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Does Sunday School Work for Young Adults?

Here are just a few of the issues you need to meet head on if your church is going to truly be successful in meeting the spiritual needs of 20- and 30-somethings through the use of Sunday School.

Dale Bynum, the associate pastor for adults at Oakwood Baptist Church in New Braunfels, Texas, asked me a very good question at a conference that you may be asking yourself: "Does Sunday School work for young adults?"

In a word, yes, but there are plenty of issues to address if your church will meet the spiritual needs of 20- and 30-somethings through the use of Sunday School. Here are just a few.

Make your classes relational

An important reason young adults are coming to your church is to find friendships and build community. Sunday School certainly needs to be focused on Bible study, but it needs to be relationally grounded as well. If your teacher/facilitator focuses solely on imparting Bible knowledge at the expense of creating an atmosphere where people can get to know each other and share life together, you will have empty classrooms. You may need to structure your Bible study time to give you more than an hour to truly accomplish the goal of making your classes relational.

Move toward open groups

A guest has to be able to walk into a classroom and "belong" from day one. That means each week needs to be a stand-alone Bible study experience. If you're three weeks into a topical study and a guest feels completely lost when they try to engage in the discussion, then your class is not open. It's closed and the guest will not be back.

Facilitate classes through discussion

Today's young adults are the most educated, intelligent, and informed in history. They rarely come to a Sunday morning Bible study without some idea of what Christianity is about. Those ideas may be completely off base, but that's where your leaders come in. What these people need is an opportunity to ask people they can trust the hard questions they have about the Bible and about life. Let them ask hard questions. Let them talk. Let them engage you about the absolute truth of the Bible. A lecture format may be easier for the teacher, but it's much less effective for young adults. Don't do monologue.

Offer groups at times other than Sunday mornings

Unfortunately, many young adults are at the bottom of the employment food chain and are forced into working late Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. If you have Sunday School on Sunday morning, you also need to offer other Bible study opportunities during the week to allow young adults to engage with your church and the Bible. You can offer those at your church or in homes. Whatever you do, don't limit your ability to reach young adults in Bible study to one hour each week.

Teach with depth

My friend Jason Hayes frequently tells church leaders that young adults are not interested in Sunday morning experiences that mimic TV sitcoms. If you're a teacher who wants to wrap the toughest of Bible truths into a neatly wrapped package in 30 minutes or an hour, you won't reach young adults. If you're willing to skip tough passages of Scripture because you don't want to deal with tough questions, you won't reach young adults. The Bible isn't meant to be sugar-coated and isn't meant to be taught in a shallow, thoughtless manner. A characteristic of Sunday School can be depth, but it takes a teacher who is willing to take on the tough issues, teach through difficult passages, and live depth out in front of the people who attend.

Jim Johnston is executive pastor of The Bridge Fellowship, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He has served as manager of digital publishing development at LifeWay Christian Resources.