We are starting a five week series on Tuesdays during the month of May about Sunday School in the smaller attendance church. In my ministry context of Oklahoma, 1200 of our 1800 churches have less than 100 people in attendance. Sunday School in smaller attendance churches is done a little differently than in say, a megachurch of 3,000. Today’s post (and the rest of the articles in this series) is from my friend Jim Brunk. Jim is the Associational, Smaller in Attendance Church (SAC) Outreach Specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Jim has pastored smaller attendance churches, and these churches have grown under his leadership.
I am honored to be asked to share, over the next five weeks, about Sunday School in smaller in attendance churches. I have been an advocate of Sunday School for most of my ministry. I was raised and saved in a non-denominational church called Faith Tabernacle in Stilwell, OK. My family helped start the church in the 60’s. Sunday School was not a priority in the church. Long, exciting, high-energy worship was considered the most important thing. They had Sunday School as an afterthought, but it ended up saving the church when the pastor left. When I married Wylene Ritchie, I was baptized and joined her church, First Baptist Church, Stilwell at age 21. At age 24, I was the department director of grades one through three with three teachers that had around 150 years of Sunday School work experience between them. I learned that Sunday school was the HEART of that church. While I was at FBC Stillwell from 1970 to 1980 our Sunday School grew from running in the 100s to over 500 average attendance. Through the years, I became the associate pastor and directed music, youth and education. Sunday School was always a priority to the pastor, staff, deacons and church as a whole. It also became the priority for growth and health in the next four churches and associations my family and I served in as associate pastor, pastor, and director of missions.
In SBC churches that are growing today, high-energy, exciting worship and Sunday School (small groups) is still priority. Some say today that Sunday School is a thing of the past. In visiting with pastors of growing SBC churches and new churches, I believe that the facts prove to be otherwise. We have been a part of planting churches for the past 18 years and have found that after a church starts with a high-energy dynamic worship, if it does not get a Sunday School or some sort of small groups going within five years, it dies. In conversation with Preston Collins in Union Association, Norman OK, he has also found this to be true. He shared he could not recall a new church start that survived five years without small groups. The saying, “to grow larger you must grow smaller” is SO TRUE! You MUST have small groups that fellowship, share, care, pray for and love on one another.
I would like to share a message outline that I heard Elmer Towns preach years ago. It is as fresh today as it was when the Old Testament was written thousands of years ago. It is found in Deuteronomy 31:12 KJV, “Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law.”
1. Sunday School is the Gathering arm of the Church.
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates…
2. Sunday School is the Teaching arm of the church.
…that they may hear, and that they may learn,
3. Sunday School is the Winning arm of the church
…and fear the Lord your God,
4. Sunday School is the Caring arm of the church
… and observe to do all the words of this law.”
The two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. I believe that Sunday School is how the church effectively organizes itself to actually do both of these commandments.
In the next four articles I would like to share how to evaluate and grow your Sunday School in the smaller attendance church. It is not hard, but it is HARD WORK. I’m looking forward to joining with you here on Bob’s blog for the next few weeks.