Author Archive for David Francis

100 Little Things Better Than One Big Thing

100Excellence is not about doing any one thing a hundred times better, but doing 100 things a little bit better.  Thus argued Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their books on excellent enterprises back in the 90s. Still true? I think so. Apply to Sunday School and church? I’m pretty sure it applies.

“Provoke conversations about the 100 little things that can be done better.”  That’s the stated purpose on page 5 of my latest little book, One Hundred: Charting a Course Past 100 in Sunday School. Written with Michael Kelley, the book presents the principles any church can use to grow toward and beyond 100. It just does so without any bias toward larger churches.

100 articles on 100 things.  Over the next several weeks, Sunday School Leader will feature 100 such ideas. The articles will be written by men and women who champion the work of Sunday School across North America.  They often wear many hats as a part of their roles at the state convention offices that serve Southern Baptist churches in a state or group of states.  One of those “hats” is that of “State Sunday School Director.” Collectively, they comprise the State Sunday School Directors Fellowship, which sponsors this blog.

Got an idea for the 100? Use the Comment feature to share it! There’s no reason we have to stop at 100 things! Surely there are more!

Sunday School is a system. It’s a bunch of things—big and small—that make a Sunday School excellent instead of mediocre.  Each relates to another and that to another and so on and so on. So what if every little thing you improved resulted in just one more person coming to Sunday School, coming back to Sunday School, enrolling in Sunday School, attending regularly in Sunday School, serving in Sunday School, and inviting another to Sunday School? Each of the 100 ideas you’ll read about in the next several weeks may seem inconsequential taken alone. But put 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 into practice and see what happens!


David Francis is the Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources. On a typical Sunday morning, you can find David and wife Vickie at First Baptist Church Hendersonville, Tennessee. They arrive about 8:00 to set up their pre-K room, attend the 8:30 worship service, teach their class of 4-5 year old kids at 9:45, and participate in an adult Bible study group at 11:00.

Follow David on Twitter at @1davidfrancis

Some Shocking But Solvable Church Math

crosswordDid you like “word problems” in school? Most people don’t. One of my favorites is from a nonsense greeting card:

“If a chicken and a half can lay an egg and a half in a day and a half, how long would it take a grasshopper with a wooden leg to kick all the seeds out of a dill pickle?”

Of course, you can’t solve that problem. With the right information, you can solve this one:

A church averages 150 people in the building during Sunday morning worship. The church is an average Southern Baptist congregation. How many of the 150 participate only in the worship service? How many in Sunday School? About how many classes are there? Five years from now, how many of each group will still be active?

In order to solve the various equations called for by this problem, you need the following data:

  • On average, SBC churches report a Sunday School to Worship attendance ratio of 2:3 (67%).
  • On average, SBC churches have a class to attendance ratio of 1:10. Every class does not have exactly 10, but—over time—the average is about ten people per class.
  • In High Expectations, Thom Rainer reports the findings from a team of researchers who analyzed membership data from a sampling of churches to discover what happened to new members after 5 years in two categories. They found that members who attended Worship only, 16 percent were still around 5 years later. If they attended worship and Sunday School, 83 percent remained active.

So, let’s solve the word problem. How many of the 150 during worship also attended Sunday School? 150 times 67% equals 100. 100 people attended worship and Sunday School.

How many classes? 100 divided by 10 equals 10. So about 10 classes.

How many of the 100 who attended worship and Sunday School will still be active in 5 years? 100 times 83% equals 83.

How many of the 50 who only attend worship will still be around in 5 years? 50 times 16% equals 8.  That’s not a typo. There will be eight. Did that sink in? Eight.

This is more than a word problem. It is a real problem. Fortunately, the problem can be solved! How? By getting worship attenders into Sunday School. Or—more likely—starting new groups. Bonus problem: How many classes are needed to involve the 50?  Did you say 5? Good job!


David Francis is the Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville

Download David’s books and training here

31 Day Countdown to Leading & Launching Groups

CountdownSSDAAugust is always an exciting time for Sunday School leaders. It is an opportunity for a fresh start. For starting new groups. For training new leaders. For trying new tactics. For remembering tried and true ones.

Again this August, the men and women who lead the work of Sunday School, discipleship, and small groups in Baptist state conventions will contribute a new article every day of August to help you get fired up about a new year of discipling people through groups. This year, they will be writing on topics related to the new book Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Groups. LifeWay’s Small Groups Specialist Rick Howerton and I worked really hard to pack a lot of stuff into a 64-page book that will provide any reader a condensed but comprehensive overview of everything groups. You can download the book free at or to your iOS device at iTunes (just search my name). Whether you read along or not, the articles the next 30 days will benefit you. Don’t miss any!

The countdown will go like this:

10 Terms. You’ll learn the basic “language” of groups that will equip you to have a conversation with any leader in any church. You’ll learn to distinguish terms like group and class, open and closed, ongoing and short-term, and others. Starting tomorrow!

9 Research-validated Reasons. Making disciples through groups is not just an idea. It’s an idea backed up by research. People in groups grow more, serve more, give more, share more, and stick more than those not it groups.

8 Big Choices. Designing group ministries—like Sunday School—require leaders to make trade-off decisions. Big choices. We’ll explore 8 big ones that will help you understand—or influence—why your church’s system of groups operate as they do.

