
Anthony, Michael J., ed. Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-First Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
Beeke, Joel R. “God-Centered Adult Education.” Puritan Reformed Journal 1, no. 1 (January 2009): 160-83.
Canfield, Ken. “The Modern Fatherhood Movement and Ministry to Fathers in the Faith Community.” Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 1, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 27-33.
Rausch, David A. “The Century of Evangelicalism.” Ashland Theological Journal 19 (1987): 72-82.
Walters, Jeff K. “Looking to a City: Current Themes in Urban Missions.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 53-60.
 Michael J. Anthony, ed., Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 23.
 Ibid, 23.
 David A. Rausch, “The Century of Evangelicalism”, Ashland Theological Journal 19 (1987): 75.
 Bob Allen, “Can Sunday School Be Saved?,” Associated Baptist Press, January 6, 2012, accessed November 16, 2013, http://www.abpnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/7049-can-sunday-school-be-saved#.Uoeac-Ilhws.
 Allison, 49.
 Anthony, 120-121.
 Joel R. Beeke, “God-Centered Adult Education”, Puritan Reformed Journal 1, no. 1 (January 2009): 166.
 Jeff K. Walters, “Looking to a City: Current Themes in Urban Missions”, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 60.
 Ibid, 61.
 Ibid, 61.
 Ken Canfield, “The Modern Fatherhood Movement and Ministry to Fathers in the Faith Community”, Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 1, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 32.
 Ibid, 32.
Let’s open our Bibles this morning to the book of Philippians. We will be reading from the first chapter, verses twelve through eighteen. Before we get into our selected text this morning, let’s travel back in time and place ourselves in the context of Christians in Philippi. Close your eyes, please, and travel with me.
As you look around you, you see very fertile ground, kept fertile by the multiple water sources around. To the west is a mountain – Mount Pangaeus – which is flanked on either side by beautiful rivers. The place where you live is a place not unlike many scenic paintings of nature others have seen. There is every element of beauty near your home. The city itself has plenty of activities for both you and your family. There is a large theatre where people often gather for various events. Among the many buildings in the heart of the city, there are two prominent temples for worship. Finally, right in the middle of it all, lies the government center, which contains all of the various means of public speaking that takes place in your hometown. Finally, about a mile west of town, there stands a great arch, marking the boundaries of the city. If you wish to pray, often you must go beyond that arch and find a quiet place along one of the many riverbanks there. To the north of town, there are gold mines which are well known in the city. They are located in the mountains, and you know several people that work there.
One day, you hear that Paul the Apostle has made his way to your hometown. You have heard about this Paul, and are eager to hear what he has to say. When he arrived, he went outside the gate of the city, near a riverbank, to pray. At this river, they baptize a local woman you know – Lydia – and they are invited to her house. As they are on their way, you notice a sudden commotion, and when you ask those around you, they tell you of a scuffle between this Paul and a local slave girl. This girl was well-known in town, as she could often predict the fortunes of those who came to her, bringing much wealth to her masters. Well, knowing of Paul, you got rather excited about what was to happen in this scuffle. You made sure to get a clear view. Suddenly, Paul turns to the slave girl and says in a loud voice, “In the name of Jesus Christ, come out!” You knew this would not make the master’s happy and, sure enough, they grabbed Paul and a fellow with him (you later learned that his name was Silas) and drug them to the government center there in the heart of town. You made sure to follow close on their heels. You listened to everything there, and hear the verdict – Paul and Silas were to be scourged! It was a terrible sight to watch these men get beaten so, and, on top of that, they were then put in prison. You were sure that you wouldn’t see them for quite some time. You went to sleep that night thinking of these two men. What would become of them? Suddenly, you were woken up, it was about midnight, and there seemed to be an earthquake. You hurried and got dressed, grabbed a torch, and ran outside to see what was going on. You saw nothing that night, but in the morning learned that the prison had been damaged. You made your way back to the government center, and heard the officials publicly apologize to them and ask them to leave your city. What must have happened? You made your way to the jailer there, with whom you are an acquaintance, and he tells you that he has been saved! Paul and Silas shared the gospel with him, and now he and his family are Gentile believers. With him, Lydia, the slave girl, and others, you begin a church there. It is small, but you believe in your mission and hope to see your friend Paul again.
