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In the book, "Rediscovering the Sunday School," Stan Toler and Talmadge Johnson give us an excellent definition of the mission of the Sunday school. It is to "reach people, teach people and to help people grow in God's grace."

The Sunday school still has a vital role to play in our churches. Four out of every five growing churches in the United States have a strong Sunday school program.

Growing up in the church as a preacher's kid, I must confess that Sunday school was the longest and most boring hour of the week. I absolutely despised it. My classrooms were always located in a damp, musty basement of the church. With no paint on the cinder block walls it seemed like a dungeon to me. I never saw a man teaching children or teens. I concluded that Sunday school was for sissies.

Usually I was the only boy in the class and sometimes the only child in the class. I do not recall any social activities or fun times. If any of this sounds remotely like your Sunday school, don't expect it to grow. It is a recipe for disaster.

By contrast, I loved VBS and youth camp. There were always many more kids and enjoyable activities. At these events the teachers and staff always seemed really interested in me. It was easy to respond positively to what I was being taught. One of the reasons the Sunday school is declining is because of a lack of commitment to put in the necessary time to make it effective.

The Sunday school is still one of the best ways to get people acquainted and assimilated into the church. It is one of the best places to teach the great doctrines and beliefs of the church. With all of the heresies being proclaimed, the Sunday school and small groups can be an effective tool to teach the truth of God's Word.

Since leaving the pastorate many years ago, I have been in a different church just about every week as an evangelist. This has given me the opportunity to sit in numerous Sunday school classes and to listen to scores of Sunday school teachers.

I have listened to many outstanding teachers. Some of them were highly educated and others had very little formal training. They were well prepared students of God's Word, sound in doctrine and gifted by the Holy Spirit to teach. It was a blessing to participate in their classes.

On the other hand, I have been very disturbed to hear some teaching doctrines we reject. It was either done in ignorance or they just didn't care. We need to be very careful in selecting Sunday school literature and books that will be reviewed. Some teachers that are sound doctrinally will pick up on the doctrinal errors. Others will blunder on and false doctrines will be taught.

In order to have a growing and effective Sunday school the following five things are essential.

1. The pastor must provide vision and encouragement. The pastor is always the key to an effective and successful Sunday school.

2. A well organized Sunday school superintendent is essential. He or she must be passionate about Sunday school.

3. Classrooms should be attractive, accessible, comfortable and designed for the age group. Cleanliness is essential.

4. Well prepared teachers that will take a genuine interest in those who attend. A willingness to send cards, e-mails, make phone calls and plan social events is very important. Four out of ten Americans admit to times of intense loneliness. Others are bored and long for fellowship and love. Most adults attend Sunday school and small groups for fellowship. It's a fact, don't ignore it.

5. People must feel welcome. So often we are friendly with each other but ignore the visitors.

Sunday school is still a great vehicle to reach people and to build their faith. Most Americans are biblically illiterate. We cannot afford to allow this great ministry to disintegrate because of neglect. Does your Sunday school need to be revived? If so, evaluate it by using these five principles. Let's start today, getting things turned around.