Church-Hacker #9: For Type-A Teachers

When I taught Gospel Doctrine, I completely gave up hope that any class members would ever read the material ahead of time. BCC regular Chris Gordon says there’s another way:

I had a teacher once who, you know, actually did something other than beg to try to help his class read ahead and participate in the discussion. Nearly every week around mid-week I’d get an email like this:

Dear Gospel Doctrine Class,

For those of you who missed class on Sunday, we hope to see you soon. We had a great discussion on [insert lesson name with hyperlink to lesson and related scriptures], in which we focused primarily on x and y.

As a reminder, for Sunday we’ll be covering [lesson name with hyperlink]. I’d like to spend some time discussing a and b, but we’ll see where the discussion goes.  Hope to see you there.

Have a great week,

It was never particularly long, worked great for when I was in toddler limbo, and was a great way for me to at least glance at the lesson ahead of time via hyperlink. I also understand that the teacher made it a point to include on the mailing list those whose callings keep them from attending Sunday School, to help them feel included.

Occasionally the teacher would also include links to talks or other resources related to the subject matter, probably depending on how much preparation had already been done by email time. The teacher would often also include attachments or links to resources and/or quotes used in lesson prep in lieu of or in addition to handouts.  There are always the folks who don’t use email and I’m not sure what the teacher did to help them.

Love the idea. And if sending the email becomes a part of a teacher’s regular lesson prep, it might not even be that much of an extra burden. The only issue for me would be revealing my sources (I wouldn’t be able to crib quite so liberally from Feast Upon the Word Blog and Wikipedia anymore).

Teachers, would you be up for this level of engagement with your class members? And class members, would you care?


Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (the church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.


  1. The idea is great, but email is so profane. I prefer parchment nailed to my door. Even better if it’s shot in place with an arrow.

  2. I do this. It works great, and the lesson and discussion always improve as a result.

  3. Ooo, I like this and would gladly do it — except that we have four Gospel Doctrine classes (alternating about 12 teachers), and ward members float among classes at their own whim and according to who’s teaching on a given week. I couldn’t construct an email list because there’s no definite list of who “should” be there. I could, though, I suppose, circulate a clipboard for a few weeks asking those who would like a reminder in the weeks before I teach to sign up. Will think about this.

  4. I like any idea that connects the members to church resources online. In our little branch the majority of the members don’t follow, read, watch, or listen to anything about the church on the web.

  5. Terrific idea! I would engage much more if our teachers did this because I’m terrible at putting the readings off.

  6. Jacob M says:

    Fantastic idea! Makes me wish I had come up with it. But I will dutifully send this on to my Sunday School president.

  7. When I taught elders quorum in my prior ward, I would send out an email to the quorum members to let them know what the next lesson was, with links to the specific page at the website where they could download the text or audio versions of the lesson.

  8. Our RS presidency sends a short email summary of the lesson (and the discussion!!) every week. I serve in Primary so I really appreciate it. Although the OP recommends doing it beforehand, I can attest that as a retrospective, it also helps link members to the class.
    Re #4, our ward has a venerable unofficial Yahoo group that serves as the virtual bulletin board, and for whatever reason it has stuck in our ward and stayed alive for years – literally everyone with an internet connection is on it, and that’s darn near everyone.

  9. Let me say also that, in my experience teaching gospel doctrine & priesthood, many members have no idea what’s on the lesson agenda for the next meeting they’re attending. The gospel doctrine lessons don’t cover the Bible chapters sequentially, but hop around from book to book. So if you misplace the little class study guide, or the sacrament meeting program which might list what’s being covered next week, you don’t know what you should read to prepare for next Sunday’s class.

    As for the priesthood & Relief Society lessons, there’s often no hard-copy schedule available of what’s being covered on different weeks. If a specific conference sermon is being discussed on the 4th Sunday, the only people who may know which sermon to read in advance are the teacher and the leaders. The fact that the topic might be listed on the ward lesson calendar on the ward website doesn’t help those who don’t use computers.

    I think it’s important to remember that there are many members who are not accustomed to the university mentality of having to keep track of weekly reading assignments of non-consecutive selections from multiple sources.

