How to Increase the Health of Your Sunday School

By Steve Gladen
Old Sunday School

Photo by Marion Doss.

Once your church has decided how to define a healthy follower of Christ (for Saddleback it is someone balancing the Great Commission and Great Commandment in their heart—fellowship, discipleship, service, evangelism and worship), then there are some practical steps you can take to help your Sunday school class maximize health. Here are some suggestions:

1. Strategically set up your room. Use round tables with participants facing one another instead of the traditional classroom setting with everyone facing the teacher.  Using round tables accomplishes two things. First, it will facilitate stronger discussion through since people will be face to face. Second, it will help you indentify a table leader if you don’t already have table leaders identified. If your church can’t afford round tables, just set your chairs up in circles or horseshoes (open end of the horseshoe to the front of the classroom).

2. Understand ratios. If your class size is over ten people, then you will need to start thinking about who can help you build health into class members. If one of your goals is to know the spiritual health of each person in your class, and then encourage them to take their spiritual next step; realistically you can’t know and follow up on each person. Raise table leaders or people who have a passion for discipleship to help you encourage everyone to grow.

3. Build consistency at the table. Once you set your room in tables, circles of chairs, or horseshoes, you will start to see people sitting with the same folks. Encourage that so they can get to know one another. When a group of new people come into the class, start a new table. People will not dive beneath the surface level conversation and feel safe enough to share what’s really going on in their lives unless they build authentic relationships with one another. This will only happen over time.

4. Set the table for evangelism and it will build attendance accountability. First, if your tables or circles seat eight, don’t fill the table full of eight people. Fill it with five or six and ask class members who they could invite to fill the table. Also, once you are seated in smaller circles, attendance accountability is a natural by-product. Why? When a group of six is sitting together it is pretty hard to not notice when someone is missing! This will build an organic accountability through your classroom.

5. Know your sheep; help your sheep know themselves. Plan a time for everyone to take the Spiritual Health Assessment and build a Personal Health Plan.  When your class members take the Spiritual Health Assessment, they will see which biblical purpose (Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, Evangelism and Worship) is their strength and which area they need to grow in. Then, table members can help each other to build an individual planner to help class members grow in their spiritual formation.

Steve Gladen

Steve Gladen is Pastor of Small Groups at Saddleback Church, which sees over 30,000 people gathering weekly in 5,000 small groups. He's the founder of SmallGroups.net and travels widely to speak on the topic of small groups and healthy, biblical community. He is the author of several books including Small Groups With Purpose and Leading Small Groups With Purpose.