Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The destruction of Adventist Sabbath Schools

Adventist Today alerted me to a recent survey which covers numerous areas dealing with Adventists. There is a convergence of thought in my mind concerning the recent topic of theistic evolution vs. 6 day literal creation and some of the information in this survey dealing with Sabbath School.

Here are a couple of Sabbath School survey results:

Sabbath School Compared to Sunday School

Adventist churches are nearly twice as likely as other faiths in America to have a regular Sabbath School or Sunday School or similar religious education program for children and adults. More than 99% of Adventist local churches have Sabbath School each week, while only 53% of the local congregations of all religions have Sunday School or a similar program each week.

This is a major strength of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. Dr. Win Arn and other church growth researchers working across many denominations have shown that congregations that have regular religious education programs are more likely to have significant growth. The research shows that this is especially true for those congregations that have a regular adult religious education program.

Research also shows that the better the attendance at the religious education program, the more likely a congregation is to grow. This is one reason why it is important to have a strong, vibrant
Sabbath School, perhaps making changes to increase attendance if it has fallen off because the program is boring and not meeting the needs.

Small Groups

This week a church member considered moving her membership because her Sabbath School class didn't have enough interaction among class members.

"Because I have a stressful job and my family lives in other parts of the country, I look forward to relating to other believers at church," she stated. "But most classes are very impersonal with the entire focus on the lesson. I would really like to find a class that includes both in-depth Bible study and social activities."

According to data from the "Faith Communities Today" (FACT) study, in more than 75% of local Adventist churches, only a few members participate in small groups.

Only about one in fifteen churches have strong small group ministries with many or most adults participating. Nine Facets of Small Groups book.

Last week at the Sabbath School class I attend we were talking about how few people go to Sabbath school classes in our church, as we waited for more than the two of us to arrive. The largest class that week in the church had 9 people in attendance, yes I went out and counted them. This is a moderate sized church and I am pretty sure it is also representative of the majority of Adventist churches. Of course the numbers will vary with the size of the churches but I have noticed over the last 10 years that Sabbath School classes are very poorly attended. As the Center for Creative Ministries research shows the small groups and Sabbath Schools are important for the health of our churches. To be correlated to the small groups the Sabbath Schools must be the interactive variety rather then the sermon variety. The sermon variety is easily identified with the Sabbath School class that Doug Batchelor teaches.

But as we can see from the recent blog discussions here and elsewhere there are often people who don’t handle discussions very well. There seems to be a large segment in Adventism who are so certain, that they cannot even allow other ideas to be entertained. That is part of the problem when one assumes that their church is the remnant and that it holds the truth. The church then has the answers and no other ideas need apply. What do people like that do to a discussion group? Well they stifle it, they make it hurt for others to express their views if they are different from traditional church beliefs. If every one agrees with the traditional beliefs there is usually no discussion at all. No discussion leaves you with a Doug Batchelor style sermon class where half true amazing facts are inserted to add some interest to the topic. But the problem is that in a sermon class people don’t get to know other people. The problem with a class or small group that can’t allow other opinions is that people with other opinions do not feel accepted enough to care to go to the class. That can even be uncomfortable for people who may accept other ideas but don’t like to see any friction in a class.

It is very possible that we live in a time when people need to relearn how to talk to other people; how to discuss things without needing to become judgmental or overly protective of their traditions or orthodoxy. We will never connect with people until we can talk to them and if we don’t listen to other people we will not learn from them or about them. Thus there will really be no connection, no real church growth because as a church what do we really have to offer. If we can’t even accept the people in our churches who are we going to accept?