  10. Sam Brunson says:

    I’ve sent out emails as a youth Sunday School teacher and as an Elders Quorum teacher. For me it had the added benefit of forcing me to think about the lesson and what I wanted to communicate well before Saturday night or Sunday morning. Plus, when I taught the youth, it gave me some street cred when they got the occasional Sunday School emails at 2:00 am Thursday morning.

  11. Mark Brown says:

    Great idea, especially for those with calling in Primary.

    Thanks, Chris and Kyle.

  12. Sam, I totally agree.

    Also helps to present supplementary materials through a channel like email, where class members are reminded its there and can look at it on their own time. I tried writing links on the chalkboard a couple times…never got more than a couple clicks from some iPhone users in the class

  13. Chris Gordon says:

    @8, I love the idea of a Yahoo! group or something similar being used, but isn’t that taboo? I hope you’re using an alias! :)

    I’ve seen these sort of things dropped in the Sunday bulletins as well in other wards. Granted, that’s the zero hour for that day’s lesson, but if you’re forecasting next week’s lesson, not a bad idea. Church seems to be trying to move away from paper, though, so who knows if that’s viable.

    I’ve got one or two brethren in the EQ who don’t have much of a web presence and I fight constantly to figure out how to reach them. Any ideas for something reasonable to use to reach those who might not be on their email every week?

  14. Our Relief Society does this for all the RS lesson, but I don’t know if it actually helps since I’m in Primary. I do like that as a Primary teacher I at least have some idea what they’re talking about in RS.

  15. Swisster says:

    My spouse did something like this with texting when he taught the 16-year-olds (he texted them a thought-provoking question, not a reading assignment).

  16. Jenny in NC says:

    I would love an email–especially with links! Most of the time I don’t read the lesson because it’s just too hard to walk upstairs and dig my lesson manual out of my church bag. I know, lame. But the truth.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s a good idea, but I don’t think I’ll adopt it. (I teach GD.) Seems like too much work. Also, when I step into SS class I have no freakin’ idea what we’re going to end up talking about; it’s largely dictated by the ebb and flow of class discussion (I have a very participative class).

    When I first started teaching GD years ago, I couldn’t figure out whether to teach on the assumption that people had read the lesson or that they hadn’t. I knew that practically speaking very frew if any had read it, but I sort of hated not to reward those who actually had. But then it occurred to me that when I don’t teach I almost never read the lesson in advance, and so I just assume that no one has read it and come at the material cold.

  18. Ardis #3
    Ooo, I like this and would gladly do it — except that we have four Gospel Doctrine classes (alternating about 12 teachers), and ward members float among classes at their own whim and according to who’s teaching on a given week. I couldn’t construct an email list because there’s no definite list of who “should” be there.

    But maybe this gives you the opportunity to do an experiment in GD marketing! You could send different types of reminder emails, of different lengths, with different numbers of links to everyone who is a potential attendee, and then track to see which type yields (1) the largest attendance, (2) the best discussion, or whatever other criterion interests you.

  19. Sam Rosener says:

    I do something similar for my GD class, sending out an email with the hyperlinks to the Church page for the scriptures and one to the Google Docs page that keeps the running list of stuff I have in mind to talk about. Sometimes we get to all the stuff on the list, other times we don’t. The email flows out of questions that I have as I read the scriptures associated with the lesson. Since I do most of my prep/study on my iPad, it’s easy to copy/paste into the google doc and then into an email.

  20. Ardis,
    If the 4 gospel doctrine classes are all on the same lesson each week, then one simple email could be sent to everyone in the ward weekly.

    If some classes are a week behind other classes, then the email could list the reading selections for a 4-week period beginning with last week and going 3 weeks ahead.

    OTOH, with 12 different teachers, I think your Sunday School president should be the one to make sure that all the teachers are synchronized, and that he should be the one to send out a reading selection email to everyone in the ward.

  21. My wildly inappropriate church hacker idea which I actually once proposed was that GD classes be split into one where the teacher prepared under the assumption that those attending actually read the scriptures being covered that week and another where the teacher prepared knowing that no one had read it. People would then go to whichever class represented their situation that particular week. Logically it would lead to better lessons for everyone since you can teach a good class with prepared students that doesn’t need to spend time introducing the scriptures of the week and a productive class for those coming in cold that does more reading of the scriptures etc. This would in theory at least insure that we all spent time with the actual scriptures that week instead of bloviating on the general topic and giving the cliched answers prompted by the scriptures we didn’t read and only kind of remember. Then again it would just create another potential status hierarchy to judge each other on and of course no one would actually comply anyway.

