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The #1 Problem with Sunday School

The number one problem in the average American Group is boredom. We are not failing to reach America because people are opposed to our gospel or because they don’t believe our message. We are not failing to reach America because our people refuse to witness, are complacent, or are not committed enough.

We are failing to reach America because at the micro-church level, our groups are often boring.

The church exists on several levels. From one perspective, the church exists as a world-wide, invisible, capital-C, Church. From another perspective it exists on the local church level.

(One could argue from scripture that there might be a level between these two. Paul often used language like, “To the church in Ephesus,” meaning all the believers–who may have been meeting at various times and places–who worship God in Ephesus.)

My interest is the church at the micro-church level. By this I mean the cell level, the small group level, the Small Group level.

Most church health and church growth books concentrate on what we might call the “organ” level. That is, if the capital-C Church is the body of Christ, most books are concentrating on life at the local church level, which might be likened to an organ of the body–say the heart or lungs.

I have concentrated my ministry at the level one layer below this–the cell level. If the cells are not healthy, there is no way the organ can be healthy. If the organs are not healthy, the body cannot be healthy. Health begins at the cell level. If we try to have a healthy heart but the cells that make up the heart are not healthy, we will not be successful.

Most of what it means to be a church happens in, though, and around small groups. Most of the caring, sharing, teaching, encouraging, bearing, and admonishing happens in, through, and around small groups. Much of what it means to be a church happens at the cell level.

In order to have health at the cell level, we must have inspirational, heart-touching teaching. If the teaching at the cell level does not touch the heart, there will be no health.

At the cell level, people are often bored. Priscilla wrote me an email today, telling me about a class she was in where she saw five people sleeping. Gives new meaning to Hebrews 4:5, “They shall never enter my rest.”

Someone said, “If you were to take all the people who sleep in church and lay them end to end, they would all be a whole lot more comfortable.”

Boredom is the #1 problem in the American Group. Bruce Wilkinson says he hears it 80% of the time.

I conducted my own surveys in several conferences last summer. I asked Small Group Leaders about their experience of attending Group. “What percentage of small groups that you have attended were so boring that it will be very difficult for this class to double?” The answers varied widely, but the averages were all about the same. About a third. About a third of our classes are so boring that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for those classes to double.

There are a number of ways we can make Groups more interesting. I like to say it this way: “If I want you to pay attention to me, all I have to do is pay attention to you.” If I pay attention to you, I can tell whether you are paying attention to me. When I think of Priscilla’s teacher that had five students sleeping, I wonder, did he or she know he had five students sleeping? Was Priscilla the only one who noticed?