Now, open your eyes. Can you picture the scene? Can you feel the emotions of those receiving a letter from their beloved Paul? Paul would return later, on his third missionary journey, and see the believers in Philippi again. He would see them at least twice more and these have been recorded for us in Acts 20 and 1 Timothy 1. Paul had a great relationship with these believers in Philippi, and this is obvious from his emotional letter written to them – this epistle of Philippians.
Now, let’s look together briefly at the context of the letter leading up to verse twelve – our starting point for today. The letter is addressed to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi”. Paul knew these folks very well, and they knew him, too. This letter was written to all those who were a part of that small fellowship planted there by Paul which likely included the Philippian jailer, Lydia, Luke, and others. Go to verse three with me and take a look at the language here. You can almost feel the emotion – even thousands of years later. Imagine reading this letter for the first time and having a personal relationship with Paul. You can imagine the emotional overflow. I “thank” my God, in “every” prayer, with “joy”. It would be the emotional equivalent of love letters between young lovers. In high school, my then girlfriend, and now wife, used to write me letters that were folded up. On the front it would say, “For Your Eyes Only”. Oh, the excitement of anticipating what was contained in that letter! Such it must have been with these Philippian Christians.
Go now to verse seven with me. “I hold you in my heart”, says Paul. “It is right for me to feel this way about you”; the emotion is unmistakable. Check this out in verses eight and nine, “I yearn for you with all the affection of Jesus Christ. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more”. Folks, if you can’t feel the emotion here, check your pulse! Paul is laying it on thick! He misses these people, and is so grateful for their gift to him, and you can literally feel it when you read this. This is the same degree of emotion that deployed husbands and wives write to their spouses overseas during a yearlong deployment.
Why have we spent so much time delving into the emotional side of this letter? Well, for one, if we are to actually understand the letter, we must put ourselves in the place of the readers. It is easy for us to be far removed from this thing – now a couple of thousand years after its completion. Second, and most importantly, tapping into the emotion of the letter helps prepare our hearts for the content of what Paul was saying. We are now far better off to receive the inspired words of the apostle than we would have been had we delved straight into them.
The title of my message this morning is “Unity In Spite Of Differences”. Look at you neighbor. Are they different? I hope so! It is a fact of life – we are all uniquely created and programmed and, consequently, there is no one else exactly like us. This is good, but it can, and often does, create uncomfortable friction within the body of Christ. How in the world can we remain unified when we are going against such a strong current? Well, God, in all His wisdom, knew that we would be asking this question of Him! So, let’s see what Paul has to say to us through the inspiration of the Spirit.
In verse twelve, Paul says to the believers there in Philippi that “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel”. What had happened to Paul? Well, as Paul was writing this letter, he was imprisoned in Rome! The believers in Philippi knew this and had sent Paul a gift – the very occasion for him writing this letter. This brings us to our first point this morning, “Your testimony is uniquely powerful”! Paul is saying to these folks in Philippi that his imprisonment has served to advance the gospel. This is uniquely Paul’s testimony and it has served to advance the gospel. How in the world is this possible? Check out what Paul says in verses thirteen and fourteen. “It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
What is the testimony that God has given you? Do you come from a troubled background? Take heart! The Lord can use…and He wants to! Do you carry along insecurities with you, perhaps memories that you can’t seem to get away from? The Lord can use you! Ladies and gentlemen, Paul was sitting in a prison cell, the Roman government intent on cutting him off from contact with their citizens. But, alas, submission to the Lord regardless of circumstances results in a powerful witness. Do you know what happens when you yield these things to the Lord, as Romans 12:1-2 instructs us to do? Just take a look at verse fourteen: it causes others to be “much more bold” and “to speak the word without fear”. What a powerful testimony YOUR testimony can have for the sake of Jesus Christ! Why are we holding back? Share what the Lord has done for you, share where it is that He has brought you from, share what it is He has taught you and YOU will have a powerful testimony for Jesus Christ. If you have heard nothing up until this point, please hear this now, for Christ’s sake: your testimony can be uniquely powerful, let the Lord use it for His glory. Whether you be wealthy or poor, whole or sick, free or imprisoned, safe or in danger, for Christ’s sake, let your testimony of the Lord follow you wherever you go and be uniquely powerful.
