Archive for 31 Days of Missionary Sunday School

Coffee with my Homeboy

Arthur Flake:  Sunday School Missionary

A couple of years ago, as a way of recognizing state Sunday school directors, Bob Mayfield of Oklahoma provided coffee cups with Arthur Flake’s picture on it and the phrase “Arthur Flake is my Homeboy!” and his picture on the side.  The back contained the five principles that have become known as “Flake’s Formula”.  The previous year, we received T-Shirts with the same design.  As I wore the shirt in the halls of the LifeWay building, I bumped in to Ed Stetzer who commented that “there may be only 1000 people in the world that think that’s an awesome T-Shirt, and half of them are in this building”.    I don’t know if I totally agree with his research and analysis, but the point is, many people have forgotten the impact this great missionary had on the Sunday school movement in its early days. What is most amazing about his impact is the timeless relevance of the five principles he came up with as a strategy for organizational growth.  Nearly every time these principles are tried, they work and the result is numerical and spiritual growth.

So who is this man we call our homeboy?  Arthur Flake was a department store salesman in Winona, MS in the early part of the 20th Century who gained such success as the Sunday school director at First Baptist Church, Winona that he was asked to travel the state and beyond inspiring others to expand their ministries.  In 1920, he was asked to join the Baptist Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now LifeWay) as their first national program leader of Sunday school for Southern Baptists. Flake would conduct and teach others to conduct enlargement clinics leading to what some would be called Sunday school revivals.  Part of these clinics centered on a five-step formula now famously called “Flake’s Formula”:

  1. Know the possibilities.
  2. Enlarge the organization.
  3. Enlist and train the workers.
  4. Provide space and resources.
  5. GO after the people!

If you take the first letters of each of the five steps or principles, they spell the acronym KEEP-GO. The formula still works, over 90 years later! Perhaps Flake’s greatest contribution to the Sunday school movement was the idea that the organization should be expanded in anticipation of growth (based on the possibilities), not just in response to growth.*

On days when I feel like I have run out of good ideas to encourage and strengthen the Bible teaching and reaching ministries in the churches I serve, I pour me a cup of coffee in my little mug and am reminded that the best new ideas are often the time tested ones that are not new at all, thanks to my homeboy.

* portions of this article are taken from David Francis’ book, Missionary Sunday School, pp 45-46
©2011 LifeWay Press
Jason McNair serves as the Religious Education Consultant for the Utah Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. He also enjoys teaching an adult Sunday school class with his homeboys at First Baptist, West Valley City, UT.


Train your Replacement

This is 30 of 31 Days of Missionary Sunday School.

I remember my first meeting with the Sunday School Director at my new church. He said, “We know we need to start new classes, but we are facing the age-old question: where do you get the leaders?” I responded, “There is a reason it is the age-old question, no one has answered it, and I don’t have an answer either.” He stared at me, shaking his head with disappointment. “However, the Bible never asks that question,” I said. “The Bible is filled with examples of leaders training new leaders.” The question is, “Are your leaders developing new leaders?”

The Bible gives numerous examples of training your replacement: Elijah and Elisha, Jesus with the disciples, Paul and Timothy, and Timothy with faithful men. Training leaders capable of taking the reins of ministry should be a focal point of leaders according to Ephesians 4. Each of these Biblical leaders gives us some insight in training a replacement; prayerful enlistment, personal preparation, participatory development, and a plan for multiplication.

Elijah – How do I know who I should enlist?
There are several unforgettable scenes in the life of Elijah such as the fire of God falling at Mount Carmel and Elijah’s whirlwind ride to heaven. Another unforgettable scene took place at Horeb where Elijah felt he was the only leader left. Perhaps this is the Old Testament rendition of ‘where do you get the leaders’ as Elijah believed he was the last in his line of prophets. God sent a strong wind, a powerful earthquake, and a blistering fire, but He was not found by Elijah in any of the three elements. Then there was a gentle whisper, and Elijah heard the voice of God. God assured Elijah that he was not alone and sent him to anoint Elisha as a prophet to take his place. God still provides us with an Elisha if we will listen to his voice. Your Elisha may not be a likely candidate, but through prayer, God will reveal His choice servant to you.

