One of my MennoMedia responsibilities at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Phoenix in July was to lead several workshops—one was on adult Sunday school. It was called “Sunday school or Starbucks?” I had no idea how many people would show up but knew that my own experiences with adult Sunday school have not always been ideal. As I watched the room fill with people, I realized that I was not alone in this.
As you look ahead to fall church school season and focus on getting ready for children’s Sunday school experiences, it’s also wise to pay attention to the adult Sunday school program. Are your adult Sunday school spaces welcoming and accommodating? Are the classes invigorating and challenging? (Coffee/tea helps.)
I was pretty certain that the excellent panel members for our workshop at Phoenix would have good input. The three of them, Marlene Bogard, Barbara Ewey, and Shanna Peachey Boshart, did not disappoint. All are resource advocates for their conference or district. Resource advocates work or volunteer with the churches in their conference to let them know about the many helpful resources put out by the Mennonite Church USA agencies. Resource advocates also have their pulse on the types of resources and programing helpful to the churches in the conferences, and they pass that information along to the MC USA agencies. (In Canada, see Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre for resource help.)
In the seminar, Marlene challenged us to take a good look at our Sunday school spaces. Are they inviting? Are they spaces in which people want to spend time? Shanna mentioned that though gathering for Bible study and fellowship can happen at any time, people are already together Sunday mornings and therefore it is one of the best times to have Sunday school. Barbara shared several excellent study resources so that adults will want to gather and study (see partial list below).
Following the panel discussion, we divided into small groups to ponder two questions. Participants jotted down responses which I then collected, collated, and emailed to those who requested them.
Here are just a few ideas that came from the workshop participants that you can use in analyzing and improving your own program:
1. How do you support Sunday school leaders?
- Make the teacher’s guides available
- Have a half-day prayer retreat to re-energize leaders
- Offer prayers and send cards
- Good teachers need to mentor others
- Early Sunday morning meetings for the purpose of training, discussing topic, etc.
2. What are Sunday school ideas that work at your church?
- Teaching styles that invite conversation without judgment
- Find teachers with passion about the subject
- Coffee, doughnuts, and fellowship are important
- Fall quarter includes elective and intergenerational classes based on the passion of the leaders
- Sunday school class outings to build relationships outside of Sunday school
- Support groups for real-life issues that may not be traditional Bible or Sunday school topics (ex.: parents struggling with parenting, divorce, addictions, women’s group, etc.)
- Provide opportunities to share stories
Many people have observed a decline in Sunday school attendance in recent years, but the amount of people who showed up for this workshop tells me that there is value in having a Sunday school program, and that people recognize the distractions that pull us away from opportunities to engage in serious Christian education. There is always room for conversations regarding how to update it and make it relevant for daily lives. May the conversations challenge and inspire us.
What has worked well in your congregation or conference for adult classes? Comment, please!
Here are just a few of the many resources available through MennoMedia for adult classes (click on each one to find out more):
- Sacred Pauses
- Adult Bible Study and Estudios Biblicos para Adultos, (ABS in Spanish)
- With the Word series
- Creating a Scene in Corinth
- Real Life, Real Families
Also, find out who the resource advocate is for your conference and make connections with him or her. Contact your local conference office if you do not know who your resource advocate is, or check this list. Or join the Facebook page group with occasional links from Resource Advocates.
Mary Ann Weber
MennoMedia Managing editor