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Revitalize Your Sunday School, Step 7: Downsize for Discipleship

Posted: 10/29/19 at 5:40pm. Post by Tony Brooks.

Note to reader: This blog post is the seventh in a weekly series and contains excerpts from Ken Braddy’s book, Breathing Life into Sunday School.

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: (Luke 6:12-13 NIV)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose twelve?

We could take the biblical symbol as twelve representing the twelve tribes of Israel. We could say that it represents a complete number in biblical times. We know that Jesus had many other followers. He could have spent his three years speaking in colosseums and amphitheaters the entire time.

Jesus knew that the best way to change the world was in changing a small group of followers. He even had an inner circle of Peter, James, and John!

So why is it important to downsize besides Jesus’ way? Though Ken Braddy has many ideas in Chapter 7, I will focus on why downsized groups are better (from his book):

Downsized groups can meet anywhere. Any space can work at church for twelve or so people to meet. It is easy to meet in someone’s home or a coffee shop/restaurant.

Downsized groups increase conversational community. Having a smaller group helps the leader know each person, their learning styles, needs, and more to make discipleship more effective. In a larger group, it is hard to get everyone involved in the discussion. Though the teacher spends hours preparing the lesson and feels like “the expert,” real learning takes place when the teacher guides others to discuss biblical truths and wrestle with those truths.

Downsized groups help people connect. We all have only so much time and energy to build relationships and go deeper. Smaller groups make this possible.

Downsized groups are less intimidating to lead. As Ken asks on page 86, “Have you ever tried to recruit a teacher for a large “Pastor’s class?” They need a theological degree to feel comfortable! I have some churches facing this challenge right now. When that person steps down or moves away, you may have a hard time keeping the class together. Guiding a Bible study for a group of twelve is less intimidating.

Downsized groups keep people from falling through the cracks. When you have 40-50 people in the class, who will notice if someone is missing for several Sundays? Who will check on them? Teachers who have many other responsibilities with work and home life will have enough on their plate with twelve to care for. I believe if someone misses three Sundays in a row, there is a 50% chance they won’t come back. Smaller classes allow us to care for people.

Downsized groups are places where discipleship takes place. On page 87, Ken mentions a primary source, (Robby Gallaty, Growing Up, page 25) when he recounted a quote from Avery Willis: “Preaching to make disciples is like going to the nursery, and spraying the crying babies with milk and saying you just fed the kids…discipleship involves more than preaching and listening.” Ken would say the same thing about teaching in large Sunday school classes.

Downsizing your Sunday School classes is essential to breathing new life into Sunday School. If Jesus spent most of his time discipling twelve and the inner circle of three, what do you think we should do?

I must admit that I don’t like the word, “downsize.” Perhaps it is what is needed in this culture, but it has the connotation of the secular idea of people losing jobs. Many leaders in Sunday School will say a class is too large, and we need to “divide” the class. This term also leads to a negative connotation. I prefer saying we are called to “multiply!”         

Every teacher, as they pray at the beginning of class, should pray for God to call out 3-5 people to start a new class to reach new people…yes, I am that person that believes in the Great Commission as a mandate for all of us and for Sunday School.

When was the last time your church started a new class?     

Brooks-TonyTony Brooks is BGAV’s Sunday School/Discipleship Specialist and Field Strategist for the Southside Region. You may email him at tony.brooks@bgav.org. Follow Tony on Twitter: @TonyBrooks7