The Importance of a Half-Way Decent Lesson
by Josh Hunt
Note: this is an excerpt from my book You Can Double Your Class in Two Years or Less (Group 1997).
The number one variable in predicting the growth of a class is the teaching ability of the teacher. If someone is not doing a good job with the teaching. . .
No amount of outreach will be enough to grow a class, and
Disciples will not be made. We need quality teaching to make quality disciples.
On the other hand, with quality teaching, groups seem to grow almost automatically. Jesus attracted huge crowds. In part this was because he was such a masterful teacher. Good outreach can accelerate the growth even further, but we must have the base of good teaching in order to grow a group. Notice I say, "good teaching"; it does not have to be sensational.
I take great comfort from knowing that I do not have to hit home runs with every lesson. I do need to hit singles regularly. If people are not hearing something meaningful and applicable to them, you will not keep them, no matter how often you invite. It does not have to be the greatest lesson ever, but it does need to meet needs.
If you want a church to grow, somebody better be saying something helpful in the pulpit. Nothing can replace good preaching. Would you be attracted to a church that had a great program, spent a lot of money on advertising, had nice music, but the preaching was lousy? People will sometimes stay in a church like that if they have a strong network of friends. They stay reluctantly. The same is true with small groups. You can have all the parties and games and invitations you need to get a crowd there. Guaranteed. But if someone is not saying something helpful to the group, people will not come back. Good advertising will never cover for a bad product. The label is important, but sooner or later, it is what is in the bottle that counts. Even if people do stay, they will not become disciples. It is the truth that sets people free. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Consequently, the disciple making process depends on half-way decent teaching.
Thom Rainer's research bears this out: "One significant study done by and for mainline denominations found that in-depth teaching and preaching of orthodox Christian belief was the single best predictor of church participation. Strong Sunday school and scripturally-authoritative preaching engendered long-term health for the church."(1) (Italics mine.)We must have half-way decent teaching.
I have attended a number of church growth conferences. Speakers never talk about the importance of preaching and teaching loudly enough. Humility forbids them. Bill Hybels cannot stand up at his church growth conference and say, "If you would just preach as well as I do, growth would take care of itself." Yet when I hear Bill Hybels preach, I know his preaching skill is a huge factor in Willowcreek's growth. There is a reason they sell 300,000 tapes a year.
Some will object that I am not casting a high enough vision. Some have told me that we should ask for better than half-way decent teaching, that we want excellent teaching. They want me to say that only fantastic teaching will grow a class. There is no doubt that fantastic teaching can certainly help, and in some sense, it is the goal. I want you to teach as well as you possibly can. But I also want to lend confidence to you if you are not Bill Hybels or Chuck Swindoll. You do not have to be Chuck Swindoll to grow a class. I am trying, in this chapter to walk a delicate balance of emphasizing the importance of good teaching while, at the same time, lending confidence to the teacher of average skill.
I have seen teachers who are so good that they can grow a class without applying many of the principles in this book. But they are rare. Can I be honest with you? You are probably not that good. But you are probably good enough to grow a class. Good enough to double that class every two years or less. Good enough to be used greatly by God.
Consider fast food hamburgers. Do we eat fast food hamburgers because we think they are the greatest hamburgers in the world? Would we give them a 10 on a scale of one to 10? Would we even give them a soft 8? I don't think so. I have asked groups all over the nation to rate fast food hamburgers on a scale of one to ten. They usually get about a four or five. That is half-way decent. But half-way decent hamburgers are good enough to make them a phenomenon. The half-way decent hamburger is sold around the world with clean stores, good service and good advertising. And half-way decent lessons can be 'sold' with good fellowships and outreach. But, they have to be at least half-way decent.
I had a teacher one time who was teaching on the passage that refers to Judas as the "Son of perdition." The word means under condemnation. This is the way the teacher approached the text. "Predestination. Who really understands predestination. . .?" We have to do better than that! First of all, the word is perdition, not predestination. Second, you need to come up with something better than, "Who really understands. . ." I have observed a lot of Sunday school teachers over the years. Some of them are teaching on this level. We have to do better than this if we are going to reach America for God through groups that are doubling every two years or less.
If you can do better than half-way decent, great. Strive for excellence. But you need to hit at least a single just about every time you come to the plate.(2) Central to the process of creating disciples is creating good, solid, half-way decent lessons each and every week. Nothing less will do. I am working on a book that will explore the craft of teaching in more detail. In the next chapter, we will cover the highlights of good teaching in 10 essential qualities of half-way decent teaching.
1. Thom Rainer, Giant Awakenings, (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman and Holman, 1995), p. 177.
2. It is beyond the scope of this work to do an exhaustive treatment of great teaching. For that, I recommend Bruce Wilkinson's The Seven Laws of the Learner. It is available in both book and Video format, and it is quite a bit better than half-way decent. It is incredible.
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