Jesus – How do I train them?
Reading through the Gospel of Luke is an excellent way to discover a model of leadership and multiplication. Real leaders must go through a time of personal, spiritual preparation where they are securely rooted in the Word of God. In Luke 4, Jesus demonstrated this personal preparation as he overcame life’s greatest temptations through the Word. Reading further in Luke, one can see how such preparation is necessary when calling others to follow your example to become ‘fishers of men.’
In Luke 9, Jesus gives an example of participatory development. He had called the disciples alongside so that they could participate in the mission. As chapter 9 unfolds, one can see how this participatory development moves to a new level as he sends the disciples out on a ‘field test.’ He sent them out empowered, equipped, and educated for what would take place. In training a replacement, one should call the apprentice alongside and then give him or her opportunities for a ‘field test’ of what has been learned. Empower, equip, and educate your apprentice for what lies ahead.

Paul – How should I release them to serve?
Paul gives leaders some tips of how to release new leaders into service. Learn to celebrate the accomplishments and value of the apprentice. Paul, in Philippians 2:20 – 22 (NAS), said Timothy was like “no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare” and celebrated his “proven worth” in sharing the Gospel. Celebrate the value of the new leaders and release them with a plan for multiplication as Paul did with Timothy. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, encouraged his prized pupil to take those things that he had learned and pass them on to “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2 NAS). Train your replacement and send him or her out with a plan to multiply.

Daniel Edmonds, State Missionary, Director of the Office of Sunday School & Discipleship, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions

The Two-Year Principle

This is post 29 of 31 Days of Missionary Sunday School.

A frequently asked question of many Sunday School leaders is, “When is a Sunday School class too large?” Typically the question is asked by someone who is aware of the rule of thumb regarding a cap on enrollment. Through the years, this rule suggested starting a new class before the class enrollment reached twenty-five, but situations and circumstances have caused many to rethink or disregard this limit on enrollment.

There have always been other factors to consider as well.  One rule that is hard to break is the capacity rule. Simply put, the capacity of the classroom determines the size of the group. It is hard to consistently exceed eighty percent of the room’s capacity in attendance.

Capability of class leaders is another factor to consider when deciding if a new group should be started. It is always good to maintain a healthy leader to learner ratio to maximize the competency of all leaders. When the ratio is unhealthy, leaders are stretched beyond their ability to minister effectively. However, even with a healthy ratio, some teachers do not like larger classes because it strains at their availability. Some teachers want personal involvement with each class member, and this interaction can become difficult when the membership grows ‘too’ large.

The contribution rule is one that I personally consider when evaluating a group. Is this group contributing to the overall mission of the Sunday School? Is it maximizing its potential for being on mission, developing disciples, starting new groups, and sending out leaders? When a group begins to fail at reaching its potential, then the group may be losing focus on the mission. A group can become inward focused and stagnant when it ceases to make a significant contribution to the mission of the Sunday School.

These four factors are helpful ‘rules of thumb’ for keeping groups on-mission in Sunday School. There is another factor that captures the essence of each of these four factors: the two-year principle. The two year principle tends to be the   ‘rule’ with virtually no exception.

In two years, a class tends to reach its maximum enrollment and attendance capacity, form tight-knit relationships, decrease in opportunities for someone to assume a leadership role, and become unwilling to send people out in leadership or to start a new group. At two years, groups are still open to newcomers but will do well to add one person for every person that leaves.

Though the group is open for new members, many guests will find it difficult to get connected. In two years, friendships grow deeper among existing members, and ‘outsiders’ are not be able to penetrate the inner circle of relationships. It is healthy for members to develop meaningful relationships in a small group, so each group must consistently start new groups to allow others to get connected in fellowship.

