A friend and I were talking over coffee about a variety of things regarding the church and Southern Baptists. In the midst of the conversation, he made a very powerful statement, “We must remember we are running a marathon not a sprint!” Wise words indeed!

A sprinter will beat everybody in the first 100, or even the first 400, meters. But when the race gets to 26 miles, it is the seasoned marathon runner who is in the lead and the sprinter is long gone. The work of the Kingdom is a marathon.

While we ought to live every day with expectancy of the return of Christ, we must also live knowing that a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day in the eyes of the Lord. While we should live with urgency, we also must build muscle for the long race.

As a Type A and passionate person, this marathon concept is hard for me to grasp. I want things done now, and I sometimes have a problem when people don’t get as excited as I am and as quickly as I do. Only the work of the Holy Spirit over time has allowed me to move from a sprinter to a marathon runner. I now realize our works should reflect a patient pacing toward the goal while not being devoid of urgency and passion.

As a pastor, I very well remember looking for the quick fix and magic program that would give us sprint-like growth. While I believe we can learn much from others who are successful, our marathon position ought to be seeking God for what He desires to build into our church for the distance rather than a flash-in-the-pan movement. Yes, we can gain insight by studying other churches and their successes, but God has a specific plan for your church. He wants to build strength for the marathon into your church.

I believe Sunday School and small group ministry is a marathon strategy. This ministry builds week by week. Effectiveness is not flash-in-the-pan—impact is over time. But it does take a right strategy and constant work to develop a winning Sunday School that reaches and disciples people to walk in the ways of Christ.

Sunday School can be successful in any size of church. Sunday School can be used to impact lostness, no matter where one lives. It has always interested me that many of the best marathon runners come from Africa. These men and women do not have access to the best running equipment or world class trainers. Much of their training has been running barefoot across the plains and up and down the hills of the African countryside. Yet, when placed against others who had the most incredible training and equipment, the African runners were victorious.

Your church can build an effective and dynamic Sunday School that connects people to Jesus, His truth, His community and His mission, no matter where you are located. There are many tools to help you. The ReConnect website (www.reconnectss.com) provides the finest in training tools. So whether running the race in the tall grass or on the streets of our cities, you can develop a Sunday School that impacts lostness and makes disciples.

Many of our churches are trying to find the key to church growth. Some churches think it is in worship style. Some think if we have the right band on stage, and if we would wear skinny jeans instead of a suit, we would have exponential growth like some other church. Maybe. Truthfully, most of us cannot successfully imitate the church across town or in the larger cities. We don’t have the money or people resources to do that. In fact, to try would produce a poor imitation at best. But for more of us, building an evangelistic and disciple-making Sunday School can be done. It just takes work!

I have lived long enough to see worship styles change dramatically,  and they will again. I have also lived long enough to know that churches who build an effective small group ministry will survive and thrive in the ups and downs of worship fads. Connect people to Sunday School, or small group ministry, and you are running a marathon rather than a sprint.