18 September, 2006

Sunday School Blues

Tim and I are teaching Sunday School for the first time this Sunday. Our class, which once held 10 couples, now has 3.

The size isn't a problem for me necessarily, as I'm a firm believer in the "where two or three are gathered" form of Bible Study.

I just wonder what has turned so many people off of Sunday School.

I understand being put off from the worship service for one reason or another--either the music or the preaching is not to one's liking.

But I'm still trying to figure out what it is that turns people off of the traditional Bible study in a Sunday school setting. And I'm looking for ideas about making adult Bible Study more vibrant and applicable to the participants.

This post probably looks like one of those dreaded "trolling for comments" things. It really isn't. I know I have a lot of you who read and have opinions on How We Do Church. I'd like very much to hear your opinions on How We Do Sunday School and How We Could Do Sunday School better.


At 1:20 PM, September 18, 2006, Blogger Sarcastro said...

Football season trumps church attendance.

How many of your co-attendees have PSLs?

In January, or earlier given the Titans dismal play, your attendance should rise back to normal levels.

At 1:35 PM, September 18, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

None of us have PSLs.

And the 3 total includes one couple of football fanatics.

At 2:21 PM, September 18, 2006, Blogger Sarcastro said...

Sounds like you don't have a attendance problem, you have a believer problem.

Try using video journalists and getting people off the street to send in home-made news stories for money.

That'll be $10,000, please.

At 2:36 PM, September 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe more people are thinking outside the box and aren't basing their lives on a cryptic ancient document that tells us that God allows slavery, including selling your own daughter as a sex slave (Exodus 21:1-11), child abuse (Judges 11:29-40 and Isaiah 13:16), and bashing babies against rocks (Hosea 13:16 & Psalms 137:9).

It always amazes me how many times this God orders the killing of innocent people even after the Ten Commandments said “Thou shall not kill”. For example, God kills 70,000 innocent people because David ordered a census of the people (1 Chronicles 21). God also orders the destruction of 60 cities so that the Israelites can live there. He orders the killing of all the men, women, and children of each city, and the looting of all of value (Deuteronomy 3). He orders another attack and the killing of “all the living creatures of the city: men and women, young, and old, as well as oxen sheep, and asses” (Joshua 6). In Judges 21, He orders the murder of all the people of Jabesh-gilead, except for the virgin girls who were taken to be forcibly raped and married. When they wanted more virgins, God told them to hide alongside the road and when they saw a girl they liked, kidnap her and forcibly rape her and make her your wife! Just about every other page in the Old Testament has God killing somebody! In 2 Kings 10:18-27, God orders the murder of all the worshipers of a different god in their very own church! In total God kills 371,186 people directly and orders another 1,862,265 people murdered. Nice, kind of like Iraq?

This type of criminal behavior should shock any moral person. Murder, rape, pillage, plunder, slavery, and child abuse can not be justified by saying that some god says it’s OK.

Did you review these verses on Sunday?

At 2:54 PM, September 18, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Well, I guess you can stand in judgment of God and His works just fine when you do so under the cloak of anonymity.

Actually, the verses we reviewed in class this Sunday were from Joshua, specifically Joshua 7. It was an interesting lesson in the stubborn will of man versus the divine guidance of God.

At 3:26 PM, September 18, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

A few suggestions.

I know you and I know you'll be this, but work hard to be inclusive. Even if y'all grow, make sure there are always open seats and no one gets too attached to his or her spot.

Another thing--relevancy. I think that is what may turn off some people. How is what you learn and talk about relevant?

At 3:41 PM, September 18, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Honestly, I think relevance is our largest problem right now.

Granted, I believe that if you look hard enough you can find a degree of relevence to your life in most passages. But I can't help thinking that the thirty minutes we have for Bible study in Sunday school is not enough for many people to glean (sp?) relevence from more arcane texts.

At 3:53 PM, September 18, 2006, Anonymous bekah said...

I've always gone to church, and I've always hated every second of Sunday School, even when I was a child and all I had to do was color Noah and his arc, and I don't know why. Maybe it's because everyone always is telling me how to interprut the readings or how I should feel about the passages. Or maybe it's because it's always the same thing over and over and over every year. There has to be freshness and newness. Most Sunday School classes claim to be fresh and new, and yet they're still the same things every other Sunday School does only with different words. It always ends up (to me) feeling like a big waste of time when I could still be at home fixing my hair.

Good luck to you, I wish I had some advice or suggestions.

At 4:57 PM, September 18, 2006, Anonymous Jesus said...

A Sunday school for your kids:


At 4:58 PM, September 18, 2006, Anonymous Geezus! said...

Bible Camp for kids...


At 5:49 PM, September 18, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

I'm sorry. Apparently my original post was unclear. I meant to emphasise that I was making requests of people who had an actual interest in church participation, and assumed that those of you for whom this did not apply would realise that.