In two years, class leadership is well established, and few leadership opportunities remain for newcomers. The best way to create new opportunities for leadership and service is to start a new group. New groups demand more leaders and create new opportunities for serving the Lord. New groups tend to focus on new people and will assist their members in finding friends, becoming disciples, and serving.
Daniel Edmonds, State Missionary, Director of the Office of Sunday School & Discipleship, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions


The Principle of Three

This is day 28 of 31 Days of Missionary Sunday School


Some people can easily identify patterns or trends in everyday life. David Francis identified some patterns involving three things. The following paragraph describes David Francis’ principle of three found in Missionary Sunday School:

“As a general rule, you need three leaders to start a new class. Three words often used to describe the purposes of Sunday School are teach, minister, and reach. One could also describe the purpose in terms of discover, connect, and invite. There

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is a subtle difference between these sets of descriptors. Teach, minister, and reach are usually directed by the SS organization or its leaders. Discover, connect, and invite are three things every class member can do. A group where members—not just leaders–embrace these three dimensions is more likely to be a missionary Sunday School class. The basic idea is that each class has at least three members/leaders that accept primary responsibility for one of the three dimensions, even as they share responsibility for them all.” David Francis, Missionary Sunday School (page 46)

In order for these to be principles, we should expect to see these three things repeated in effective Sunday Schools—Missionary Sunday Schools, that is. I would add a few other principles of three. Steve and I enjoy starting new classes. We have discovered that a core leadership team can only survive three generations (3 class starts) before becoming a deeply rooted class itself. The core leaders need to form at least two leadership teams which accelerates the starting of more new classes.

If someone misses three consecutive weeks of Sunday School, they are much more apt to never reconnect. That’s why missionary Sunday School classes want to and expect to contact every person every week.

Sunday School directors need to ask every Sunday School teacher three things.

  • How is your ministry with (age group) going?
  • Do you have everything you need?
  • How can I pray more specifically for you?

Strong relationships are built from these three simple questions. Most teachers will go on to tell you something about why their ministry is going (or not going) well. It gives you a chance to hear stories you may otherwise miss. You also might be surprised to find that most teachers do not ask for money. Most of their needs involve the use of shared space, better communication, etc. All teachers know you care if you find out how to pray for them and know you do so.

You can probably add other principles of three yourself. Consider using one principle of three at each leadership meeting.
Belinda Jolley serves as the Director of the Adult Ministry Office of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Belinda and her husband, Steve, enjoy starting new classes at First Baptist Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Our Commission: Go after the People

This is day 27 of 31 Days of Missionary Sunday School

Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Matthew 10:6-7 “The Message”

As Christians, we hear a lot about “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-20).  Churches and denominations often base their missionary focus and organization around these final words of Jesus as he commissions his followers to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” This article is in no way discounting the vital importance of those words and the weight that they have on the missionary movements of the past and of today.  I just think we miss something, as believers, if we think this is the ONLY time Christ told his followers to GO after the people.


Earlier in Matthew (Chapter 10), we read about a more personal commissioning of Jesus’ closest followers.   You might call this passage “The Lesser Commission” (but that is in no way minimizing its importance).  In this case, the “lesser” refers to the number of people whom this commission was intended; the disciples.  Matthew 10 (the entire chapter) gives step-by-step instructions to this rag-tag group of disciples who left everything and followed Him.  He warns them of setbacks they will face and challenges them to overcome expected persecution because of the name of Jesus, whom they are about to bear witness of, to an unbelieving world.  These disciples are commissioned to go after the people, unashamed and unhindered by the burdens of this world, knowing that Christ will go before them and that, no matter the outcome, Christ has assured His followers an eternal reward.


As Sunday School leaders we, too, have been given this same commission.  While “The Great Commission” still applies to all of us, we have the added responsibility of partnering in the disciple making process for those whom we have been called to teach.  This added responsibility puts us under the challenge of “The Lesser Commission”, as well.  I encourage you, as Sunday school leaders, to take a few minutes and pull out your Bible (or pull up the Bible app on your phone or tablet). Read Matthew 10:1-42 with an eye toward how these verses apply to your given call to go after the people in your assigned people group. What is He commissioning you to do? Go after the people.

Jason McNair serves as the Religious Education Consultant for the Utah Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. He also enjoys teaching an adult Sunday school class at First Baptist Church in West Valley City, UT.