Does Sunday School Really Make a Difference?
By Rodney L. Pry
A friend recently called my attention to a survey by George Barna that showed very little difference in moral actions between youth and young adults who attend church and those who don’t. “Shouldn’t the people who attend church do a lot better?” my friend asked?
Yes, they certainly should! But, the fact is that much of what we are trying to teach in the Sunday school and church does not translate into real changes in the lives of our students. Children, youth and young adults are hearing our words and even memorizing scripture, but these messages are not really being applied in their lives; their day-to-day actions are not being changed.
In Second Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us, “When anyone is joined to Christ, he is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.” The evidence of truly effective teaching within the Sunday school is in the changed lives of the students we are teaching.
True, we cannot bring about these changes ourselves; that is up to the Holy Spirit. But, as Sunday school teachers, it is also important for us to use effective, relevant teaching methods that will show students the importance and need for change in their lives.
So why isn’t Sunday school as effective as it should be? A big part of the answer is in the way that we are teaching.
People do not learn in the same ways today as they did 20 or 30 years ago. Television, computers, video games, the Internet and many other things have all had an influence on how people learn, especially children and youth. TV programs like “Sesame Street,” with its short, entertaining bits of information, has had a big influence on kids. Computers and other electronic media have also had a great effect on learning.
The world has changed greatly in recent years and changes continue to take place at lightning speed. Still, most of us in the Sunday school are teaching with exactly the same methods that were used in the 50’s and 60’s.
This is not to say that it isn’t important for children to hear Bible stories and for kids to learn to sit quietly and pray. Yes, these and many other things that were taught and learned in past years are still very important, but our teaching methods must change. To truly be effective in our Christian education ministries, there are four very important things that we must keep in mind:
1. Define your objective. When you look at any Scripture passage or Sunday school lesson outline, the first question to ask is, “What is the objective of this lesson?” Before you start to prepare or teach any lesson, you must have a clear picture in your mind of exactly what you want your students to learn. For children and youth, this should probably be only one central objective. Everything that you do in class that day should center on that primary purpose. A lesson on the birth of Jesus is not just about Christmas. It is about the love of God, a love so great that God was willing to send his only Son into this world to live and die, so that we might have the hope of life eternal. That is real love! In planning to present such a lesson, you would want to make sure that each element of the lesson helps students see and discover for themselves God’s great, personal love for them. The first step in preparing any lesson should be to have a clearly defined objective and a plan for helping students really learn that one main point for the day’s lesson.
2. Center your lesson on the Bible. Every lesson should be centered on God’s Word. Even lessons on social issues should be based on what the Bible says about the topic. Use Scripture that is listed with your lesson outline. Read it using several different translations. Make sure students have a clear understanding of the meaning and importance of the entire passage. Memorization is not the important thing; understanding is the key. Read related Scripture passages. Teach with a Bible in your hand. Help students to see that the Bible is important and relevant to their lives; a book that can help them and provide guidance in so many ways. Help students to learn to use the Bible. Divide the class into small groups and allow them to search the Scriptures for additional passages that relate to the theme. (A concordance and a copy of Where To Find It In The Bible or similar reference book will be helpful too.) If our teaching is to be truly effective, we must help students see that the Bible is our “handbook for life.” Through it, God wants to provide us with help, guidance, and direction for each area of our life. But, to receive that help, we must read it, study it and learn how to effectively use it.
3. Make more use of “discovery learning.” The average person remembers about 10% of what they hear, about 20% of what they see, but up to 90% of what they do. That’s why it is so important to involve students as active participants in the lesson. “Discovery learning” involves such things as Bible exploration, interviews, reports, special projects, field trips, teaching and simulation games, role play and more. As students discover the answers and meaning of a lesson for themselves, they are much more likely to remember and truly understand the meaning of that lesson.
4. Help students better understand how to apply each lesson to their life. What good is a lesson if it doesn’t translate into changes in a person’s life? Only s the lessons, Scripture passages and moral teachings become a part of the student’s day-to-day life will our teaching really make a difference. Only as words are translated into actions is our teaching truly successful.
As each lesson is presented, students must see that you are not talking in abstract terms, but about a life-changing, personal message that can make a difference in their life. It is also important for students to see examples of the application for themselves. One of the best examples for them to see is you, their teacher. Tell them about how this lesson or scripture has made a difference in your own life. Invite other members of your congregation to share similar information with your students, too.
It is also important for students to be involved with what I call “action application.” Hearing how a lesson might be applied to life and actually doing it are two very different things. No one ever learned to play golf by just reading books, attending lectures or watching instructional videos. You have to pick up the clubs and hit the ball. In a similar way, if students are really going to learn how to apply God’s Word to their lives, they have to “pick up the clubs and hit the ball.” Students need to be encouraged to keep a journal of lesson applications and ways that they tried to put them into action. Role play and simulation games are also important ways to help students gain experience and confidence in a “flight simulator” situation.
God does not change. The Bible does not change. The Way of Salvation that is available through Jesus Christ does not change. But, the ways that people learn about God, His Word and His will for their lives has changed. It is important for every Sunday school teacher to take a close look at how they are teaching and make a real effort to make their lessons more interesting, more relevant and more life changing!