The history of why we do A.M. Exchange (Sunday School) like we do: [ Back ]
A. The Issues.
As a new church, we are creating a brand new culture from people who are from varying faith experiences and backgrounds. Each person brings with them a plethora of expectations, derived (positively or negatively) from their prior experiences. There are also those who are new to faith and have absolutely no context upon which to draw concerning how they should interact with the faith community.
These expectations (or lack thereof) present enormous challenges when you are trying to create a new common tradition and community. For Thrive Church these challenges were glaring as we tried to build an adult discipleship program.
We launched our program with great intentionality and guidance early in our ministry. We tried to glean the best advice and methods and felt like we had a good program. But, we had really low participation, even though people expressed great interest in what we were doing. No matter what we tried, it was hard to get people involved.
The best we saw was 5% participation in our discipleship ministry. The ministry team made the program a matter of prayer and meditation as we prepared ourselves for our first ministry team retreat.
C. Ground Rules.
There were some “ground rules” that we laid for our discipleship ministry based on our research, and philosophy of ministry. We realize that these ground rules may not make sense to other faith communities, but they are essential to our way of doing things.
- We would not separate our people by age or life situation. We value mentoring, a commodity lost in many places. We wanted our people to interact with, learn from, and teach one another across generational barriers. So, whatever we did, we would not separate them based on age or life situation.
- We would discourage cliques & stagnation. Part of the problem we saw with separating people by age or life situation is the tendency towards creating mini-churches inside the church. Another factor that lends itself to that tendency is having “classes” that people “join”. We felt that classes had the high potential to create cliques and enable stagnation. So, for us, we felt that whatever we did, we had to build in some kind of way to “mix-up” the “groups”.
- We wanted to encourage leadership. We did not want the task of leading groups to fall on a few. We feel that burnout and cliques are both possible outcomes of limiting leadership to so few. What ever we did, it had to foster leadership, without a baptism of fire, in as many people as possible.
D. Understanding Our Tribe.
During our staff retreat the discipleship ministries was the hot topic of discussion. We decided early that we might have been trying to shoe-horn our people into a mold of what discipleship ministry “should be” based on our own past experiences and expectations. So we re-evaluated our people. Here are our tribe’s quirks.
- Thrive’s people ARE asking for discipleship, despite a lack of participation.
- Thrive’s people WANT more interaction with one another.
- Thrive’s people WANT to chew on the sermon with others, but did not have a venue.
- Thrive’s people DO NOT like to come to church too early in the AM (in general).
- Thrive’s people LOVE one another.
- Thrive’s people STAY after services, for as long as an hour and a half, just chatting and hanging out with one another. I have had to chase people out so I could go home!
E. Addressing the Quirks.
When we took these things into consideration, it presented a much different outline for our discipleship program than we were pushing on them. Here is what we were doing.
- AM Exchange (what we call our Sunday School) met at 9:30 AM.
- We were using canned curricula that may or may not have any relationship to the messages being preached.
- We were trying to close the doors before people felt fulfilled in their interactions with each other.
Here is what we did, taking into account our ground rules and the quirks of our particular tribe.
- We affirmed that a discipleship ministry is ESSENTIAL to our people and committed to do it right. (Quirks 1, 2, 5)
- We put AM Exchange AFTER the worship service. (Quirks 4, 6)
- The groups would be randomly generated, on the fly as we announced it before we dismissed from the worship service. It could be favorite color, tacos vs. burritos, McNair vs. Peyton, whatever. The point is, the groups are random and people could interact with more people over the course of a month than with the previous way. (ground rules 1, 2 – quirks 2, 3)
- We prepare a discussion guide that facilitates a time for prayer requests and prayer, along with 2-3 discussion questions based on that day’s message (Quirks 1, 2, 3)
- We allow freedom for a leader to divert from the guide if the Holy Spirit is moving. (quirks 2, 5)
- We occasionally hold a “leader” group as one of our A.M. Exchange groups to teach people how to lead A.M. Exchange. Some of the people who wanted to lead surprised us! From these people, we pick group leaders that day, before the service, so that they can listen to the message with leader’s eyes. (ground rule 3)
F. The Outcome.
As a result, we now have about 90% participation in our adult and youth discipleship ministry. A HUGE leap. This happened because, under the Holy Spirit’s leadership, we read our tribe and adapted to them instead of shoe-horning them into a method that had no context other than “it’s what we are used to”.
We are still learning how to do A.M. Exchange better. Here are some ways we already know we need to improve or have already adapted.
- We need to have a “pool” of ideas for how we separate the groups, and perhaps choose from them as appropriate for that message.
- We do OCCASIONALLY separate people by age or life situation, most typically as Men, Women, Youth – this is done in appropriate times.
- We also use AM Exchange for some large group things, like special guest speaker (missions, et. al.), or if we need to have a church wide discussion (elections, et. al.)
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