Sunday school is perhaps the best-structured agency in the local church for effectively carrying out the teaching ministry of Christ. What is the purpose of Sunday school? Instead of being an agency that’s separate from the church, it’s a vital arm with four parts: reaching, teaching, winning and caring.
Just as the New Testament church was built on teaching and preaching (see Acts 5:42), so the modern biblical church must be built on Sunday school lessons and church services that offer exhortation and preaching.
What is the purpose of Sunday school? It remains functionally defined as reaching people so you can teach them, win them to Christ, and then care for them spiritually.
This Old Testament verse is often used to express the fourfold nature of Sunday school: “Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:12). This verse reflects the four distinct “arms” of Sunday school ministry.
What is the Purpose of Sunday School: 4 Distinct Areas
1. Sunday school is the reaching arm of the church.
First, Sunday school is the arm that reaches people of all ages for Christ. “Reaching” is defined as making contact with people and motivating them to honestly listen to the gospel. Because evangelism involves spreading the gospel, reaching is basically pre-evangelism, for it gets people to listen to the gospel. In our text, it’s expressed in the word “gather.”
Note that those who gather are identified as fathers, mothers, little ones or children, and the stranger. Most church members have someone within their sphere of influence who is a stranger to the church and could be gathered into it.
2. Sunday school is the teaching arm of the church.
Second, Sunday school is the teaching arm of the church. “Teaching” means guiding the learning activities that meet human needs. The Deuteronomy verse expresses that step through the words “that they may hear.” The ultimate goal of teaching is “that they may learn.”
3. Sunday school is the winning arm of the church.
Sunday school is also the arm of the church that wins people to Christ. “Winning” involves communicating the gospel in an understandable manner and motivating a person to respond to Christ. The Old Testament expression “fear the Lord” means to bring a person to reverential trust of God. It was a concept of salvation. Today we might describe a person who “fear[s] the LORD” as a person who receives Christ, or trusts the Lord, for salvation.
4. Sunday school is the caring arm of the church.
Finally, Sunday school is the arm of the church that provides spiritual care to all members. One objective of every Sunday school is to spiritually care for people so they will “carefully observe all the words of this law.” Some people call this nurturing; others call it maturing.
What is the purpose of Sunday school? It’s the reaching, teaching, winning and caring arm of the church.
However, this definition becomes a mosaic when applied to individual churches. Just as all the pieces of tile are needed to make up a mosaic, so all four aspects of the definition are needed for Sunday school. If we focus on only one section of the mosaic, we can destroy its beauty and lose the whole picture.
This happens when a church demonstrates a strong emphasis on only one aspect, such as gaining an abundance of visitors by emphasizing a bus-outreach ministry, for example. The focus on outreach causes a church to lose the perspective of teaching, winning and caring.
Some churches have strong teaching Sunday schools with a deep commitment to Bible mastery but no outreach. Others are committed to soul-winning; their success is measured by how many people they’ve brought to Christ or prepared for church membership, but they lack a passion to oversee students to help them grow in faith. Finally, some Sunday schools do a great job of caring for students but ignore the other three objectives.
Each function is crucial, so don’t forget to build a balanced Sunday school. What is the purpose of Sunday school? The healthy Sunday school performs all four ministry basics equally: reaching, teaching, winning and spiritually caring.