A Healthy Sunday School Will Grow (26-6)

A Healthy Sunday School Will Grow
Elmer Towns

The church and Sunday School must be healthy if it is going to grow.
The best biblical analogy to represent the church is the body, and a physical body will grow when it is healthy, fed, and exercised.

A body does not need to be challenged, coaxed, or have a goal to grow. The body automatically grows when it is healthy. When a local church body is healthy, it will grow internally and externally. Perhaps your church is not growing, or your Sunday School is in trouble. Are you properly feeding it the Word of God? Are you properly exercising it in prayer and witnessing? If you think your church is healthy, but it is not growing, perhaps it has a disease. When the body has a disease, it does not grow in a healthy manner. In medical school, pathology is one of the first courses studied by future doctors. Pathology is the study of disease. A doctor cannot treat a sickness until he understands its causes. He must know what makes a person sick before he can suggest a remedy or prescription. Even then, the doctor does not make a person well; the body has the energy to heal itself and grow itself. So it is with the body of Christ. When a church is sick, no leader can make it well. When he removes the cause of the illness, the body heals itself This section examines the diseases that prohibit a church from growing. When we know and remove the causes of church diseases, the body will heal itself.

Cure Ethnikitis by Opening to All
The first disease is called “ethnikitis.” It is the inbred allegiance of the church to one ethnic group and its lack of adaptation or openness to other groups. This disease occurs when communities change their ethnic character and churches fail to adapt to those changes. Sometimes a symptom of ethnikitis is what has been called “White Flight,” where the traditional WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) churches move out of their traditional communities as the ethnic character of the area changes. In our growing nation, our churches must be multi-ethnic, reaching to every new family or group of people moving into our neighborhoods. In one sense, the small neighborhood church is a homogeneous unit, yet the growing church must be a heterogeneous unit (the open door to all people), yet made up of homogeneous cells (classes and cells that will attract and minister to each group within its neighborhood).

HOW TO SOLVE ETHNIKITIS
1. Begin Bible classes or cells for new groups.
2. Hire staff members who represent the new groups moving into the neighborhood.
3. Begin a second-language preaching service.
4. If the church moves to another neighborhood, dedicate the building to spawn a continuing church.
5. New groups do not automatically visit existing churches, they must be aggressively sought and brought into the church fellowship.

The church that suffers ethnikitis is first, sinning against God, second, disobeying the Great Commission, and third, allowing a cancer to fester within its body.

Cure Old Age by Reaching People In Transition
Old age is another disease of church growth. This disease describes the community more than the church. When a church and the community become “old!’ so that not many people are moving in or out of the neighborhood, it is described as suffering “old age.” Though there are many advantages of a stable community, there are some disadvantages. When no one is moving in, there are no prospects for evangelism, nor are there unchurched who are candidates for church membership, hence no numerical growth. Churches are candidates for growth when they are located in growing areas such as in new housing subdivisions, or areas where the population is mobile. This is because when people move they go through a transition in their lives which St. Augustine referred to as “the seasons of the soul.” This means people are ripe for evangelism, like fruit for the harvest. During times when people move, they go through culture shock or disequilibrium. The uncertainty created by culture shock creates a void in a person’s life. This emptiness drives him to find satisfaction, and since the greatest satisfaction is Christ, the person is a candidate for salvation.

Dr. Thomas Holmes, professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Washington, devoted 25 years of research to the subject of stress producing experiences in life and rated the 43 most common crisis experiences. The more severe the crisis, the more likely one is entering a season of the soul. It is difficult to build a growing Sunday School in a stagnant neighborhood. When everyone is stable and no one is moving geographically, they are also probably not moving spiritually. And when people move out of a neighborhood (such as a dying mining town or a small farming town), it is difficult to see growth.

THE SEASONS OF THE SOUL*
1. Death of a spouse ………………………………….………………100
2. Divorce ………………………………………………………………………………….73
3. Marital separation…………………………………………………………………….65
4. Jail term………………………………………………………………………………….63
5. Death of close family member……………………………………………………63
6. Personal injury or illness……………………………………………………………53
7. Marriage…………………………………………………………………………………50
8. Job firing………………………………………………………………………………..47
9. Marital reconciliation………………………………………………………………..45
10. Retirement……………………………………………………………………………..45
11. Change in health of family member……………………………………………44
12. Pregnancy………………………………………………………………………………44
13. Sexual difficulties……………………………………………………………………39
14. Gain of new family member……….………..………………………..39
15. Business readjustment ……………………………………………………………..39
16. Change is financial state…………………………………………………………..38
17. Death of close friend………………………………………………………………..37
18. Change to a different line of work………………………………………………36
19. Change in number of arguments with spouse……………………………….35
20. Mortgage more than $10,000…………………………………………………….31
21. Foreclosure of mortgage or loan ………………………………………………..30
22. Change in responsibilities at work……………………………………………..29
23. Departure of son or daughter from home……………………………………..29
24. Trouble with in-laws………………………………………………………………..29
25. Outstanding personal achievement……………………………………………..28
26. Wife’s beginning or stopping work …………………………………………….26
27. Beginning or end of school……………………………………………………….26
28. Change in living conditions ………………………………………………………25
29. Change of personal habits…………………………………………………………24
30. Trouble with boss……………………………………………………………………23
31. Change in work hours or conditions……………………………………………20
32. Change in residence…………………………………………………………………20
33. Change in schools……………………………………………………………………20
34. Change in recreation………………………………………………………………..19
35. Change in church activities……………………………………………………….19
36. Change in social Activities ……………………………………………………….18
37. Mortgage or loan less than $10,000 ……………………………………………17
38. Change in sleeping habits …………………………………………………………16
39. Change in number family gatherings…………………………………………..15
40. Change in eating habits…………………………………………………………….15
41. Vacation………………………………………………………………………………..13
42. Christmas ………………………………………………………………………………12
43. Minor violations of the law……………………………………………………….11

*Source: Tim LaHaye, How to Win over Depression (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), pp. 99-100.

Years ago it was observed the Sunday School bus ministry was more effective in trailer courts, housing projects, or the poor areas of town (the poorer economically a family, the more often they are likely to move their residences, hence they are candidates for the Gospel). This discussion of the seasons of the soul does not take away from the supernatural nature of conversion. However, God can use natural causes (the death of a loved one) to motivate a person to seek salvation. Then God regenerates that person and gives him eternal life.

HOW TO OVERCOME OLD AGE
1. Reach people going through transitions (the seasons of the soul) in the hospital ministry, weddings, funerals, birth of a baby, etc.
2. Don’t set unrealistic growth goals.
3. Give attention to maintenance ministry, not growth ministry.
4. Begin pioneer works in another community that has growth.

The above article, “A Healthy Sunday School Will Grow” was written by Elmer Towns. The article was excerpted from 154 Steps To Revitalize Your Sunday School by Elmer Towns. Liberty University, 1988. Used by permission.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”

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