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March 27, 2006

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How to Start
New Adult Sunday School Classes

Table of Contents


Blue BarHow to Start a New Adult Sunday School Class

Can you recall the song about the wise man building his house on the rock and the foolish man building his house on the sand? The lesson in that song, building on the right foundation, is a lesson that applies to almost every area of life. No building of value and worth is built without spending a great deal of energy and effort on the foundation. Building the foundation is not the easiest work. A weak foundation results in instability. A solid foundation gives strength to the building. In fact, most foundations are rarely ever seen.

The same is true with starting new Adult Sunday School classes. Starting new classes is not always easy. Hard work often is necessary when starting new classes, but the rewards are an increased leadership base, increased ministry effectiveness, and greater opportunities to teach God's Word to meet the needs of the members and prospects in your class.

This leaflet provides some foundational building blocks on which new adult classes can be started. You can use these suggestions to start new classes with E's, or you can overlook these building blocks and run the risk of a storm "washing away" your best-intentioned efforts. Our prayer should be, Lord, let us be like the wise man.

EXPLORE: to look into; to investigate

The first foundational block in starting new adult classes-in fact, perhaps the most important block in building the foundation-is that of exploring the need. Ask yourself and other key Sunday School leaders the following questions:

bulletHow many of our adult classes have reached or exceeded recommended enrollment ceilings? (approximately 25)
bulletHow many of our adult classes have outgrown their current room/space?
bulletAre there special groups of adults who are not being reached through the existing Adult Sunday School structure, such as homebound or single adults or adults who are living away from home temporarily?
bulletHave some of our Adult Sunday School classes lost interest in supporting weekly visitation and outreach-evangelism efforts?
bulletHave some of our Adult Sunday School classes become so large that teachers are not able to meet individual members' needs in Bible study? Have we become so large numerically that one teacher cannot minister effectively to the needs of all class members and prospects

Several sound principles of growth have been developed for Adult Sunday School growth, based on tried-and-proven growth techniques. Understanding and applying these growth principles will help lay a good growth foundation.

Adult Sunday School Growth Principles

  1. The best size class for teaching adults is 10 to 12 members and prospects present.
  2. An enrollment of 20 to 25 will usually provide 10 to 12 members present.
  3. A class needs to be smaller than the maximum size of 25 in order to grow.
  4. New classes grow faster than established classes.
  5. Classes that have existed for more than two years may have reached their maximum size.
  6. New classes tend to visit more, reach more people, and witness to more people than established classes.

Spend time exploring and investigating your current Adult Sunday School organization and compare your results with these growth principles. One way to do that is to prepare an Adult Profile Chart of your department or division. In chapter 3 of BREAKTHROUGH: Adult Sunday School Work, Larry Shotwell gives a detailed explanation of how to complete a Profile Chart. Suggestions for starting classes and departments for single adults can be found in chapter 3 of BREAKTHROUGH: Single Adult Sunday School Work, compiled by Ruth Ann Hill.

Now you are ready to think about the step-by-step process of starting new classes. The following steps are given to guide you through the process of starting a new adult class. Follow the E's of starting new classes.

EXAMINE: to inspect or scrutinize in detail

The second foundational block for laying the right foundation is to examine in detail your motives. If you are starting new Adult Sunday School classes for any reason other than to meet the needs of adults who need the Lord and need to grow in their relationship with Him, reconsider carefully why you are starting the class.

"Search me, 0 God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Psalm 139:23-24, RSV).

The desire to reach people for Christ, to seek to teach God's Word more effectively, to be more effective and efficient in ministry, to create an environment where people will be loved and accepted--these are right motives.

ENGAGE: to draw into; involve; participate

Another foundational block in starting new adult classes is to engage the support of the pastor and educational staff members. Key church leaders need to know why new classes are being started and what the process of starting these classes entails.

The pastor and staff cannot support fully the leaders who are seeking to create new classes if they are not aware of the plans. Communication between lay leaders and the pastor and staff is a very important step in starting new adult classes. Engaging people in conversation and communication certainly is not a one-time occurrence in the process of starting new classes. Engage in conversation continuously as you plan and prepare to start new Adult Sunday School classes.

EDUCATE: to provide with knowledge or training; to teach or instruct a person or group

A critical building block in the foundation of a new adult class is education. Adult leaders, members, staff leaders, and Sunday School Council members all need to know the benefits of starting a new adult class. They also should know about barriers that might impede their progress.

Every Adult Sunday School leader and member should know the six tasks of the Sunday School. They are:

bulletReach persons for Bible study
bulletTeach the Bible
bulletWitness to persons about Christ and lead persons into church membership
bulletMinster to persons in need
bulletLead members to worship
bulletInterpret and undergird the work of the church and the denomination

Add to these six tasks the six growth principles of Adult Sunday School work stated earlier and you have plenty of information to use to teach both leaders and members.

ENLARGE: to become larger; to grow

Another foundation block for starting new Adult Sunday School classes is to enlarge the meeting space needed for Sunday School. In a church with limited or no additional meeting space, starting new adult classes may seem impossible, Space limitations or inadequate buildings, however, should never restrict adults from seeking to accomplish the will of God in reaching more adults for Christ.

