John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Education in Church

Research has shown that close to 70% of Evangelical, Bible-believing, Church-attending Christians cannot tell you what last Sunday's sermon was about. Those preachers spent hours and hours poring over study materials (well...some of them did), developing a cogent outline, memorizing their opening joke, creating a PowerPoint Presentation, and most of the people will never remember a word of it. They might remember a story or a phrase or a word-picture. But they didn't get what was being taught.

There are a lot of reasons for this. First, the preacher probably gave them too much information. He gave them four sermons in one and asked them to remember every thing he said. Even if all of the points started with the same letter or rhymed or whatever special mnemonic device he devised, if you give people too much information, odds are you'll get a cancelling effect where all the information gets lost.

Second, a lot of churches are still hanging on to a relatively new invention called "Adult Sunday School." This is one of those things that was a really good idea once upon a time. And, in most places, that time has run its course. Many churches treat Sunday School as if it's the 11th Commandment and not having it is tantamount to biblical infidelity. I think having Adult Sunday School is a bad idea for three reasons (and we can talk more about this later): (1) It has a detrimental impact on your overall educational goals; (2) It penalizes volunteers who serve in other areas; (3) It lowers the odds of someone inviting a non-churched friend to experience a church gathering.

I realize that the third reason listed above betrays my "attractional" church bent. So, sue me! I love a good attractional church, and I believe there are many of them out there. Contrary to anything I've heard or read in Frost & Hirsch, I do not believe the attractional model is irredeemable. I've seen it infused with healthy leadership and viewed as part of a much larger strategy to impact the surrounding community, and I'm a huge advocate.

Still, I think there is a third reason why no one seems to learn much of anything at church. Here's today's thought-provoking quote from Frost & Hirsch:

"[L]earning takes place much more effectively when the Christian faith community is involved in active mission. Too much existing Bible teaching happens to passive groups of Christians, many of whom are not involved in any kind of risky missional activity.... Like Jesus' first followers discovered, learning occurs when we need to draw on information because a situation demands it."

There's a story that's probably apocryphal (at least I haven't been able to find a reliable source for it) about Charles Spurgeon blocking the entrance to his church because he felt that the people in it had become "word fat and obedience thin". As the story goes, he told the people to go away and not to come back until they had applied what they already knew to do.

I'm not sure that ever happened, but it would be great to think about what might happen if it ever did! Too many people come to church, sit and soak and go home. But they never actually do anything with the information they received. They just come back the next time for more information.

Okay, enough of my personal ruminations about this problem. Let's hear some of yours.

Why do you think people don't seem to learn much in church?

And how would you fix it if you were given permission?