Sunday School that excels

A new book I am pleased to be a contributor.

God is obviously blessing Corinth Church, and it is essential to remember that God wants to do a great work in all congregations. His Spirit and power is not limited by the size of a congregation. What are they doing that has allowed them to excel while so many others are experiencing decline?

First, they have a clearly defined mission and process. In every room, in every hallway, in every publication, and in every gathering the purpose of Corinth Baptist Church is communicated. It is “WIN every person, GROW every heart, and SEND every body”. The biblical foundation for their mission is the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (HCSB) They are purposefully seeking every available opportunity to win every available person to Jesus Christ while using every available means. Every Sunday school class, each of the ministries, and all activities are viewed as opportunities to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. They have opted to eliminate ministries if they hinder or fail to focus on reaching out to the community. The outward focus is critical, and it can be accomplished without neglecting the needs of the members.

Reaching out to the lost is important, but so is growing every heart is integral to the process. The church is also committed to helping believers to mature into devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They take very seriously 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” (HCSB) The members are encouraged to be active in personal Bible study and prayer every day. They are involved in small groups on a weekly basis, and corporate worship is also used as a teaching time through the preaching ministry of Pastor John.

The process does not end with bringing people to faith and aiding in their spiritual development through the study of God’s word. Serving Christ and sending leaders to engage in missions locally and globally are also given specific attention. Corinth is becoming a congregation similar to an Acts 1:8 church. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The congregation has developed ministries that are touching their local communities including a food pantry and a clothing closet for those in need locally. Mission trips are now a regular part of the church experience and mission’s offerings have doubled in the past three years. The focus on the mission is communicated, and the process of evangelism, discipleship, and missions is highlighted continually. Mindsets and attitudes have begun acclimating to the new focus.

The second element that is helping this church to excel is their commitment to Sunday school as their foundational strategy. Pastor John stated, “Sunday school has to been the key ministry that has made a difference.” Sunday school has become a priority ministry because it is way the church organizes to accomplish the Great Commission. Every class is involved and organized to “WIN every person, GROW every heart, and SEND every body.” It is through the groups that the mission is accomplished. The mission statement is fuel, and the Sunday school is the vehicle. One teacher said, “We tried to grow the church through preaching and worship but it did not work.”

Making Sunday school a priority will not eliminate every hindrance to growth. The following two issues will not cause or bring health and growth by themselves but can serve as barriers. The first hindrance that many small churches face when they experience growth is lack of meeting space. Growth may not be deterred but will ultimately be limited if worship and parking capacity is expanded while Bible study space is not likewise increased. Education space that is filled beyond capacity can severely limit future growth possibilities. Planning for space needs to include designs for growth in Sunday school as well as meeting immediate needs. A church can grow beyond capacity, but the climb gets steeper as the space gets more overcrowded.

Another hindrance faced by many small congregations is the quality of music provided in the worship service. This is a great challenge for many small/rural congregations. The style of the music is not nearly as critical as the quality that is provided. The church that fails to attend to resolving the issue of quality will likewise be limited rather than deterred in most circumstances. One of the benefits of reaching out to the community and experiencing growth is the likelihood that talent will come with the increase. Be mindful that quality is not perfection or professionalism but seeking to do your best with the resources at hand. Technology can serve as an aid to provide tremendous enhancements to the music experience that would not have been available to previous generations.

The third element that has served Corinth in becoming an excelling church is the leadership of Pastor John Lemmings. He is a Sunday school pastor in every sense of the title. Pastor John has made the commitment to be the leader of the Corinth Baptist Church. He understands that he is not the boss but rather the example serving as the congregation’s coach. When he first started at Corinth, he taught a class on Sunday mornings. That fact may not appear significant or unique at first glance. What is unusual is that Pastor John taught the 4th and 5th grade Sunday school class. He recognized early on the need to improve the ministry to children if the church was going to reach young families. The church had one class for elementary age students, and no one to teach a new class. He stepped into the gap, and led it himself. Later he enlisted the new leaders for the class and now teaches a pastors class on Sunday mornings.

John also leads the equipping meetings for Sunday school teachers at least once each quarter. The leaders meet during the week and have a meal with child care. Eighty percent of the leaders are in attendance at an average training session. He provides quality training that assists the teachers in accomplishing their leadership task. His goal is to equip the teachers to be more effective in their leadership, and, therefore, makes each meeting primarily a time of instruction rather than a meeting for announcements and administration. Equipping the saints to lead their ministries is not only biblical but also a tangible way that a pastor in a small congregation can generate momentum. While relationships are enhanced through this time together, the skills and the spiritual development of the leaders is promoted through the pastor’s leadership.

John has always been personally evangelistic, sharing his faith and seeking to bring them into a relationship with Jesus. As a pastor, he is purposeful in leading his congregation to be evangelistic. He provides training for the members in how to share the gospel and leads them to practice sharing their faith. When a new believer makes their commitment public on a Sunday morning, the person that shared with them is also asked to stand with them. John also uses his sermons to provide ideas for classes and members to be evangelistic. In a recent sermon, he mentioned the idea of simply helping a senior adult at the grocery store load their groceries into the car. He later heard that the middle school girls Sunday school class had taken that idea and begun to apply it. A group of went to the local grocery store and did what the pastor had suggested. It made an impact not only on those that were assisted but also the store manager as well.

Pastor John also takes the lead in enlisting new leaders and creating new classes. In three years, the church has grown from eight Sunday school classes to eighteen classes. The ten new classes and all the leaders to staff those groups were personally enlisted and trained by the pastor. More leaders and more groups will ordinarily reach more people.