A Vital Tool for New Convert Retention
How Do Churches Grow?
That question has birthed a publishing phenomenon. Ministers’ libraries are filled with books that portend to give advice on “How to grow a church in five easy steps” or “How to grow from 70 to 7,000 in 7 months.” Allow me to throw my hat into the ring. There are only two ways to grow a church. We must (1) bring people in the front door and (2) keep people from going out the back door. If that sounds simplistic it’s because it is. Admittedly, we must address many principles if we are serious about church growth. However, evangelism and assimilation are the two core issues of church growth.
Jesus addressed these issues in His commission to the Church. He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
What role does the Sunday school play in this process?
It is my opinion that Sunday school is the finest church growth tool in the toolbox. It addresses both the front door and the back door of the church. However, for optimum effectiveness, Sunday school must incorporate both evangelism and assimilation into its purpose and plan.
Early architects of the Sunday school movement believed there had to be an intentional focus on evangelism. Arthur Flake, a layman who helped shape Southern Baptist Sunday School ministry said, “The supreme business of Christianity is to win the lost to Christ. This is what churches are for…. surely then the Sunday school must relate itself to the winning of the lost to Christ as an ultimate objective.”(Building a Standard Sunday School, The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1934.)
More recently Ken Hemphill wrote, “It is my conviction the beginning of the so-called demise of Sunday school can be traced to a time when denominations and local churches failed to use the Sunday school with evangelistic intentionality and purpose. When the design was forgotten, the Sunday school became a maintenance tool rather than a growth tool.” (Revitalizing the Sunday Morning Dinosaur, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996) If a church is to grow it must have an insatiable passion for evangelism that begins with the Sunday school.
Growth, resulting from evangelism, is of little value, however, unless we find a way of assimilating new converts into the fabric of the church. In his book, High Expectations, Thom Rainer writes, “A third group told us that they had given so much attention to the corporate worship service that the Sunday school was relegated to secondary importance. Undoubtedly, the renewed interest in worship has been a blessing to churches and to their growth potential. But when Sunday school is neglected as a consequence, the wide-open front door is often countered by a wide-open back door.”
How effective is Sunday school in closing the back door? The most significant lesson learned in a recent church growth study is that assimilation of new Christians is directly related to the way people were evangelized. The study showed that new Christians who immediately became active in Sunday school were five times more likely to remain in church five years later than those who attend worship only.
Sunday school is one of the most effective assimilation methods that the church has. If done correctly (important assumption) it provides discipleship, fellowship, evangelism, and ministry. Sunday school is a place where people become connected to the church and learn to live the life.
“Learning to live the L.I.F.E.” is the theme for national Sunday School Day and will be the Sunday School Department’s vision statement for the next few years. L.I.F.E. is an acrostic that supports our four-fold theme:
* Learning together
* Involving all who come
* Finding others who need to know
* Emerging for ministry
Obviously the mere existence of Sunday school will not produce assimilation. We must produce and use the very best curriculum, emphasizing our doctrinal distinctives. We must train our teachers to effective and knowledgeable. We must plan and organize around our stated purposes. Finally, we must pray that God will add His blessing to these efforts.
The key to a successful church is a successful Sunday school. The keys to a successful Sunday school are relatively simple,
1. Plan your work.
2. Work your plan.
3. Pray for numbers one and two.
This article “A Vital Tool for New Convert Retention” by Wes Bartel was excerpted from: www.outreachmag.org web site. May 2007. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
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.’