Adults need to be challenged to develop creative ways to find additional space if space limitations are restricting growth and evangelism. Some creative ways other churches have successfully overcome space problems are with the use of:

bulletMultiple Sunday Schools
bulletBible study groups meeting other than on Sunday morning
bulletAdult classes meeting away from the church building on Sunday morning
bulletAdult classes meeting in portable buildings
bulletAdult classes meeting in less than ideal space such as a choir loft, balcony, or on the worship center floor.

If our will is to reach more adults—and we know God wants us to reach more adults—then let us not be stopped in our efforts to reach more adults just because of space limitations!

ENLIST: to engage the assistance or cooperation of; to participate actively in some cause or enterprise

The next sound building block is the need to enlist and train leaders who will serve the Lord with enthusiasm and endurance. Properly enlisted and trained leaders will put the work of reaching and teaching adults close to the top of their list of commitments.

Leading people to determine the priority of their commitments is tough. Everyone wants to protect his or her time, energies, and resources. The church depends on volunteer leaders. Sunday School leaders are used by God to make significant contributions to His work. Such contributions are worth their time.

Properly enlisted Adult Sunday School leaders know what is expected of them. They are informed about training opportunities scheduled by the church, association, or state convention to enhance their teaching, reaching, and ministering skills. Leaders are given information about the use of Southern Baptist curriculum materials.

Properly enlisted Adult Sunday School leaders also serve as part of a team of leaders. A new Adult Sunday School class can be started with a minimum of four leaders. A teacher is needed, along with an outreach-evangelism leader and two care group leaders. Working together as a team increases the likelihood of a successful start.

ENCOURAGE: to inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; to help bring about

Another foundation block needed for successfully starting new adult classes is that of encouragement. Believe in the biblical mandate to reach adults for Jesus Christ and teach them the Bible. Believe in the fact that smaller Adult Sunday School classes often are more effective in teaching to meet members' needs and in ministering to the needs of Sunday School members and prospects alike. Believe in the need to remain positive. Do not let a few negatives destroy your mission or purpose. Press on! Be an encourager!

At the same time you are offering encouragement, ask other adults to join you in speaking positively about the new class being started. As a leader working to create this new unit, you may want to schedule a number of small group meetings to enlist the support of all leaders and members. During these meetings some feelings may surface that indicate not everyone is in favor of starting a new class. Ask these persons for their ideas about what to do to help the Sunday School fulfill the Great Commission.

EMBARK: to set out on a venture; commence

Eventually a time comes when you must push out into the deep, a time to leave the safety of shore. There must be a launch time-a time to begin, a time to embark and set out on the journey.

Most churches find that the easiest time to start a new Adult Sunday School class is at the beginning of the new Sunday School year. Annual promotion, reassignment of space, and/or reorganization of the Adult Sunday School classes provide natural times to begin new units. However, you can start a new Adult Sunday School class anytime a class is needed.

Starting off on the right foot includes having a good nucleus of members in the new class. Class leaders should be given a list of prospects and encouraged to visit and contact every potential member of the new class. Class leaders should invite potential members to be part of this new class. Class leaders then can deliver curriculum materials to all prospects for the class before the first meeting of the new class.

Getting a good start also includes helping class leaders understand their responsibilities. An Adult Class Leader Administration Kit can be used to equip leaders to carry out their responsibilities. The leaflet, Your Role as an Adult Class Member, can be used to help class members discover how they too can work through the class to accomplish the tasks of the Sunday School.

EVALUATE: to examine and judge; appraise; estimate; to determine the value and worth of

Without the foundation block of evaluation, your building's foundation is not complete. A few months after a new class has been started, key leaders should sit down for a period of evaluation. Discuss basic questions related to the starting of the new unit, such as:

bulletHow do leaders and members feel now about this new class?
bulletWhat was done that seemed to work well in forming this new adult class?
bulletWhat problems have been encountered that no one anticipated when class leaders were enlisted?
bulletWhat would leaders say to other persons in the church who might be asked to pray about starting another new Adult Sunday School class?
bulletDo leaders and members still see the value of and necessity for starting new adult classes?

Starting new adult classes with e's is not always easy. Starting new adult classes using these E's as a guide should help avoid some pitfalls that sometimes accompany even the best intentions.


bulletStarting new adult classes requires time.
bulletStarting new adult classes requires energy.
bulletStarting new adult classes requires commitment.
bulletStarting new adult classes requires flexibility.
bulletStarting new adult classes requires sensitivity.
bulletStarting new adult classes requires leadership.
bulletStarting new adult classes, when based on a solid foundation, will help create BREAKTHROUGH.

The effects of this experience will create an environment adults will enjoy with plenty of elbow room for everyone and an enthusiasm for the study of God's Word that will enlighten and inspire, creating an extraordinary opportunity to engage in evangelism while we give nothing less than our best efforts.

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Prepared by Ron Pratt, field service projects and planning coordinator,
Sunday School Division office, and Richard E. Dodge, design editor
Tom Seale, artist/designer
Adult Program Section
Larry Shotwell, senior manager
Sunday School, Youth-Adult Department
Max Caldwell, director
Sunday School Division
Harry M. Piland, director
Billie Pate, associate director
Office of Church Programs and Services
Gary S. Cook, Vice President
The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention
Lloyd Elder
, President
10/90     27-0419

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Thomas J. Cook, Webmaster
Updated: Monday, March 27, 2006
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