7 Elements. We will explore the 7 elements discovered in the research reported in Transformational Church and how they apply to making disciples through groups.

6 Challenges. You’ll have to read the Countdown book for these. These “outside the box” challenges to conventional thinking about groups from Rick Howerton are too unique to comment on. Get the book!

5 Stages. We will revisit the famous Flake’s formula’s five steps using five fresh words: dream, declare, develop, determine, and deploy.

4 Starting Points. Another place you’ll have to read the book, which explains the “starting points” that drive the development of LifeWay’s 4 major Bible study curriculum brands: topic, text, theology, and your church. You can also see how this works at

3 Purposes. Sunday School classes or small groups can’t do everything. They can probably do three. One should be primary.

2 Key Words. The destiny of your church’s Sunday School or groups ministry will be determined by how much you increasingly embrace and support groups that are small and new.

1 Essential Book. Want to guess what book? Here’s a hint: If it’s not Bible study, it’s not Sunday School!  What a great reminder on August 31.

I look forward to reading how the friends who are designated “State Sunday School Director” in their Baptist state convention. Most of us have other responsibilities, too. But our “first love” is Sunday School. I hope you share our passion. Or will at the end of August!


David Francis is the Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources. On a typical Sunday morning, you can find David and wife Vickie at First Baptist Church Hendersonville, Tennessee. They arrive about 8:00 to set up their pre-K room, attend the 8:30 worship service, teach their class of 4-5 year old kids at 9:45, and participate in an adult Bible study group at 11:00.

Follow David on Twitter at @1davidfrancis

Rick Howerton is the co-author of Countdown. Rick is the Discipleship & Small Groups Specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources. If you entered Rick’s house on most any Tuesday night around 6:30, you’d find Rick and his wife Julie welcoming some of their closest friends: their small group made up of believers longing to live in authentic Christian community. Rick attends the church he planted, The Bridge Church, in Spring Hill, Tennessee and serves in the role of founding pastor.

Follow Rick on Twitter at @RickHowerton

3 Roles to Guiding Groups

How Two Very Different Churches
Are Equipping Leaders Using
3 Roles for Guiding Groups

3RolesBookThis blog has readers from many denominations—or none! If you love Sunday School, we are part of the same family. It is not a secret that those who write for the blog are usually Southern Baptists. Most lead the work of Sunday School and small groups in the SBC’s state conventions. I am so pleased that this group is posting daily articles during August to supplement the conversation Ken Braddy and I started with the little book 3 Roles for Guiding Groups: Teacher, Shepherd, Leader.*

Two very different churches. Bob Moon is Minister of Education at First Baptist Church in Portland, Tennessee. Portland is a town near the Kentucky border. First Baptist is a pretty traditional church . Most of the 25 groups meet on Sunday mornings at the church. The groups are called classes. They are led by teachers. Eddie Mosley is a blogger and small groups pastor at LifePoint Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. Smyrna is a fast-growing Nashville suburb. LifePoint is a multi-site church. Most of the 250 groups meet in homes during the week. They are led by shepherds.

Both are using 3 Roles to equip leaders. Bob will train his leaders using the free presentation material ( Eddy set up a training site on Facebook.  In Portland, the conversation will be face-to-face. In Smyrna, the conversation will be virtual.

Presentation and conversation. I have become more and more vigilant about using precise words. We wrestled with every word in the title of the book. The introduction is sort of an exegesis of the title! That’s why I have decided to start using the words presentation and conversation instead of lecture and discussion.

Information and transformation. It’s not enough to expose our leaders to some more principles and opinions.  Our aim should be to motivate and equip leaders toward transformational groups.

The key is conversation. The goal of this series is to continue the conversation about guiding groups. And to provide additional perspective that will help leaders continue that conversation.

90 minutes to 3 new groups. I suggest in conferences that leaders be provided the information (book, articles) ahead of time, and come to the leadership event prepared to spend most of the time in conversation.  Bob just asked the four team teachers in a vibrant young adult class to meet him at church one night. He provided markers, and they read 3 Roles together, stopping to talk about each chapter. At the end of this time together, Bob just asked what they thought they might do, not really having a specific expectation. In near unison, they responded “Looks like our class needs to be four classes and we need to be the four teachers.” That may be an exceptional story, but it demonstrates the power of conversation. So, this month, join the conversation! Every day. Invite your leaders to join it, too. You never know what might happen!


David Francis_Pic to use_5360*David Francis is Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources.  3 Roles can be downloaded free through LifeWay Reader, at the iTunes store, or along with plans and presentation materials at  All materials may be reproduced with citation.  3 Roles is also available in print. Co-author Ken Braddy is Managing Director in Adult Publishing, and blogs at

Arthur Flake’s Five-step Formula to Sunday School Growth

This month at Sunday School, we are focusing on five principles of effective Sunday School and small group work that have stood the test of time and are as effective today as they have ever been. I challenge you to invest a few minutes every day at this blog. Your ministry in your group will improve, and after 31 days of exploring the possibilities, you will walk away with a deeper appreciation for Sunday School and an appreciation for the commitment your church has made to make disciples through its small group strategy…

To see more, click here.