As a young pastor, I remember very well making a diligent search for a program or plan that would cause my church to grow. From my first country church in Missouri where I was the 19-year-old pastor to my last pastorate in the large city church, my heart longed to find the key to church growth. My desire was not just to see numbers increase for the sake of numbers, but because I knew every number had a name and a soul.
Was there a magic plan? Like many pastors today, I attended conferences and seminars hoping to discover THE plan. What I finally discovered and saw work in every church was not a magic pill, but a diamond buried under my nose. The diamond plan required work, teamwork, work, dedicated leaders, work, consistent united effort and work. But THE plan worked when I worked it! Hope you are worked up to join me in the discovery.
THE plan was Sunday School. Not a new plan from some guru on church growth, but a fundamental, simple approach that required organization, teamwork and a year-round focus on connecting and reaching people. Old fashioned? Maybe. Out of date for a new generation? Sorry, I don’t think so. But I assure you, Sunday School as practiced in most churches will make little or no difference in growing churches or reaching people for Christ.
Early in ministry I learned that Sunday School was uniquely designed to connect people to the church and to one another. It was organized to utilize the small group as a core unit for accomplishing several tasks. Certainly, Sunday School was organized for fellowship. You do not have to know everybody in the church to feel connected, but you do need to know seven to 10 people. Fellowship was a key ingredient, and still is. Relationships are fundamental to reaching people.
Without a doubt, Sunday School is designed to teach people the Bible. The truth of God’s Word taught consistently was, and must always be, the foundation of a good Sunday School. Teaching must never be just about transfer of knowledge, but about life transformation. Good teaching is not about lecture, but about life upon life.
For many, Bible study and prayer are the key ingredients in Sunday School. I would agree; but if that is all that is done, it will fail to be an instrument of growth. The key to Sunday School is a focus on evangelism—yes, I mean reaching the unreached people in your sphere of influence. I believe the reason Sunday School has lost its luster in the minds of pastors and leaders is simple. We have failed to utilize the key organization in the church for reaching people with the love of Christ and the Gospel. Sunday School of all things is first and foremost designed and organized to reach people.
But it takes work! It takes constant vigilance to keep the Sunday School focused outwardly rather than just on the “us four and no more.” It takes constant encouragement and challenge from the pastor and church leaders to keep the focus on the “them” of the Great Commission rather than the “us” of church life.
Can a tool developed 250 years ago still work in our sophisticated and complicated world? I have no doubts about the tool. The key to its success is the people who hold the tool in their hands.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.