This is part 10 of a series of posts from David Francis’ Transformational Class: Transformational Church Goes to Sunday School . Click here for a free download of the book, as well as training materials to help you present the material to your leaders.
- Transformational Church Goes to Sunday School
- Missionary Mentality, Part One
- Missionary Mentality, Part Two
- Vibrant Leadership
- Two Key Principles: Open Groups Practicing Open Enrollment
- Relational Intentionality
- How Care Group Leaders Model Relational Intentionality
- The Absolute Necessity of Prayer Before, During, And After Small Group
- Prayer Requests: The Best Indicator of a Transformational Class
This excerpt is adapted from Chapter 5, “Worship: Actively Embrace Jesus,” pages 29-32.
When you consider the main purposes of the church, a Sunday School class can do a pretty good job at all of them—with the exception of worship. In the early 20th century, it was not uncommon for Sunday School to be the primary entry point, especially in Southern Baptist churches. Years ago one of the “six tasks of Sunday School” I learned as a “special worker” for the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) was “Lead People to Worship.” In days gone by, guests were more likely to attend a Sunday School class first and then move toward attending a worship service. That practice is beginning to change, but Sunday School and worship services have always been a powerful tandem in the local church.
The Tandem Turned Upside Down . . .
Or perhaps you’d argue the tandem was turned right side up when worship services started becoming “step-one” in the disciple-making process of churches. Arthur Flake, Southern Baptists’ first Director of Sunday School, introduced the “Standard of Excellence” in his 1922 book, Building a Standard Sunday School. Flake identified several criteria by which a church could achieve recognition as a Standard Sunday School. One of the criterion applied to the Sunday School’s responsibility for getting people to worship: “An average of at least 70 percent of [those] above eight years of age attending the school shall remain for the preaching services.” In most churches, that percentage has reversed. The average in Southern Baptist churches is about 70 percent of those in worship also attending Sunday School. The benchmark for a healthy church today is only 80 percent. But whichever comes first, the tandem of a Spirit-filled, Word-driven worship experience, coupled with Sunday School classes for all ages and stages gathering together right before or right after, remains a powerful tandem for getting people started on a path of discipleship.
The Assimilation Problem: Where Did All the Worshipers Go?
In any group of pastors who trust each other enough to share their challenges, someone will bring up the problem of assimilation. What’s that? Basically, it’s usually centered around two issues: (1) people praying to receive Christ away from the church who never make it to church for baptism—or often even to a worship service, and/or (2) people who have attended or even joined the church but who have never progressed beyond worship service attendance in the disciplemaking process.
A Proven Assimilation Solution: Sunday School
In research findings reported by Thom S. Rainer in High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church, new Christians who had joined a sample of churches were tracked for five years. Among those who only attended worship, fewer than 20 percent were still active five years later. However, among those who attended both worship and Sunday School, over 80 percent were still active after five years. (Having fielded questions about whether these findings apply to small groups, I asked Dr. Rainer. He says that the research did not include small groups, but that it is not unreasonable to assume that there is a similar if not exact correlation, at least directionally.)
David Francis is Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources. Before joining LifeWay in 1997, he served as minister of education at First Baptist Church in Garland, Texas. David and his wife, Vickie, love teaching preschool Sunday School and are helping start a new adult class in their church in Hendersonville, Tennessee.