Arthur Flake provided strategic leadership for Sunday School development within the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1920 he was appointed head of the Sunday School Board’s new department of Sunday School Administration. Flake soon developed and popularized principles of Sunday School growth. Through his book, Building a Standard Sunday School, Flake laid out a five-point formula for Sunday School growth:

  1. Discover the prospects. Flake encouraged churches to locate prospects and develop a prospect file.
  2. Expand the organization. Flake discovered that starting new Sunday School classes enhanced growth because new classes grew faster than existing classes.
  3. Train the workers. Flake taught the churches to plan for growth by enlisting and training new teachers for new classes.
  4. Provide the space. Flake instructed the churches to plan for growth by providing space for new classes and projecting increases in attendance.
  5. Go after the people. Flake emphasized visitation, insisting that planning for growth was wasted effort if Sunday School workers did not visit the prospects.

John Mark TerryThousands of churches followed Flake’s formula and experienced growth. In fact, Flake’s simple principles became the “Five Commandments” for Sunday School directors in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Baptists made the Sunday School their key tool for evangelism. In 1945 J. N. Barnette wrote, “During the past quarter of a century approximately 85 percent of all church members, either by baptism or letter, have come out of the Sunday school enrolment.… The Sunday school is formed and operated for the purpose of reaching the lost.”

Southern Baptists have tended to point toward organization in general and to Flake’s principles in particular as the key factor in their Sunday School growth. Elmer Towns discounted the role of organization and pointed instead to the evangelistic fervor of the pastors, commitment of the teachers, and dedication to the Bible as the important factors. Organization alone cannot account for the growth, but Flake’s formula provided a simple and effective approach that enabled Southern Baptists to channel their enthusiasm.

The 1970s brought a remarkable increase in Sunday School growth. In 1968 there were only twelve Sunday Schools of all denominations that averaged more than two thousand in Sunday School. By 1981 forty-nine churches averaged more than two thousand. Several factors contributed to this development. First, the 1970s was the decade of fundamentalism. Fundamentalist churches proliferated during this period, and they emphasized Sunday School attendance. For example, in 1981 the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, averaged over fifteen thousand for the year. The use of church buses also boosted attendance. A large Sunday School attendance became a matter of prestige among some pastors.

John Mark Terry, Evangelism: A Concise History (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 181–183.