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Pinpointing your church's essentials

  • Published Nov 08, 2001
Pinpointing your church's essentials
This is the second of a two-part series on the need for essentials in Christian education. Read part one in the Ministry Tips archives of Live It!

In the quest for improved learning, it's vital to know what's essential to teach. We all may agree on basic Christian beliefs, yet every church chooses to emphasize certain beliefs. The trouble is, when we clutter the basics with nonessentials, we hamper people's learning. To clarify what people need to learn, check out your assumptions and gather information. Then help teachers zero in on those main points.

How to find out what's important:

  1. Make no assumptions. Find out people's understanding of the Christian faith. Gather information during Bible classes, sermons, informal gatherings, and through mail surveys. Collect the answers and compile a list of ideas. Address them in learning settings such as Sunday school, Bible classes, sermons, and seminars. Ask people to anonymously write their answers to questions such as these:

    • When it comes to the Christian faith, I wish I knew more about...

    • When it comes to our church's teachings, I wish I knew more about...

    • When it comes to the Bible, I wish I knew more about...

    • Why do we church?

    • Why don't we church?

    • I've always wondered why God...

    • In my daily life, I don't understand how God fits into...

    • A question about Jesus I've always wanted to ask is...

    • Something I don't understand about the Holy Spirit is...

    • Learning in our church would be more relevant to me if it dealt with...

  2. Check out your assumptions. We too often think people already know what we know. To challenge your assumptions, make a list of five to 10 things you're absolutely sure people in your class or congregation know. Statements may include: God loves me, I believe in Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, God forgives all my sins, and When I die I'll go to heaven. Hand out sheets with these statements. Ask the people to read each statement and respond anonymously to each by using these symbols:

    • Place an exclamation point (!) if they're absolutely sure.

    • Place a period (.) if they're kind of sure.

    • Place a question mark (?) if they're not sure.

    Tabulate the results and use the information in planning future learning opportunities.

  3. Identify what's important to learn in your church. Create a list of faith essentials - the basics. Have key people mark the top five they feel need to be taught. These key people should have a faith life that you want others to achieve.

    • God

    • The Bible

    • Jesus' life

    • The Holy Spirit

    • Creation

    • Human nature

    • Sin

    • The church

    • Prayer

    • Witnessing

    • Service and outreach

    • Eternal life

    • Communion of saints

    • Forgiveness of sins

    • Salvation

    • Sacraments

    • Heaven and hell

  4. Who learns what when? Once you've selected what essentials to emphasize, create a grid for each level - children, youth, and adults. Map out which essential items you want people to learn at each age level. Some items may appear in the grid more than once. Implement a way to assure that each age level covers what you feel are the essentials. Use your list as a tool for evaluating curriculum. Publish it for teachers and parents to see. Refer to it when planning. And re-evaluate it every few years.

  5. Retrain teachers. First make sure they know the basics, then encourage them with sharing the essentials with their students. Help teachers feel comfortable with the idea that they need not complete every lesson in the teacher's manual to be successful. Explain why less is more when it comes to teaching biblical truths.

From Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church and How to Fix It by Thom and Joani Schultz, copyright (c) 1993 and 1996. Used by permission of Group Publishing, Inc., 1515 Cascade Ave., Loveland, CO 80539, 1-800-447-1070.

Thom and Joani Schultz write and speak internationally on Christian education, youth ministry, children's ministry, and church leadership. Thom is president and founder of Group Publishing, Inc. Joani is chief creative officer of Group.