I apologise if I was in any way unclear.

At 6:04 PM, September 18, 2006, Blogger John said...

I am having a very similar attendance problem with my own Sunday School class. I assumed it was a summer slump (we've had them in the past) and would pick back up after Labor Day. I will say we had good attendance when we were using "Blue Like Jazz" by Don Miller. We're now on "The Ragamuffin Gospel" by Brennan Manning, although I really don't think this is curriculum-related. I can't rule it out completely.

At 8:26 PM, September 18, 2006, Anonymous sista smiff said...

Which curriculum are you using? I think it's good to step out of the curriculum box and do book studies or different studies that aren't the normal curriculum thing. Interesting, relevant and applicable to day to day life, where you are, what you're doing.

You can always tell at church when the Titans are in town.

I just broke off from a large womens class to a new class and there's just a few of us at the moment. Hang in there...it'll grow and catch on.

At 8:52 PM, September 18, 2006, Anonymous bekah said...

I was thinking... our church's men's group is really popular and has been for years because they always do these movie/book lessons and sometimes get the author or someone invovled in the making of the video or the book to come at some point to the men's group meeting. So maybe doing a "themed" Sunday School, like a six-week course on such-and-such that you can advertise by itself, so that someone can commit to those six weeks and not necessarily the entire school year?

At 9:12 PM, September 18, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...


To answer your question we are using the Lifeway curriculum--Family Bible? It's the one with the dates that correspond to the week.

I've been very interested in pursuing alternative curriculae, but there are various reasons why that is not possible at this time.

At 9:37 PM, September 18, 2006, Anonymous JJ said...

Have you asked the other couples if they have any ideas? Maybe they will have some input for you. If all else fails, serve some happening refreshments. That was all it took the last time I taught Sunday School. Of course I was teaching second graders. Talk about a tough crowd.

At 11:42 PM, September 18, 2006, Anonymous danthebaptist said...

I have always thought and is ture in the church that I pastor that Sunday School is always less attended than worship. I for think the reason is people kust do not like to sit in SS because it could expose them if there not familiar with the Scriptures. I think a lot of people are scared they will be called on to read or answer a qiuestion and they may feel embarrassed to do either. I hope this is not the case in your church or mine for that matter but that has always been what I believed about SS attendance.

At 7:30 AM, September 19, 2006, Anonymous sista said...

The Life and Work curriculum is good. It's lifeway's. Not quite as...I don't know...Lifewayish as the other.

At 8:14 AM, September 19, 2006, Blogger jag said...

I'm sure this is cliched, but what about touching on the more well known stories instead of the more obscure? I always like learning new things about Bible, but I also love the opportunity to get more in depth about the birth of Jesus (even if it's not December), and Herod's reign of terror, or the story of creation and Eden. As kids, we had the picture books and lessons about Noah and Zacchaeus, but as adults we rarely hear these tales addressed.

I haven't been in Sunday School in a long time, but if there was an element of fun and nostalgia involved, and we could have discussions about God instead of being preached to, I'd certainly look forward to going back.

At 8:30 AM, September 19, 2006, Blogger bridgett said...

What do you ask people to do? I don't mean "forms of participation in the class," but what sort of obligations do they have to carry out towards the class during the week? Are you covenanted through prayer -- with a sense of connection throughout the week? Are you involved in service work or social justice work collectively? Do you take turns gifting the circle with a meal (each week one family gets a salad from x, bread from y, entree from z so that they can concentrate on the pleasure of being a family), so that you establish an ethic of mutuality and an incentive for regular participation?

Sometimes the "problem with class" isn't what's happening in class but what's not happening outside of it. If people don't invest in each other's spiritual growth, then they can just lapse during football or when they don't feel like putting on their shoes again to go out or for any other piddly reason. If they understand themselves to be part of a greater spiritual whole that would be diminished by their absence, then they tend to remain more involved.

At 10:43 AM, September 19, 2006, Anonymous sbk said...

I think it depends on what the attendees to your particular class want. I always categorize SS classes in one of two types: emotional or scholarly. Personally I much prefer the scholarly types (although there is nothing wrong at all with the emoting ones or the folks who prefer them!) But there is nothing worse than having to sit through one type when you really wish it was the other.

I like my current SS class. I think the reason is that the teacher does good research and I learn things about the historical context of the passages as well as reaction of biblical historians to those passages. He often gives us new angles to view well known verses.

The other thing that happens in my class is the teacher allows the general conversation that starts up as people show up to class to linger well into "class time." I think in general we spend a lot of time "going to church" but not enough time in "fellowship" while we're there, so it's a nice time to build on some relationships. By having this casual fellowship we're more comfortable with each other and are more likely to speak up in class. Once you can get a handful of people in discussion I think that really livens things up.

