The missionary Sunday School has One Mission: transformation. Personal, spiritual transformation in the lives of individuals, evidenced by their fruit that they are becoming more and more like Jesus. Congregational transformation within churches evidenced by the fruit that they’re acting more and more like the body of Christ. Cultural transformation around and among the churches evidenced by the fruit that the surrounding community more and more reflects the kingdom of God. The Sunday School movement has a rich history of being used by God to provoke transformation in all three of these arenas.

More than a Program

Some—maybe most—people think that Sunday School is a program thought up by leaders in their denominational headquarters. The reality is that Sunday School is a missionary movement that began apart from the sponsorship of any church or denomination. In fact the movement initially faced significant opposition from some church and denominational leaders. Long before it was sponsored by local churches or embraced by denominations, Sunday School was a missionary movement that cut across (and sometimes against) the grain of traditional church structures. Its primary mission was to reach, teach, and minister to persons who were outside the church and far from God. In a missionary Sunday School, that’s still the mission.

A Missionary Movement

If a class decided to be part of a missionary Sunday School, wouldn’t it be embracing something radically new? Actually, it would be embracing a radical movement that has been going on for more than two centuries! Many of us have only known Sunday School as a church or denominational program. But Sunday School is a movement that took root in England around 1780. A newspaper publisher named Robert Raikes is generally credited with accelerating the movement. Raikes established classes to teach child laborers to read and write on their only day off each week using the Bible as the primary textbook. He tested his idea for three years before even publishing a story about it in his newspaper. It was as much the power of the printed page that accelerated the idea as the idea itself, an idea so compelling that it spread—in print and in reality—with incredible speed. The marriage between the Sunday School movement and the publishing enterprise was made. The impact was simply phenomenal, impacting millions of children and adults in Great Britain and its colonies.


David Francis, Missionary Sunday School (Nashville: LifeWay Press, 2011); available at Used with permission.

David Francis is speaking as part of the All Star Sunday School Training Team. To attend an event, or host an event. see