by Andrew Phillips
Imagine walking into a doctor’s office for the first time. As you enter the waiting room, the dirt and crumbs on the worn-out carpet tell you that it hasn’t been vacuumed in a few days. When you reach for a magazine, you see that one of the legs on the dated coffee table is shorter than the others, giving it a noticeable wobble. The copy of TIME magazine you find was published in 2009, and the front cover has been torn off. After the receptionist calls your name, you walk up to her counter, wait for her to hang up the rotary telephone she is using, and then follow her directions to one of three doors, located down a hallway covered with faded, peeling wallpaper. None of the doors have signs, and they are close together, so it takes you a couple of tries to find the right one.
Has your experience so far made you more or less confident in the doctor’s ability? Would you assume that he pays attention to detail? Would you imagine that he is up-to-date on current medical procedures? You have not even met the doctor yet, but you probably already have a certain set of assumptions about him or her. Whether we like it or not, our environment sends a message. In the world of education, one term for this principle is the “hidden curriculum. ” There are certain messages sent simply by the way our classrooms are set up, courses are designed, and facilities are maintained. The same concept holds true for our Bible classes. Here are a few keys to developing great facilities:
Remember your purpose.
As you design your class environment, don’t lose sight of your purpose. If your goal is to cultivate discussion in an adult Bible class, arrange the chairs in circles rather than rows. It is much easier for discussion to occur when students can look each other in the eye. If you will be breaking a large class into smaller groups for discussion, set up tables with 6-8 chairs around each one. Tables make it easier for a group to gather and talk. From the time students walk into a classroom, they begin making assumptions about what the class will be like. This is especially true when teaching children. Adults tend to choose colors and room decorations that adults like, but remember, those classrooms are for the children. We are currently in the process of renovating our children’s Bible classes, replacing plain colors with bright ones, and allowing each class to have influence on how their room is decorated. When planning Bible classes, there are always time, space, and budget constraints. While we cannot always have the most expensive curriculum or classroom equipment, we can afford to be up-to-date. If our classroom materials are outdated, they might send the message that the class will be irrelevant. If everything in our children’s classes is in black and white and nothing is in color, it might make them think that Bible class is not as exciting as school.
Bigger is not always better.
We live and work in a number-oriented society, so it would be easy to judge the success of a certain Bible class by the number of students. Yet Bible class attendance can often grow with multiple, smaller classes than fewer, larger classes. The larger the class, the more intimidating it can be to get discussion going or initiate class get-togethers. A few years ago, when I served as an Education Minister, I remember one of our classes growing to 80 in size. We recruited a couple of teachers to start two additional classes. Essentially, we replaced one adult class with three adult classes. The first Sunday we used that format, there were approximately 30 in each class, and they continued to grow. Growth had been capped at 80, but by starting additional, smaller classes, attendance continued to grow.
Maintain the facilities you have.
If you are like me, you have a list of small, relatively easy things that you would like to change or improve about your house. When you first bought the house, those glaring improvements might have grabbed your attention each time you walked through it. After a while though, we forget those things are there. This is especially true in our church buildings. Peeling wallpaper, cracked drywall, stained carpets – it is surprisingly easy how quickly we can become so accustomed to these things that we do not even give them a second look. Yet anyone who visits can see them clearly. If you are wondering about your own church facilities, try the exercise that our elders underwent over a year ago. They walked through each room of our building, trying to look at it through the eyes of a first-time guest. They made a list of everything that needed changing, and it turned out to be a long one! From this list, they mapped out a plan which addressed the needed improvements in order of priority. We are still in the process of working through the list, and our rooms are not perfect by any means, but we have come a long way.
As Christians, we are deeply about the message we share with others. When we teach class, we prepare seriously and we choose our words carefully. When we greet guests at a worship service, we make sure we give them a warm welcome. We simply need to our facilities send the same message.
Andrew Phillips preaches for the Graymere Church of Christ in Columbia, TN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.