At 11:16 AM, September 19, 2006, Anonymous jag said...

sbk reminded me of this...I learned more about the Bible in my Art History courses than I ever did in Sunday School. Since, for centuries, the majority of artworks were religiously inspired, it makes the stories come alive. I have lots and lots of art books if you're ever interested. It could be a fun teaching tool.

That's it, I'm done.

At 11:43 AM, September 19, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Ironically we tend to be a very scholarly group, and I have been under the impression that may be what is turning some people off.

All of the current holdouts in the class are either seminary graduates or (like me) spent a LOT of time in Bible classes in parochial school.

I like the idea of bringing in classical art (! big plus...I love the visceral imagry that varios artists give to the various stories.

Bridgett, you raise many good points. Part of the issue as I see it is that our church structure is such that we have a bifurcated Sunday School time. We meet as a large group in what everyone else calls "morning assembly" (but I call "homeroom") and then we break off into individual classes. I think that structure leads some people to think that group-dynamic building belongs to the Homeroom people and others to think it belongs to the individual-class people.

At 1:59 PM, September 19, 2006, Blogger Heather said...

I come from a weird POV. I grew up Catholic and now attend a nondom. We joined a small group (our version of SS). I also joined a Women's Bible Study. I plan on dropping one when I figure out which one I either feel more comfortable or find more challenging.

I have learned more in the past three months than I have in all my years of attending CCD. I don't know if it is because I have chosen to go or if it's because it feels more relevant.

The small group study is supposed to be on Revelation, but we're currently involved in a church wide effort our Pastor put together. Thankfully it's powerful, unfortunately it's football themed.

The women's group is doing a Beth Moore study. I'd never heard of her until recently and I'm enjoying it.

At 10:27 PM, September 19, 2006, Anonymous sbk said...

"Ironically we tend to be a very scholarly group, and I have been under the impression that may be what is turning some people off. "

Kat if you are one of the only scholarly choices available then I think it's important to remain so. You might be back to where "two or more are gathered."

If you go the Art History route look into tapes and books by sister Wendy Beckett. She's a nun who does wonderful commentary on art. She taps into biblical knowledge (as well as some surprising secular understanding) and gives a great twist to things.

At 11:54 PM, September 19, 2006, Blogger Ned Williams said...

Kat, our church doesn't have sunday school; we use "Community Groups" which meet outside of Sunday mornings at church for the purpose of helping folks "connect" to other Believers and experience Christian community, in spite of the fact that our church is rather large. I've come to the conclusion that Christians (and people, generally) are overloaded with "content" but are lacking in application, and that we can hardly experience the abundant life promised to us if we don't experience true "fellowship" and "community" with others. Thus, I think it is important to emphasize covering any Biblical mat'ls with a view toward life-change and application and beyond-Sunday-morning relationships. Some people won't be interested in that, but unless and until someone does want that, they probably aren't all that teachable anyway, I think.

At 7:32 PM, September 24, 2006, Anonymous Page said...

Hi Kat,
We just started a new Sunday School Class at my small church. This class started off with about 14 people and we added 4 more today. We do have a curriculum, but the leader is willing to be flexible. During discussion, if a member makes a point and we end up in discussion for the rest of the class, so be it - It's very invigorating and thought provoking when people start sharing their ideas. So maybe, be willing to not get to everything on your agenda and let the class lead itself to a degree. I'm no expert, but I think everyone is really looking forward to next Sunday - and I'll be we pick up more folks! By the way, we're a small church in a small town! Hope this helps a little. Good luck! And Kudos to you for your response to "Anonymous"!

At 10:42 AM, September 25, 2006, Anonymous mikki925 said...

I think that as our society becomes less and less faith-focused, Sunday school is one of the first things to go because it's easy to drop. You can give up on SS and still call yourself a Christian because you're still going to church. Sunday school has become optional.

I personally don't enjoy my Sunday school classes very much, yet we go Sunday morning and to "discipleship training" Sunday evening before the evening service (yes, we're Baptist). The classes are dry and boring and although I love the people in our classes, we don't have a lot in common with them. I'd rather be sleeping in a bit later in the morning and having a leisurely dinner before church in the evening. So why do we go? Out of a sense of duty and obligation, of course; fellowship and discipleship are things God desires for us. But the most important reason is that, boring as the lessons are, I learn from them and I am growing in my faith and my relationship with God.

So my advice is, guilt them into coming. No, just kidding!

Actually, here's what would make it interesting for me: I love history. The Bible is an historical document. Whenever I see a show on Discovery Channel or read a book that ties passages of the Bible to history that we learned separately (Roman history, for example), it really brings the Bible to life for me. It makes things "click" for me, so to speak, and makes it more real.

Good luck to you, though, it's so important.

BTW, I LOVE your blog. I can really relate to your opinions and perspective on life. You're like a witter, better-educated, COOLER version of me. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.


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