This month at Sunday School Leader.com, we are focusing on five principles of effective Sunday School and small group work that have stood the test of time and are as effective today as they have ever been. I challenge you to invest a few minutes every day at this blog. Your ministry in your group will improve, and after 31 days of exploring the possibilities, you will walk away with a deeper appreciation for Sunday School and an appreciation for the commitment your church has made to make disciples through its small group strategy.
KEEP…Go! That’s a helpful acronym to remember the 5-step formula for growing Sunday schools and small group ministries attributed to Arthur Flake, who in 1920 became the first person to hold the position now called Director of Sunday School for Southern Baptists. From his office at the Sunday School Board in Nashville, Flake worked alongside folks in the Baptist state conventions who had similar responsibilities. I think he would be thrilled to learn that commentary on “Flake’s Formula” would be the theme for the daily articles throughout January 2012. He would be pleased that the authors of these posts would be folks who lead the work of Sunday School in 42 Baptist state conventions reaching all of North America—and even one supporting Hawaii-Pacific churches. He would be fascinated that a new exhortation could be delivered for 31 consecutive days through a “post” on a “blog” that can literally reach Sunday School leaders of any denominational affiliation—or none—anywhere in the world!
Just a layman. That’s a pretty remarkable legacy for a department store salesman from Winona, Mississippi! You see, Mr. Flake was not seminary trained. He was not a vocational minister. He probably never aspired to anything greater than serving well as the Sunday School director in his church, First Baptist Winona. But Flake’s leadership did not go unnoticed. After effectively transferring his five principles through associational then state-wide assemblies, he was asked to serve in a national role. Remarkably, Flake’s Formula still works today! Here’s an overview of the principles state leaders will expound on this month:
Know the possibilities. Flake advocated surveying the community to determine what persons might be prospective Sunday School members. Goals were established based on real actionable information. There are lots of ways to do that today. The key is to set an attainable goal. Could your Sunday School attendance reasonably increase by 50? The first few articles in this series will expand on this principle.
Enlarge the organization. Flake advocated expanding the organizational structure in anticipation of growth; not just in response to it. Upon encouraging every church to have a class for babies, I’ve heard the same response dozens of times: “But we don’t have any babies.” And you never will if you don’t enlarge the organization in expectation that you will! The same principle applies to any other age group, life stage, affinity, or interest. The average Sunday School will need to add five new classes to increase attendance by 50. More ideas in part 2 of this series.
Enlist and train leaders. A growing organization must have leaders who are properly enlisted and adequately trained. The typical Sunday School will need to enlist and train about 15 new leaders to staff five new classes that will result in a growth of 50 in attendance. Part 3 of this series will provide some thoughts on this.
Provide space. To start new classes or groups, you’ve got to have leaders and a place to meet. To start five new units, you’ll need five “spaces.” Not necessarily rooms. Not necessarily at the church. You’ll get some fresh ideas in part 4 of this series.
GO after the people! The other four steps don’t matter if you don’t do this one. That’s why Flake started with a survey that produced real names and addresses. The last set of articles in this series will provide some ideas for getting names and contact information. And a few creative—and probably some tried and true—methods for going after people, inviting them to the transformational Bible study groups for all ages and stages we know as Sunday School—or its functional equivalent by some other name!
David Francis is Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources. His popular little annual books, many of which reference Flake’s Formula, can be downloaded free at www.lifeway.com/DavidFrancis or at the Apple iStore.