Helping Deacons Understand Sunday School Effectiveness

Sunday School is such an integral part of the local church, deacons sometimes take it for granted. When that happens, there is danger that Sunday School effectiveness might not be all it should be. But what constitutes an effective, healthy Sunday School program?


Most deacons think of Sunday School effectiveness in terms of growth: how many new members are enrolled and how many new classes are started. Growth is an important dimension of Sunday School effectiveness, but there is more than one kind of growth. Sunday School effectiveness must also be measured by the spiritual growth of members.

Sunday School effectiveness often is gauged by regularity of member attendance; but what about regularity of member prayer, Bible study, and family devotions?

Fellowship and rapport among class members is another way many deacons measure Sunday School success. But what about fellowship with nonbelievers? How often are Sunday School leaders and members held accountable for their commitment to evangelistic fellowship with friends, neighbors, and relatives?

A key Sunday School responsibility for many deacons is follow-up of church visitors and new members--for their needs for personal discipling or counseling. These aspects easily are overlooked.


Effective Sunday Schools produce spiritually healthy Christians who help build up the body of the local church. Classes can be big, active, and well-attended; but unless they boost the spiritual vitality of the church, they are not effective. The "bottom line" for deacons is: what spiritual fruit is produced in Sunday School? Are members more spiritually mature and alive as the result of attending Sunday School?

Deacons should be aware that Sunday School undergirds the local church in four foundational ways:

  • Sunday School is the social "glue" that holds the church together.
  • Sunday School is the primary arena for "grafting" new members into the church.
  • Sunday School is the channel for discipleship and evangelism.
  • Sunday School promotes the overall mission, priorities, and programs of the local church.

Deacons should view Sunday School as a living laboratory for Christian growth and service. Without an effective Sunday School ministry, the church would lose its dynamic launching pad for growth, both numerical and spiritual!


An unfortunate fact of life is that wherever something starts to grow, weeds begin to crop up. Weeds crop up in Sunday School classes, too, choking off spiritual growth and vitality. Deacons need to be aware of troublesome needs in the Sunday School patch:

  • Sunday School seen as an end in itself.--Even though it is easy to get caught up in the high energy and contagious enthusiasm of Sunday School programs, deacons always must keep the bigger picture of the local church in mind. When Sunday School classes become an end in themselves, unhealthy competition can take root. Ministry leaders begin jockeying with one another to recruit volunteers, fight for budget allocations, and protect their "turf" in the church.
  • Fellowship seen as the primary purpose of Sunday School.--There is a difference between fellowship being a part of Sunday School and being the purpose of Sunday School. Fellowship is merely a means to the end of the discipleship and accountability. Taken as an end in itself, it can degenerate into mere entertainment or the formation of cliques within the church.
  • Homogeneity becomes a barrier to growth and integration of new members.--The norm of age-graded classes has proved itself in practice, but this definitely can become too much of a good thing. Overly homogeneous classes have a tendency to become inbred because members become too comfortable with one another. The class develops a personality of its own that can act as a barrier to newcomers who feel they somehow won't fit in. Excessive homogeneity seems to say, "Don't break up that old gang of mine."
  • Teaching seen as dues-paying.--Deacons sometimes forget that teaching is a spiritual gift not bestowed on everyone in the local church. In truth, teaching cannot be effectively handled by everyone; neither should it be viewed as a routine chore to be rotated around the group. Inept teachers quickly can ruin the effervescence of a Sunday School class.


Politics in Sunday School? The question may sound cynical; but it is a fact of life in many Sunday School programs. Sunday School politics take place when people (unconsciously) make selfish demands on their classes. They want to be entertained, catered to, or put in the spotlight. Political Sunday School members are there to be served and to have their own needs met. This becomes apparent in subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle!) ways to teachers, directors, and staff, as members vote with their feet, their money, and their willingness or unwillingness to participate in class.

In our instant-gratification, consumer-oriented society, some people think of the church as just another organization to serve them--along with the fast-food outlet, cable television, and microwave oven! Politically motivated members give themselves away with such familiar refrains as:

"Can't we get a more interesting teacher? So and so sure is boring!"
"Must we study those books out of the Old Testament?"
"When's our next Sunday School party? Let's plan it out during class time today!"
"Why does the singles class always get to meet in the best room? When will our class get its turn?"

Admittedly, we all have our needs and we want Sunday School to be an enjoyable and stimulating hour. Sunday School, however, is not a consumer product to be consumed for self-gratification. It is a place for us to grow in spiritual fellowship and service--a place for us to also help meet the needs of others. Let's explore this sharing and caring aspect of Sunday School.



Healthy Sunday Schools are spiritually whole; they achieve a dynamic balance between several contrasting, but complementary, elements. Deacons can evaluate overall Sunday School effectiveness by how well these elements are balanced. Let's look at the most important of these in the Sunday School "equation":

  • Inreach plus outreach.  Effective Sunday Schools balance concern for class members with a concern for church visitors and prospective new members. Inreach efforts (such as fellowship get-togethers) are balanced with outreach efforts (such as visitation).
  • Fellowship plus discipline.  Effective Sunday Schools balance efforts to build social bonds among members with efforts to build spiritual bonds. People not only attend class together and socialize together; they also pray together, counsel with one another, and hold each other spiritually accountable.
  • Satisfying personal needs plus meeting the needs of others.  The members of effective Sunday School classes concentrate not only on satisfying their own personal needs (for fellowship, belonging, learning, etc.), but they also strive to meet the needs of others. They are willing to serve as well as be served.
  • Homogeneity plus diversity.  Effective Sunday School classes recognize the importance of members who have something in common, but they also recognize the importance of integrating a variety of new people into the class to keep cliques from forming. Really committed members are willing to occasionally be the nucleus of a brand new class that enables the church to continue growing numerically.
  • Seeing the trees plus the forest.  Effective Sunday Schools balance the need for active cell groups within the church with the need for congregational unity and togetherness. They never lose sight of the big picture and the importance of all the parts of the church working together smoothly and harmoniously.

There is no magic formula for effective Sunday Schools. No one structure, programming philosophy, or curriculum approach is best. It all comes down to the basics: fellowship, discipleship, inreach, outreach, unity, diversity, serving and being served. Balance is both the challenge and the blessing.

Deacons should rededicate themselves to Sunday School effectiveness. Surely God cannot call leaders in the local church to a more important or fulfilling task!