Healthy Sunday School Attitudes Lead to Success
By Elmer Towns
The Bible teaches that God’s work, done in God’s way, will have God’s blessing. When God blesses a church or Sunday School, it will grow—both internally and externally. But many churches are empty of people and empty of God’s blessing. They are powerless to get people converted and their members are discouraged. There is no numerical growth in their ministry. The problem is a wrong attitude. When attitudes are right, other things fall into place. Note the formula for growth.
Formula: Right attitudes + right actions = success!
Right attitudes = right thinking about a situation or problem.
Right actions = right acting about a situation or problem.
For a church or Sunday School to grow, it must recognize and implement: (a) correct attitudes, (b) correct objectives, (c) Correct principles, and (d) correct applications. Sometimes churches decide they want to grow because they perceive certain benefits to the church through growth, but they are really not committed to the Word of God. This was particularly evident during the busing boom of the ’70s.
Hundreds of churches jumped on the busing bandwagon and purchased used buses to bring thousands of bus kids into their ministries. But some of those churches refused to make the necessary changes to their ministries to handle the influx of children. Those who got into busing with the wrong motives usually stopped running the buses very quickly when difficulties came along. They learned only after they had invested several thousands of dollars into an aborted ministry that there was a price to be paid for church growth. Note the following price that must be paid for church growth.
STEP 1: The Pastor Must Pay the Price for Growth The pastor is the leader of the church. If a church is to experience growth, the pastor must want the church to grow and be willing to pay the price. Since he is the leader of the congregation, he must be first willing to pay the price of sacrifice. Dr. Lee Roberson, who built the Sunday School of Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee to over 11, 000 in attendance, said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” Leadership implies one is leading and people are following him. If a pastor thinks he is leading a church, but no one is following him, he is just taking a walk. What is the price of church growth which must be paid by the pastor? First, the responsibility of growth carries the risk of failure. Just as a farmer who plants seeds in the ground fails if the plants do not come up, so the minister who sows the seed of the Word of God risks failure if nothing happens in his ministry. However, this is not just a larger head count. All church growth is not just numerical growth, though that is implied. The second price of church growth is hard work. It is harder to pastor a growing church than a plateaued church. In many respects, pastoring is the most difficult work in the world.
TYPES OF GROWTH
• Internal Growth—when Christians or a church grows in grace and knowledge of the Lord. This is also described as nurture.
• External Growth—this is numerical growth in attendance, offerings, membership, or enrollment.
• Biological Growth—this is numerical growth when babies are born to church members and added to the church.
• Transfer Growth—this involves Christians of “likefaith and like-practice” who join a church. Since 22 percent of Americans move to new homes each year, this means the church should target displaced Christians in their outreach program. This is not sheep-stealing but finding lost sheep.
• Conversion Growth—this is numerical growth by winning lost people to Jesus Christ and bonding them to the church.
• Expansion Growth—this is the growth of Christianity by planting new Sunday Schools or churches.
But hard work by itself will not grow a church. A person must work smart. Technology and tools can make hard work more effective and sometimes easier. When the pilgrims settled in the United States, they brought their tools from Europe and learned to grow corn from the Indians. Their technology was limited. They dug a hole in the ground, planted an ear of corn, and added fish for fertilizer. By working hard with his hoe, a colonist could grow the equivalent of four bushels of corn a year, or about one bushel for each month in the growing season. By the time of the Civil War, farmers used mules and developed plows and other tools enabling a man to grow the equivalent of a bushel of corn a week or 16 bushels of corn a year. By the time of World War I, farmers were using tractors and other machinery. They updated their technology to save their topsoil and rotated their crops. The World War I farmer could grow a bushel of corn a day, or the equivalent of 120 bushels of corn a year.
But today, with advanced technology, petrochemical fertilizer, soil analysis, and four-wheel drive tractors, a farmer can grow the equivalent of a bushel of corn for each 10 minutes of the growing season. American farmers grow more corn than the other farmers of the world because of better technology and better tools. The miracle of life in the seed has not changed; farmers can do nothing to change what God has ordered in the growth cycle. But tools and technology can improve the harvest. Pastors can learn from the farmers. The unchanging seed is the Bible. Also, the principles of ministry have not changed. But methods have been updated! Principles never change, but methods and technology change. (A method is the application of an eternal principle to a contemporary need.)
Principles are preaching, teaching, soul-winning, etc. A method might be V.B.S., bus ministry, or Sunday afternoon training union for youth. Some of these methods are not as effective as in the past. But by using the most advanced tools and technologies of the ministry, based on old-fashioned principles, we can make our hard work most effective. We can do more for God than we have ever done before. This second cost of building a church is hard work, but never hard work alone. It will take smart work (latest tools and technologies), plus hard work. A third cost is the pastor sharing his ministry with his members. He must learn to “give up” some things to his members so they can minister in his place. The pastor must share his ministry with his flock, for the growing church involves the ministry of the whole body to the whole body. Ministry is not limited to just the paid staff, but every person can be involved in ministry. Because every person has a spiritual gift, every “gifted” person should be using his gift (I Cor. 7:7). A hundred years ago, only about 15 percent of our church members were involved in ministry. The remaining 85 percent were little more than spectators. But that is not the norm in growing churches today. Even though we idealistically suggest every member become involved, realistically, a growing church has 50 percent involvement.
Fourth, the pastor must recognize he has members in his church he cannot pastor, then allow others in the church to pastor them. Leadership is not doing everything, nor is it being everything. Leadership is getting the job done through other people. A wise pastor once counseled a new pastor, “Don’t do the work of 10 people, put 10 people to work.” Growing churches today are led by a qualified paid staff of specialists who work together under the leadership of the senior pastor to get the job done. But that is only half the picture. A growing church must also involve a multitude of lay people who serve Jesus Christ in various forms of ministry. (See step 9 that discusses the shepherding role of laymen through Sunday School classes.)
The above article, “Healthy Sunday School Attitudes Lead to Success” was written by Elmer Towns. The article was excerpted from 154 Steps to Revitalize your Sunday School and Keep Your Church Growing by Elmer Towns. 1988.
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.”