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Sunday's Big Idea
by Tom Goodman
August 6, 2009

In his book, The Big Idea, Dave Ferguson says churches should focus on one Big Idea every Sunday.  From the children's ministry to the student ministry to the adult small groups to the selections of music to the sermon, everything should align with one major theme each Sunday.  He explains the reasons behind a "Big Idea" approach to programming, and he details the practical steps necessary to get there.

He advocates beginning with the basics ("B"):  Focus everything in your worship service onto one theme.  As the church finds benefits from this approach, move toward integration ("I"):  Focus the work of other ministry areas toward Sunday's Big Idea.  Then consider going global ("G") by working with other churches, or starting other churches, that will focus on a Big Idea together and share the collaboration and resources necessary for this focus.

Reading the book reinforced some of the things we're doing and stimulated some thoughts on further development of our Sunday morning program.

At Hillcrest, we probably won't ever take the Big Idea approach to programming as far as Ferguson advocates.  Still, for years we've been seeing the benefit of funneling our energies toward one action-oriented theme.  We already do the following:

  • Each Wednesday members and prospects receive "Winning Ways," an e-newsletter designed to provide an encouraging word in the middle of your week -- an encouraging word that you might find easy to forward to friends you want to invite to church.  Almost a thousand people receive this e-newsletter weekly.  You've probably noticed that most editions of Winning Ways introduces Sunday's topic.  That's our first step in getting people to focus on one Big Idea, even before they show up on Sunday.  (Sign up for Winning Ways.)
  • As people arrive on Sunday, the music focuses on the Big Idea for 25 minutes before I even stand up to preach on the subject.  This past Sunday, for example, we posted Psalm 119:140 on the screen for you to reflect on in the prelude music.  ("Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.")  Then the music highlighted and celebrated the promises of God.  Following that, my sermon was on Sarah, who laughed at the promise God made, and laughed with the promise God kept.  (Listen to Hillcrest sermons.)
  • Immediately after the sermon, our Common Ground groups continue to reflect on Sunday's Big Idea through in-depth discussion.  Herb Ingram prepares discussion guides from the sermon manuscript he receives the week before, and Common Ground hosts lead their groups into a deeper understanding of what was covered during the sermon.  At Hillcrest, we strongly support curriculum-based Bible study (traditional Sunday School classes) as well as sermon-based Bible study (Common Ground groups).  But people seem to be resonating with our effort to align the small-group study with the sermon:  We had 31% growth from last July to this July in our Common Ground ministry.
  • Herb Ingram provides the "Daily Cup" devotionals for your e-mail inbox every Monday through Friday.  These five devotional thoughts are based upon the main theme of Sunday's sermon.  Participants in Common Ground groups will find these devotionals on the back of their discussion guide, but anyone can receive them.  What a great way to begin your morning each work day!  (Ask Herb to sign you up for the Daily Cup.)

So, we're already practicing the approach to Sunday morning programming that Ferguson advocates, at least at what he calls the "basic" level.  Should we take it further?  Should we step up to what he calls the "integrated" level where we align the lessons of children's and youth at the 11:00am Sunday School hour with the theme that our kids and students have heard in the 10:00am worship hour?

My answer:  At least periodically.

Week-in and week-out throughout the year, we wouldn't want to drop the option of our excellent curriculum-based adult small-group Bible study (our traditional Sunday School classes for adults).

And I'm not sure we could insist on the Big Idea approach in our Hillcrest Kids ministry every Sunday, at least not under our present planning process.  Planning children's Sunday School lessons takes more lead time than planning a worship service.  At present, we plan 13 days ahead for our worship services, and our children's workers would need a lot more time than that if we wanted them to develop material to reinforce the sermon theme every week.

What about youth Sunday School?  It would be easier for youth workers to align with the Big Idea covered in the worship service than it would be for children's workers to do so.  It would simply involve adapting the approach that has worked so well in Common Ground.  Of course, the fact that it would be an easy change doesn't settle the question of whether it would be a desirable change.  The pros and cons of such a decision is a matter for Jim and his team to weigh.

So, we may find it impractical and undesirable to take a Big Idea approach to all our Sunday School ministry every week.

But I see merit in periodically aligning every teaching tool we have on Sunday morning to one Big Idea.  What if once or twice a year we had a Sunday morning sermon series planned far enough in advance so that our kids ministry, student ministry, and all adult small-group classes aligned with that sermon series?

Imagine, for example, planning six months in advance for a series on the Ten Commandments?  That's plenty of time to plan ten lessons for children and preschoolers.  Imagine driving home after church able to talk with your kids and your teens about the one thing that every member of the family learned about the Ten Commandments that day!

Imagine a young couple bumping into a senior adult couple in a restaurant for Sunday lunch after our entire Sunday morning focused on what the Bible had to say about marriage.  Imagine what conversation could develop between older and younger members if they were able to talk about the one thing that all the generations were discussing at church!



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