Make gospel doctrine classes smaller?
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While I was conducting a training meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a ward Sunday School president raised his hand and asked, “Is it possible to have more than one gospel doctrine class in a ward?” At first, I was a little surprised at his question, because I’ve seen many wards with more than one gospel doctrine class. But then I began to think about his question. Classes for children and youth are typically quite small, but adult classes in the Church are often much larger. Many wards have only one gospel doctrine class, and in some cases there are so many in the class that the only place large enough to accommodate them is the chapel.
I assured this good Sunday School president that he could have as many gospel doctrine classes as his bishop felt inspired to create. I explained how one ward created four gospel doctrine classes. At first, ward leaders wondered if they had enough space to do this. Then they wondered if they could identify teachers who were qualified to teach the additional classes. But space was found and teachers were called. Prior to instituting the smaller classes, this ward had an average attendance of about 45 members in the one gospel doctrine class. After implementing the smaller classes, this same ward had a total of approximately 75 members attending the four new classes. Members felt more needed and more included. They felt that the teacher was more interested in what they had to say and less interested in covering material.
I have recently heard of three more wards that are creating smaller gospel doctrine classes. They are somehow finding space in the building and are calling the needed additional teachers. These smaller classes allow teachers to teach differently. Rather than lecturing, the teacher can invite every class member to contribute what each is uniquely prepared to share. I have often asked myself how “lecturing” became such a common practice in adult classes and quorum meetings in the Church. President Thomas S. Monson has clearly taught that “the calling of lecturer does not exist in the Church. A lecturer imparts knowledge. But a teacher invites class members to learn, in part, by teaching one another” (Ensign, April, 2010).
One reason, I believe, we still have so much lecturing in the Church is because our adult classes are so large. If you have 100 adults in a class, everyone knows that not every class member will be able to participate. So the teacher and class members have difficulty following the scriptural injunction that “all may be edified of all.” In large classes, everyone cannot “teach one another,” so as adults, we attend with the expectation of listening most of the time to the teacher. So the teacher does most of the talking.
With the advent of the new Come, Follow Me curriculum for youth, lecturing is decreasing. Youth are beginning to teach one another by expressing their questions and concerns and bearing testimony about the blessings they are receiving by living a gospel principle they have been learning.
The teacher is not pressured to deliver content. Class members are not forced to sit passively and only listen. Everyone in the class is a learner. Teachers are learning about the needs and gifts of every class member and gaining insights about gospel principles. And each young person is gaining a deeper understanding and witness of the Restored gospel.
This same kind of learning can occur in gospel doctrine classes for adults. Adult members never outgrow the need to deepen their witness of the Restoration. They want to feel included and needed, just as the youth. My son told me recently that he participated in a gospel principles class. He said that the small size of the class allowed everyone to feel comfortable. “We had a wonderful gospel conversation about a basic principle of the gospel, and everyone felt included.” This can happen in gospel doctrine classes too. We just need to make them smaller and then use the principles of teaching introduced in Come, Follow Me.