Four Key Insights into Sunday School Growth

Four Key Insights into Sunday School Growth
Elmer Towns


New Classes Cause Growth

Sunday Schools grow through the adding of new classes, departments, or new areas of outreach. First, classes must be organized for outreach. Then when visitors come to the Sunday School, there is structure to help keep them. A Sunday School cannot sustain growth without new classes. To grow by 100, a total of 10 new classes must be added to the Sunday School.

Add or Divide Classes

The traditional approach, to divide classes in order to grow, is not the only foundation for expansion. New classes can be added without cutting into existing classes (see steps 32-36). The division of classes and creation of new classes in and by itself does not provide motivation to grow. Growth comes from an evangelistic spirit and a desire to reach people for Christ. Growth comes from a dynamic spirit that grows out of a “people-oriented” Sunday School. The traditional phrase was “divide and multiply.” New classes can be added without the disadvantages associated with breaking up a good and growing class. Or, when lethargy sets in, dividing a class becomes a step to growth.

The Church Body Grows Like the Physical Body

The first time I visited Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the largest church in the world, the Full-Gospel Church of Seoul, Korea, was in 1978. We discussed the laws of Sunday School growth. He told me he had read about the laws in my books but claimed, “If I followed the laws I could not have grown and if I followed them now, I would quit growing.”

Dr. Cho explained that (in 1978) he had 160, 000 in his church and that he would have had to build a Sunday School building four times the size of U.C.L.A. (University of California, Los Angeles) to house them all. U.C.L.A. had 40,000 students, one fourth of the 160,000 people in his church. Cho went on to explain that if he did build that large in the past, then he could not afford to build in the future and would stop growing. Dr. Cho explained that he grew his church by cell groups meeting in homes during the week. Dr. Cho used the illustration of the physical body as an analogy for the church body. He said Koreans understood this analogy better than

Westerners, “A body is formed when the life of the man in his seed joins to the life of the woman in her egg and produces a cell.”

Cho held his fingers so they almost touched and said, “The cell is so small you cannot see it with the natural eye. But all the characteristics of the new baby are in this cell, whether blond hair, black hair, or, “looking at me he added, bald.” “If the cell grows it is diseased and is discharged,” he explained. “The fertilization process must start again. “A cell does not grow. Growth comes from the cell dividing. Then both cells are identical. You cannot tell, which cell began first. Each cell divides making two cells, then four cells. Then they divide into eight cells; the process is unending. When cells stop dividing, death takes place.”

I received insight into church growth when Cho then said, “The body grows by the division of cells.” I then realized the church—the local body of Christ—grew by the division of cells or classes and departments. Cho was right about Korean church growth; it came as he divided his home Bible study cells for growth.

But Cho was also wrong. American Sunday School classes had never grown because of classrooms. American Sunday Schools followed the same principles; they grew by the division of classes. The secret of Sunday School growth is adding ministries, adding ministers, and adding places of ministry. We must add classes, add teachers, and expand our base for growth.


1. Add Ministries
2. Add Ministers
3. Add Places of Ministry

If a physical cell grows without division in the physical body, it becomes cancer. By the same principle, cancer happens in the body of Christ. When cells do not divide, and new ministries are not added, spiritual cancer sets in the local church.



The above article, “Four Key Insights into Sunday School Growth” 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.”