Now, in my opinion, this is the easier of the two parts of Paul’s address here in these verses. Why is this the case? Well, it is simply because your testimony is all yours! You do not have to “share nicely with others” when it comes to your testimony of the Lord. However, by virtue of being in the world, you will have troubles – often with other people, and often with other believers! If you don’t believe me, believe Jesus! He said so Himself in John 16:33. Paul, in verses fifteen through seventeen, is in agreement with the Lord in this point. This brings us to our second point, “Your temperament can be uniquely positive”. Now, let me clarify this point by saying that this is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul himself says this in Romans chapter seven. There is an old proverb which states, “When you are bumped, what you are full of spills out”. This is what Paul addresses here in these verses. He is addressing various motives people have in using the name of Jesus Christ. In verse fifteen, he says that “some preach from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill”. Now, I don’t know about you, but my natural reaction – my temperament – when I hear someone preach Christ out of envy or rivalry, is not one of a particularly Christian nature! If we read on through verse seventeen, we even read that, in Paul’s case, the motives of these people were to “afflict me in my imprisonment”. Does this not make your skin crawl when you hear of people like this? You know, these types of people without Jesus irk me enough, but those who act this way and claim to be Christians really can make you upset! Put yourself in Paul’s shoes. Here he is, imprisoned for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and there are those who afflict him even more, using this very gospel! When my wife and I started dating, there were people in her church that all of the sudden made “prayer groups” to pray for us, that we would break up. These “prayer groups” simply consisted of a few women gossiping about us. These things can really cause our own attitude to sour and our eyes to be taken off of Jesus. When situations like this arise and our temperament is uniquely positive, in the Lord, our witness increases. Paul says that when the name of Christ goes forth, He receives glory from it! This is hard for us to fully comprehend, however its truth endures. How is this possible? How can our temperament be “uniquely positive” in circumstances like these? Is it because we focus on the positive and ignore the negative? Of course not! It is by understanding who the Lord is. God does not need positive things to be said about Himself in order for Him to achieve positive outcomes in people’s lives. No, our God accomplishes all He does in our lives despite what we say or do. In verse eighteen, Paul hits on how and why this is possible.
In this verse, Paul says, “What does it matter?” What does it matter that these people are seemingly abusing the precious name of our Lord? “The important thing is”, Paul says, that “Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice”. What a wonderful attitude to have! How in the world is this type of unity achieved? Now we come to the title of this message and describe how this is possible. How can Christians remain unified in spite of differences? The answer is found here in verse eighteen – “Your trust can be uniquely peaceful”. When you know who Jesus Christ is, you know that your trust in Him can bring about peace in every type of circumstance. Let’s go back to the first point of this message, that your testimony can be uniquely powerful. Go back to Romans 12:1-2. As Christians, we are called to submit everything that we are to Christ Jesus – our mind, body, and soul. In doing so, we can seize every moment for Him. We are called, in Matthew 28:19-20, to “go and make disciples”. This is discipleship in motion: no matter where you are, no matter where you are going, make disciples. This is exactly what Paul is doing as he is in prison writing this letter. It doesn’t matter where he goes, it doesn’t matter who is around him, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, Paul is going to have a powerful testimony and a positive temperament because he has a peaceful trust in His Savior, Jesus Christ.
How many opportunities do we miss to impact those around us because we are insecure about our background, or because we are discouraged or made upset by others around us? As Christians we are called to be unified under the banner of Christ. This is only possible if we know who Christ is and we have a peaceful trust in Him. Ladies and gentlemen, take heart this morning. Jesus Christ has overcome the world. He makes this known in John 16:33. Take heart this morning, Jesus Christ can redeem you from your sins. This is made known to us in Colossians 1:14. Take heart this morning, Jesus Christ can break every chain that binds you. You can read about it yourself in 2 Corinthians 10:5. Take heart this morning, Jesus Christ can take your weakness and turn them into strengths for Him. I would encourage you to study it in 2 Corinthians 12.
This letter was written to Christians and so, as Christians, we should particularly pay attention to what is being said here. Let the Lord use you for His glory. Give your weaknesses to Him and let them be used as strengths for His Kingdom. Each of us has a testimony – our own story of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Let the Lord use that testimony, whatever it may be, to be uniquely powerful for Him. Each of us have and will find ourselves in uncomfortable circumstances where our natural reaction is to get angry; to be upset. However, let your temperament be the same as Jesus Christ. Give this area of your life to Him – your emotions and psychology – and let the Lord use it for His glory. If we can do this, the final step will be easy. We can trust the Lord and have a peace that passes all understanding. Let me encourage you this morning to give all these areas of your life to the Lord and see what He can do with you.
NG, LR, & NCU
My collection of personal papers written over the years