    I do like the idea of sending out good questions in advance, though so people can have an opportunity to put some thought into them. It also has the upside of allowing members who aren’t the natural “talkers” or who don’t feel they “think well on their feet” but have important insights to share a fair shake. I feel that the pop a question style of teaching we do often systematically excludes insight from these members to all our detriment.

  22. This is a great idea. It would help if we had people called to teach Sunday School. Unfortunately in my ward, if you are called as the Sunday School president then you are most likely going to be teaching every Sunday until the Bishopric “gets to” calling new Sunday School teachers. RS/EQ have good teachers but it seems that in my ward we don’t allow for new brothers and sisters to be given that calling unless the Bishop knows you which is a problem since he knows only about a handful of the brothers and sisters in the ward. Sunday school always consists of dumbing down the material so that all that are in the class (which can range from those who know/study the scriptures to those who have never opened a scripture until they are assigned to read it in class) can participate. It can be frustrating but I hope that if I offer this suggestion it doesn’t seem like I’m being opinionated (which I have been called by my former RS president during RS) since I am a sister (aka member w/out a priesthood) who likes to offer ideas to help but the people who “hear me out” never feel that way.

  23. When I was a bishop my stake president gently informed me that ministering to church members via email was most likely inappropriate under most scenarios, and so I stopped. I think he’s right. Other than notification of calendared events or emergencies, we should avoid it.

  24. I agree that as a Bishop, using email to “minister” to your Ward wouldn’t be the most appropriate approach. As a teacher, I see it as another tool to involve my class. Different calling, different method.

  25. Chris Gordon says:

    Interesting take from the SP, Bob. How long ago was that? I’m only curious because the direction we’re getting in our ward and stake is email, email, email. I guess I’m also curious as to how to define “ministering to church members.”

    As an example of how this works on our end, in ward council we’re working hard on the list of 5 names from each auxiliary to pass on the full-time missionaries. Our bishop encouraged us to use whatever communication method we customarily use with the families in our ward to invite.

  26. I’d just like to say if I get an email from the Sunday School teacher it’s promptly deleted. Also, wouldn’t a member have to click on their user settings to receive emails regarding SS? Depending on the ward this may or may not be efficient.

  27. please help

  28. i use to speak in tung,and
    they change to have like i say s
    omething di

  29. i use to speak in tung,and
    they change to have like i say s
    omething di
    y o you all dont seem to get it

  30. For a short while when I was an EQP we made sure that a weekly email went out on about Wednesday or Thursday letting people know what the topic of discussion would be on Sunday and what the readign material was.

    This worked really well for perhaps a month.

  31. Thankful says:

    No email? You leave out a lot of less active folks, those who work on Sunday, and those with callings that make them unable to attend class. As someone who’s had to work Sundays lots in the past (nurse), wife of a less active husband, and someone who has been in primary for 8 years (so no adult classes for me): I wish there was more communication to help our family feel included. The more communication and inclusion, the better. Certainly email can’t substitute for in person visits. But those happen only a few times a year. Weekly emails would be a balm to my soul.

  32. .

    This is a long-standing tradition in our ward and I loved writing the emails. Although one of my emails apparently drove someone into inactivity. I guess making certain joked about Abraham is verboten.

  33. Just curious for those that have done this or used email in other ways, how have you built the email list? Most of our ward members have/use emails, but are not on the list on the Church’s site. If I did use email as part of the way to reach everyone, my biggest question would be how to reach those not attending the class or attending church at all?

  34. Our RS and EQ had pretty comprehensive lists. I stole the lists from them and asked anyone who didn’t want to be on the GD list to request removal. I only had one person ask to be taken off the list and it was because she had moved.

  35. .

    One advantage of our ward is that the Relief Society, the elders quorum and the high priests all have 100% coverage with their email lists. When someone moves in, they aren’t an hour home from Church before they’ve been added. That makes it easy. (Although, imho, it would be better to have just one email list for the entire ward. Although then I would have to know about all the stuff the RS is chatting about.)

    I would pass up the line a recommendation that the ward put together a google group (or similar). Honestly, having lived five years in a ward where everything is done by email, I just don’t know how other wards function. The mind boggles.

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