Today we pick back up in our spring series of Topical Tuesday posts, where you pick the topic / ask a question and I wax poetically. Because wax and poetry obviously go together.

Want to ask a question about anything – ministry, theology, life in general? Comment here.

Todd asks: How/when was the decision reached to not have some kind of Sunday School program? Obviously, the emphasis is on small groups, so most of that setting could likely replace a more traditional SS setup. I was curious, since I’ve never heard anyone address it.

Stand by, Todd. You just gave me a chance to use a phrase I’ve always wanted to use. Phrase coming in 3…2…

Back at the turn of the century, the Summit (then known as Homestead Heights Baptist) was a church built largely on a Sunday School model. We were in a traditional church building; we had lots of adult groups that met in lots of classrooms and ate lots of donuts.

When I came on board in 2003, the church had transitioned to a hybrid model: on-campus Sunday School and off-campus small groups. One of my first roles was to complete the transition to 100% small groups, and I was just young enough and just stupid enough to say, “Sure, that sounds easy.”

And by and large, it was easy, compared to finding a cure for the common cold or explaining the popularity of Nickelback. We transitioned primarily because of space issues: the church was growing so rapidly that there wasn’t enough room for all of our adults to meet on site on Sunday morning.

But the transition from on-site to off-site led to a host of intangibles, some we expected and some we didn’t:

  • The church became the church. When everything happens in a centralized building, it’s easy to consider that the building is the church. You don’t have to be a Bible expert to understand that the church is the people. And when the church left the church building, the church became the church in the community. As Bible studies moved into homes and restaurants and onto school campuses, the Summit had officially left the building.
  • Ministry explosion. It’s no secret that ministry springs from our small groups. Once we got beyond the walls, those opportunities for ministry became more evident and more organic. Some of our strongest community ministry ties came from those early interactions with our brand new off-site groups.
  • Leadership development. As groups grew and the model changed, new leaders emerged. No longer did we have one master teacher that taught a class faithfully for years and years. Nope, the teacher was encouraged to raise up a new leader and to send that leader out to plant a new group.
  • Group multiplication. When I came on board, there were somewhere around 20 groups. Today, we have nearly 200. That sort of growth isn’t possible when everything is tied to a couple of hours in one building on a Sunday morning.

Over the years, some people have asked if we’ll ever go back to a more traditional, on-site model. The answer is a resounding “no.” We’ve seen too many benefits to getting beyond the walls. And besides that, we’d never be able to build a building large enough to house all of those classrooms…especially given our current donut consumption.

Let me be clear: I’m not mad at churches who still follow a traditional Sunday School model. I don’t think they’re inferior in any way. Context matters. What works for us in our situation may not be the best for a church in another city or another culture. If you’re a pastor, this is a potential land mine. Work through it prayerfully and carefully, but when it’s all done, don’t be guilty of doing what is comfortable. Do what reaches more people for the gospel.

For much more on this, check out my friend and fellow pastor Spence Shelton’s blog. He’s our resident small groups guru and an all around small group authority.

I’m craving donuts.