Chainsaw Method For Improving Sabbath School
by Rob Steed Australia's Small Group Guru
Pews are on the nose when it comes to Sabbath School classes. Take a look at the two classes opposite, what do we see? In the first class we have a teacher standing behind a lectern attached to the pew. Now most pewed classes don't have portable lectern but the end result is the same - a lecture. The teacher has to stand. This places him in a lecturer position.
The other class teacher is seated with the rest. In fact, by looking at the photo we are not even sure who the teacher is. All we know is that all class members have equal position physically. This means they have equal opportunity to participate in the discussion.
By contrast a number of people in the first class are disadvantaged physically from participating. In fact it is unlikely that those at the back will hear comments made by those in the front pews. If you look closely at the blown up section you will see some looking away from the teacher. You get the feeling that most participants in this class are in a passive listening mode. Their body language suggests that this is purely a cognitive learning experience.
The second class, unlike the first is characterized by a high level of involvement and energy. The discussion would appear to be at a personal level. Class members, as shown by their body language, are intently interested in what is being shared.
The contrast between the two are clear. The first is about transferring information, the other is about taking the Word and applying it to class member's lives.
Why is it that so many churches continue with pew classes? Yes it is true that we have traditionally built churches not for Sabbath School classes but for sermons. Many churches say they don't have room for classes in circles. The reality is that with a little creative thought even pews can be modified to provide a square circle!
Following are the main reasons why classes should be conducted in a circle: 1. To avoid receiving two sermons in a day. Circles promote discussion. 2. So class members interact and build relationships with each other. Effective classes help grow the church into the loving caring community that is representative of God. 3. A circle allows the class to pay attention to the person who is sharing. This physical attention actually encourages people to share at a deeper level. The more honest we are the greater support and encouragement we will receive. 4. A circle allows the teacher (facilitator) to view each member's body language. Do they want to contribute? Do they understand what is being said? Are they comfortable with the group? The teacher is more able to facilitate the discussion. 5. Being face to face with all class members encourages a more dynamic discussion. Class members feel more able to initiate questions and make comments. The discussion flows around the class rather than back and forward from teacher to student. 6. The more that class members participate the greater the level of ownership. It is as we disclose our thoughts and feelings to others that we develop relationships. The more self disclosure of class members the stronger will be the relationships developed.
Well if there are so many good reasons for a circle why is it that we keep building churches with pews? I think tradition is the only answer. Those who design our churches are not really in tune with the ministry function of the building. What are we to do with the pews? In future we should provide single chair seating in our new churches Those churches who still have pews could take a chainsaw to them. I have seen it done where the pew has been cut in half and hinged. These pews are located at the front or rear of the sanctuary and are formed into a circle (Square) each Sabbath. Another option is to pick up the pews and move them into a square. You can also have a flat topped circle where you form a half circle around the front of the pew. Teachers need to sit on the pew looking at the circle to encourage people to sit in the circle and not fill up the pews behind. Another variation of this is located at the back of the church. You move, maybe permanently, the back pew in the church against the back wall and place single chairs in its place that are turned in front of it for class time.
Spacing chairs to allow enough personal space is important, particularly for visitors. Teachers need to educate the class to fill the seats that are less secure, i.e. The one next to the teacher and at the entrance of the circle. Visitors should be made welcome and seated in a comfortable position. Seating is not primarily an issue of aesthetics but functionality. What seating can we arrange to help facilitate the effective study and relationship building of this church? This is a basic question that Church leaders need to pay attention to. It is as fundamental as wether the toilet works or the power is switched on.