I have frankly been blown away by the positive response to my latest little book, Great Expectations : Planting Seeds for Sunday School Growth. You’d know why I’m so surprised if I told you the story behind why I decided to use that theme this year, which Bob Mayfield has invited me to do!
Some of my friends have commented, “We like your little books (which have been dubbed“Franciscan Epistles” within LifeWay), but they really all say the same stuff.” That’s probably true of Great Expectations, too!
I experienced a huge breakthrough last year in terms of my own expectations about Sunday School. The catalyst for that breakthrough was during preparation for an online debate with Small Groups specialist Rick Howerton http://www.lifeway.com/sundayschoolvssmallgroups/ . As Rick, Bruce Raley, and I prepared, we had something of a simultaneous flash of insight that Sunday School was being pressured to fulfill expectations that were the domain of small groups on the one hand and discipleship groups on the other. It was frankly a moment of enlightenment to feel the freedom of just letting Sunday School be what it is! And to celebrate that its balance of biblical community and biblical content in an open group environment is exactly what makes it effective as perhaps the finest assimilation tool God has given the church.
Setting aside unreal expectations , however, is not the same as suspending all expectations! Sunday School classes that grow have high expectations. High Expectations was the original working title of the book, based on the tremendous research boost Sunday School received from Dr. Thom Rainer’s book High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church. My boss, Church Resources VP John Kramp, actually recommended the Great Expectations title. Any parallels to the Charles Dickens classic by the same name are purely coincidental. If there is one allusion you could draw from the classic, it might be that Sunday School has sort of been down on its luck, but I believe the rest of the story is not yet written, and Sunday School may yet make a huge comeback.
The book does conclude with a really big expectation: a proposal that Southern Baptists could start 100,000 new adult classes by 2020, with 1,000,000 more adults in attendance. Plus all the kids! At the end of the day, that’s why I wrote Great Expectations, Bob! And as the champion of “Power of One,” you know that it will always come down to the work of individual classes, one at a time choosing to just muddle along or decide to act on Great Expectations.
For the next 31 days, you’ll enjoy reading articles based on the Great Expectations theme written by the finest Sunday School leaders in North America. These men and women, all members of a fellowship called the State Sunday School Directors Association (SSSDA), share a common passion for making disciples through Sunday School classes, small groups, and discipleship groups. I hope you’ll come back every day this month to be challenged and inspired toward great expectations .