Space - The Final Frontier

The space needed to teach your Sabbath School class effectively is one of the most overlooked is­sues in successful Sabbath School teaching

Most Sabbath School classes are taught in the church sanctuary, where teachers vie for “hearing” space. With three to five classes, or even more spread around the church sanctuary, the volume begins low. But by the end of the class period, the noise takes on epic proportions.

A Learning Configuration 

The average Sabbath School class ought to include about 6 to 12 members, a typical small group. The best learning formation is for class members to be “grouped around.” In as near a circular configuration as possible, people are eye-to-eye and participating in the study. The teacher becomes a facilitator and discussion or study leader, not primarily a lecturer. How do you achieve this in a typical rectangular church sanctuary? Let’s begin with the sanctuary. Most teachers stand in front of an empty pew, normally about in the middle of the pew. The students are in rows in front of them. Usually the students occupy about two pews, spread out over the entire seating length. The teacher often cannot see all the students at once, and routinely tries to get the them to bunch up so they can hear better. Some students respond; some don’t. Those who don’t often listen in on another class, gaze out the window, or drift into mental limbo.

Try this 

Instead of standing in front of an empty pew, teachers can stand in the aisle or near the edge of a block of three or four pews. Teachers can position themselves so that their students don’t have to twist their necks any more than necessary.

This is only one way to gain teaching space. Whatever physical space is available is turned into usable learning space, and the learning increases to the degree that you are successful in making the change.

Portable dividers include a simple collapsible form with fabric stretched over it. Many churches have members in the carpentry trades who will have ideas on how to make portable dividers. The dividers can be placed in the aisles to separate groups of pews into mini-classrooms, as indicated in the diagram.

Church foyers and entryways 

Place chairs in a circle and use a wall to denote the front of the classroom. The wall can also be used as a movie screen or a bulletin board for class announcements and business affairs. If the foyer or entryway is big enough, two or three classes can meet there.

Unused spaces 

Use offices, classrooms, and other spaces that are vacant on Sabbath morning. For instance, the choir area is often a good place for a class. Even if it has fixed pews, use the same ideas mentioned for the auditorium to get the same results. There is often space in a balcony for a class or two. Some classes even meet in a baptistry.

Many churches have old closets and storage areas that can be converted into places for classes to meet. Turn some creative people loose to convert these areas into usable space.

Space-saving in action 

A church in the Southern Asia Division in Pune, India, is an English-style stone building. It has three aisles, one down the middle and one on each side. It has two banks of pews that seat eight people each.   

In this one church space was found for three classes in the foyer, three in a balcony, and two in side areas in the sanctuary that were currently filled with some unused benches. At the back of the church was an entrance where three classes could meet. Total: space for at least 11 new classes.


James W. Zackrison
© 2006 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists