I believe the key reason for adult Bible classes in the local church is the organization to fulfill the purposes of the church. Dr. Lee Roberson used to say, “The Sunday school is the church organized to fulfill the purpose of the church.”
Whether you call it Sunday School, Adult Bible Fellowships, Connection Groups, or something else, it is vital that you have clearly defined purposes and processes for this vital area of church ministry.
At Lancaster Baptist Church, we now have over fifty adult Bible classes, and we work to make sure each class includes these essentials:
1. Teaching the Word of God
Believe it or not, the main purpose of an adult Bible class is not coffee and donuts! Our class leaders work diligently every week to prepare a quality Bible lesson that will apply God’s truth to the life stage-appropriate needs of the people in their group. (We generally use curriculum from Striving Together Publications.)
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:—2 Timothy 3:16
And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.—Acts 18:11
2. Following up on Guests
We not only organize our door-to-door outreach through our adult Bible classes (I describe our process for this in detail in Out of Commission), but we also follow up on church guests through our classes. Class leaders are assigned visits from Sunday based on the life stage of guests. In addition, they make a home visit to anyone new who came to their class the Sunday before, encouraging them to enroll, but especially to share the gospel.
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:—1 Corinthians 15:3–4
3. Giving Acceptance to Every Member
The larger the church grows, it’s harder for everyone to know everyone else, but the adult Bible class provides an atmosphere of acceptance. Although clear Bible teaching and personal mentoring and sometimes correction are important, I really believe that acceptance is the optimum environment for growth.
Even for the struggling church at Corinth, Paul confirmed his acceptance of them at the beginning of his epistle. That did not keep him from giving needed correction and instruction, but he first affirmed them in acceptance.
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;—1 Corinthians 1:3–4
4. Planning Activities
Fellowship is such an important part of the Christian life. Young Christians need replacement activities for what were previously times of temptation and sin, and all Christians need fellowship with their church family. From casual in-home fellowships after a Sunday night service to organized monthly activities, adult Bible classes provide an organic environment for Christian fellowship.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.—Acts 2:42
5. Providing Accountability
Christians need someone to miss them when they miss church. They need a spiritual leader to follow up when they’ve shared personal needs. They need someone to ask, “How’s your devotional life?” On whatever level needed, accountability can easily get lost in the church. Adult Bible class leaders can nurture this kind of accountability in relationships they have already developed.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.—Hebrews 10:25
6. Caring for Needs
When someone loses a family member or has surgery or faces a major life event, the class leader makes sure the pastor knows and also organizes support for that family. We actually break our larger classes down into care groups within the class to be able to be more responsive to needs.
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.—Galatians 6:2
7. Discipling New Christians and Mentoring Leaders
By organizing discipleship through the adult Bible classes, new Christians are able to develop a spiritual relationship with someone who will continue to see and encourage them even after they have completed the discipleship course. Similarly, class leaders are able to see those who are developing spiritually and mentor new leaders to be able to serve in the class or other ministries in the church.
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.—2 Timothy 2:2
If you lead or serve in an adult Bible class, I’d encourage you to review this list again and consider which one or two areas may need more attention and action in your class.