Are Your Sunday School Classes or Small Groups Hindering Growth in Your Church?

522450155In years past, someone’s spiritual maturity has been measured largely by their church attendance. Many churches even select deacons based on how faithful they are to attend services, e.g. Sunday morning, Sunday School, Sunday night, or Wednesday night. Unfortunately, merely showing up doesn’t always equate to spiritual maturity. In the same manner, simply hearing or learning biblical information doesn’t produce spiritual growth. Spiritual maturity doesn’t just happen through introduction of new information or Biblical facts, but through repetition and reiteration. Many churches across the world have created a problem in their body. I call it the “Bloated Christian Syndrome.” Christians get fed so much information but are unable to digest any of it. I tell our people often, “You don’t need to attend another Bible study. You need to start investing in others the Bible you already know!” Imagine this: you come to church on a Sunday morning to hear a message about a topic, then you head to Sunday School to hear a different message about a different topic, and then you come back that evening (like a “good Christian”) for yet another message on a different topic. Then, three days later, you attend a Wednesday night prayer meeting with a devotional about a different text on a different topic! If you had time, you might have headed to a Tuesday morning bible study about something different, on top of your daily Bible reading, Scripture memory, and discipleship group books. I’m overwhelmed just talking about it. We have bought into the idea that growth happens through introduction of information. It’s more than that. True transformation doesn’t happen through transfer of information, alone. Chirping the Bible Jewish rabbis implemented a different strategy. They stressed rehearsing older lessons with just as much emphasis as learning new ones – sometimes even more. One rabbi put it this way: “One who repeats his lesson a hundred times is not like him who repeats it a hundred and one.” Pastor Shumel Safrai supports this pedagogical model for transformation: “Individual and group study of the Bible, repetition of passages, etc., were often done by chanting them aloud. There is the frequent expression ‘the chirping of children,’ which was heard by people passing by a synagogue as the children were reciting a verse. Adults too, in individual and in group study, often read aloud; for it was frequently advised not to learn in a whisper, but aloud. This was the only way to overcome the danger of forgetting.”[1] Without notebooks to record in, computers to type on, or iPads to read from, first century students relied on repetition and recitation for understanding. The Jewish Talmud, a commentary on the Old Testament Scriptures, cites the importance of reviewing: “He who studies the Torah and does not review is like one who plants and does not harvest.[2] One avenue for reiteration in the local church is to implement a sermon-based small group approach. Here’s why: The church pays someone who has been trained in a craft to construct a Spirit-led message; he spends 10 to 20 hours a week doing so. You come to the service to hear the message delivered by that preacher. Then, instead of diluting that message by introducing another topic or two in Bible study that week, you capitalize on it by applying the truths to your life alongside other believers. Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, suggests that Television has perpetuated a culture of watchers with a low “information action ratio.”[3] We have become great at learning great ideas (even from weekly messages) but are accustomed to do nothing with them. A sermon based or discipleship group reinforces what was taught by applying the information to one’s life. Dave Browning, in Deliberate Simplicity, supports this idea, “We are convinced that the gap holding back most believers is not the gap between what they know and what they don’t know. It’s the gap between what they know and what they’re living. Many Christians are…educated beyond their obedience (emphasis mine).”[4] Most Christians do not need to attend another Bible study to grow in their relationship with the Lord. They need to start living what they have already learned. Mark Twain said it best, “It’s not the things in the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the things in the Bible that I do understand that bother me” (emphasis mine).[5] Stop wondering about what you don’t know, and start obeying the things you do. Do Something About It You can begin this week to be a doer, rather than simply a hearer of the Word. To become that, you must interact with the Truths from God’s Word, rather than simply pile them one on top of the other. One of the best ways to begin doing that is to be involved in group that holds you accountable to obey what you read and heard. Lifeway works with churches to design sermon-based studies specifically for small groups, which can be found at (I make no money off of referrals to Lifeway. I simply believe strongly in what they do). Whatever your preference, I cannot encourage you enough to begin maturing in your faith by repeating and interacting over and over again with the messages that have been delivered to you from God’s Word. Let’s not be like the false teachers in Ephesus that Paul warned Timothy about. They were “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Can you do me a favor? If these ideas resonate with you, would you:   • REACT. Do something.   • RESPOND. Leave a comment on this post.   • REPOST. 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[1]Shmuel Safrai, Education and the Study of the Torah,” pages 945-970 in Volume Two of “The Jewish People of the First Century.” [2]David Haddad, Ma’aseh Avos (Jerusalem, Israel: Feldheim Publishing, 2007), 188. [3]Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discource in the Age of Show Business (New York, NY: Viking Penguin Inc., 1985), 68. [4]Dave Browning, Deliberate Simplicity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 515-18.  [5]Bray Carraway, “Another Article on Finding the Will of God” [Internet] 0,,PTID42281_CHID787734_CIID2162590,00.html. (Accessed 19 October 2012).