All Quiet on the Sunday School Front

Is anyone out there…ere…ere…ere…?

Is the echo of your lonely, questioning voice all you hear when leading discussion during Sunday school? One of the Saturday night fears of Sunday morning small group leaders is having to face a crowd of learners resistant to joining discussion on the day’s lesson. Few teaching challenges are more daunting than finding fresh ways to draw in a reticent class and involve them in active and open dialogue. Attention paid to creating opportunities for such involvement will bring rewards in a learner’s embrace of the material, a class’s quality of fellowship, and, of course, a teacher’s peace of mind.

Keep these items in mind when planning ways to involve your class members:

1) Consider your class. Some options for involving class members in the lesson will not be right for some learners. Often an unwillingness to speak out during discussion comes from a fear of failure or embarrassment. For these learners, use a mixture of opportunities for involvement, some which allow for more private, individual responses to the lesson.

2) Keep an element of surprise. Don’t underestimate your class’s willingness to try the out-of-the-ordinary. While youth groups are used to playing games as part of a lesson, for instance, adults also may enjoy a chance to step out of their usual modes of Sunday school. Remember: all adults were once youth and haven’t forgotten how to learn in this way, even at later stages of life.

3) Don’t be afraid of failure. While we all hope for instant success, sometimes you may have to try several ideas before you find the right combination of activities to draw your group into more active discussion. When things don’t work, laugh it off with your group and chalk it up to experimentation. Then let them know that this won’t be the last time you’ll try something new.


The ideas listed below will help as you work to involve your Sunday school class in more active learning:

Good Questions. The appropriate form of questions can be a sticking point in any teacher’s lesson preparations. Questions can make the difference between good discussion and the often terrifying sounds of silence.

Group Work. For some people, particularly in larger Sunday school groups, the thought of answering a question aloud in class can be frightening. In these cases it becomes easy for you (and the class) to become dependent on a few individuals to drive the discussion. One way to break this habit and allow individuals to express themselves comfortably is to form smaller groups within the class to discuss a set series of questions. Consider this a practice round, where learners are able to “try out” answers to questions before joining the larger group discussion. Often the little bit of time that small groups allow is all it takes to give an otherwise quiet class member a way into the discussion.

Writing Time. Like group work, a time of writing during the lesson allows class members to consider their thoughts before offering them within the larger discussion. There are any number of ways to utilize writing. Begin by asking an opening question and then allow the class a few minutes to respond on paper. While you read the Scripture, have them jot down words or phrases that come to mind from the passage. Use your closing prayer time to allow learners to write their own prayers. Even if such writings do not lead a class member to speak during discussion, such activities ensure that each member is engaging the lesson in some way rather than daydreaming about Sunday lunch plans or the day’s big game.

Role-play. Want to let your class members be someone else for a moment? Have individuals play the lesson’s biblical characters to consider the message from different angles. Ask these characters questions about their feelings, thoughts, and motivations. Stepping out of our own shoes and into those of someone else can be a meaningful way to reexamine set patterns of thinking about familiar stories.

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