So tell your pastor to consider giving some sermons on how to accept people, how to listen to people and how to communicate what you believe and why you believe it without resorting to demanding that the other person leave their church. Sermons that address the need for small group community, because often sermons are the only thing people are coming to church for as they think that fulfills their worship requirements. So we have to depend on our pastors to communicate the need to form a community at an interpersonal level. Frankly I am constantly amazed at how irrelevant most sermons are today to the needs of modern people. Perhaps there is a class on irrelevance in seminary; I suppose if the sermon is so milquetoast it does not upset anyone that may be what some pastors are shooting for. But as it is now we are shooting ourselves constantly, driving out our own members and helping practically no one, within or without our churches. Many may want to stay doctrinally pure but that assumes that their doctrines were pure to begin with, that their doctrines were completely correct and without any need to ever be updated or rethought. Which strikes me as a very conceited point of few, and conceited points of view are poison to churches and community.


Curtis said...

I was delighted to see your post on SS. As the SS department leader of a large church, I know firsthand the challenges of having SS's that members want to attend.

Over the years we have come to demand so little of SS, especially adult SS. We have tolerated being lectured to for so many years in SS and we have not developed or modeled the skills needed to make a member want to come out early to participate. One sermon is about all one can take on Sabbath.

As we train our teachers to stimulate good biblical discussions during SS, we find our numbers growing.

Where there is no accountability, there usually is mediocrity.

Thanks for your post again about SS. Check out my blog for some great tips on how to conduct an engageing SS.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron,
You note:”But as we can see from the recent blog discussions here and elsewhere there are often people who don’t handle discussions very well.”

Some people seem to think that “The Truth” is a series of facts. Yet, isn’t the bigger “Truth” about how we should relate to and treat each other and God?

I’ve noticed a hard tone here as well, and the non combative are at a further disadvantage, for example:

Yes I am a tightwad, that does not pay for silly books.

But clearly your smugness prevents you from thinking clearly.

wow Pickle you seem to think you know a lot about the physics involved in radiometric dating. What is your degree in if I may ask?

Pickle, we have already determined this is not your area of expertise please stop pretending that it is.

For you to say there is no evidence for Darwinian evolution is merely a gratuitous assertion. Worse than that it is foolish.

Well I think you are deluded. Perhaps it is because you are unfamiliar with the word inimical:

Ron Corson said...

Of course in a personal conversation one cannot pick out statements out of context and make their opponent appear guilty. then again blog comments are usually short and to the point to save time for both the reader and the writer.

If you goal is to show that I can be pushed to respond in kind...well of course I can, I expect that can happen in person as well, the point is that someone should not be trying to push like that in sabbath school classes or small group discussions. I mean can you imagine someone saying what you just did in person...basically a short attack and then end of discussion. Well yes I can imagine certain people in the church who would do that, they are the ones who destroy sabbath school discussions and ultimately drive people away from the church and possibly God as well.

Bulworth said...

I'm not sure when it started or if it was always this way, but the SS quarterlies have become pretty much publications to regurgitate church doctrine with very little consideration of nuances or alternative views.

Not sure if that has had an effect on attendance, but it probably doesn't help.

Al said...

I’ve seen my share of SS wars. This past year I heard about an interesting class and when I got around to attending I got in on the day the pastor came and closed it down. The class was dismayed and has regrouped at a home. The charge – the pastor wouldn’t really say, though he was repeatedly asked.

I remember another class in a small church which met in the downstairs area. It became quite popular, so much so that the upstairs people became upset at losing their members. The studies were quite interesting but more than that it was a safe place for people to share. For example, one Sabbath I overheard a person being greeted with the usual - how are you – I am fine. But upon entering the Sabbath School breaking down as she told the group her husband had filed for divorce. People need people and a safe place to share, pray, help.
And of course the class was disbanded because it was – taking too many people from the upstairs class.

Elaine Nelson said...

I'm fortunate in being able to attend a very lively SS class where discussion is imperative. It is never a lecture, but only a moderator to keep the topic flowing. Of course, we do not use the "dumb-downed" SS quarterly, but choose a book of the Bible, or a relevant Christian book (seldom SDA). Often, I go only to the SS class and leave because the sermon and church is dull after a very active discussion.