Archive for Growing your Group

Sunday School in a Transformational Church

This is article three of a ten part series. Click here to view the previous article.

How Small is Small?

Jeremiah prophesied thusly, For my people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13) Well, I’m no Jeremiah, but I believe that Baptist have committed a sin or two when it comes to Sunday School. Just yesterday, I had a Sunday School Director call me about her Sunday School. She shared with me some information about several of the classes and asked, Why aren’t we growing? Enrollment in these classes had topped 40+ and they had either plateaued or declined. When I suggested that these classes needed to reproduce, she immediately shot back, Oh, we can’t split those classes. The members would stop coming; we’d have anarchy, for sure. This Sunday School had dug cisterns which had become broken, and the fountain of living water had been replaced by the Dead Sea. Our role as Sunday School leaders is to keep the fountain flowing; to remove as many barriers as we can to making disciples and transformation and to create an environment in which the Holy Spirit can do His work.

In the Simple Church Rainer and Geiger encourages the church to develop a simple disciple-making process that connects people to God, to other people, to the lost in the community. Sunday School is that second step that connects people to other people in a transformational small community. Any barrier that keeps the Sunday School from connecting people with people should be removed.

My favorite quote in Transformational Church is, We’ve got to move from sitting in rows to sitting in circles to going out and changing the world. Ed Stetzer. Next Sunday in worship try looking at the backs of the heads of people in front of you to see if you can tell who they are. Can you learn anything about a person by looking at the back of his head? Not very much! But when you look him in the eyes, you can see expression, emotion, and response to you. The eyes are indeed the windows to the soul. Stetzer contends that transformation takes place best in small communities among friends both old and new. Therefore, for transformation we’ve got to move from the sanctuary, sitting in rows to a small group, sitting in circles where we can connect with others and provoke one another to love and good deeds and then to going out to change the world. In fact, I take it a step further. In our Sunday School classes we need to move to even smaller learning groups where interaction takes place around the Bible study. In my Sunday School class of around 9-12 people, we are usually in three learning groups of 3-4 each. Sadly, too many of our Sunday School classes are still sitting in rows or either in large semi-circles where people must communicate across a crowded room. Try it. Next Sunday, move out of those rows or that semi-circle and arrange your class in small learning groups of 3-4 each. Let them connect, share stories, and interact with the biblical truth. Create an environment for connection and transformation. For more information see Transformational Bible Study.

I shared with the Sunday School Director on the phone the following principles that help to eliminate barriers and create an environment for making disciples:

  1. When a class reaches maximum enrollment/attendance the class is less motivated to reach potential disciples, ministry diminishes, and growth subsides. Solution: Reproduce – start a new class.
  2. When member / leader ratio exceeds recommended limits ministry and class interaction diminishes; Solution: Reproduce or enlist leaders.
  3. When space is filled to 80% capacity members are less motivated to make disciples – Solution: Reproduce

These principles are based on ideals and of course we must work with what we have and make progress toward the ideal. These principles can help eliminate barriers to transformation and will assist in developing a culture of disciple-making through the Sunday School ministry. They have the potential for changing those broken cisterns we’ve developed and transforming them to fountains of living water for the renewing of minds. Can we follow these principles, eliminate barriers, and still not be a disciple-making, transformational ministry? Absolutely! Everything depends on how transformed and mission-oriented our hearts are. But, you can bet that life will not flow into a dead organization unless we do follow time-tested principles that remove the obstacles to transformational ministry. We can’t just talk about it; we’ve got to do something about it under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Use the chart below to evaluate your small group ministry:



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Phil Stone is the State Sunday School Director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Is VBS History? Maybe not!


Months of preparation, effort, energy, time, and money has been expended in getting ready for Vacation Bible School. Now it’s Friday, the children are gone, and the workers are finishing taking down decorations and cleaning up their rooms. Maybe there’s the closing VBS Celebration Sunday night, but for all practical purposes, VBS is over for another year.  Or is it?

Why do we have VBS? To have an intensive week of Bible studies, mission stories, upbeat music, recreation, and snacks? Yes to all of the above. But the main reason we have VBS is to discover prospects: boys and girls and their parents in our communities who are not involved in a church or Bible study; people who need the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

VBS is not over when the last child leaves, the last decoration is packed away, or the closing night celebration ends. VBS is not over until every child and parent in the community has come to Christ.

Do you remember those enrollment/registration cards you had each child fill out during VBS?  Please don’t put a rubber band around the cards and set them on a shelf in the Sunday School office. Those cards are invaluable! They are the reason for VBS! Make copies and have people pray for the names on the cards. Study the cards for names of those who do not have a church home. Send a postcard or letter thanking them for coming and inviting them to Sunday School.

But don’t stop there! Assign the prospects to the appropriate preschool, children, youth, and adult Sunday School classes for follow-up as well.  Think long-term relationship-building.  Use a variety of ways to build friendships with prospects: week one, make a quick front-door home visit leaving SS literature or a magazine; week two, send a postcard; week three, make a phone call; week four, send a text or email.  Invite prospects to other church events and activities.

If there is indifference toward attending SS or church, then focus on ministry to them rather than just trying to get them to attend. For example, ask for prayer concerns, and then follow-up a week or so later. Build relationships without just focusing on their attendance. Keep ministering to your prospects, whether they come or not. Be a friend in Christ’s Name.

VBS is not over on Friday or Sunday afternoon, or even this past summer. The work of contacting and cultivating boys and girls, men and women should continue. Keep those enrollment/registration cards visible and work them. Think long-term and continue cultivating friendships.

For more information on VBS follow-up or Sunday School, contact: Jeff Ingram, adult ministry strategist, Louisiana Baptist Convention,, or 318.448.

Sunday School in a Transformational Church

This is article two of a ten part series. Click here to view the previous article.

Making Disciples

(a repost but essential to this series)

We’re finally taking seriously our great Co-Mission from Jesus to Go, make disciples.  It seemed that the church had forgotten these final words of the Lord, but making disciples is on the lips of every speaker, leader, and preacher you hear today.  Frankly, it’s about time!  That is what He told us to do, but what does making disciples mean in today’s world.  The word, disciple, is not a normal, 21st century term used in business or corporate ventures.  It’s a church word that had largely been eclipsed except in programmatic language for what you do on Sunday nights or if you’re really creative, Wednesdays in place of the old Prayer Meeting format – Disciple-ship Training.  I’m glad we’re rediscovering this good word and putting it in the right context of an intentionally relational lifestyle of making disciples.

However, I fear that those of us in church leadership want to define a disciple in such glowing terms that our average layperson’s reaction is, “I can’t make one of those!  I’m not one of those, yet.”  What we’re asking our people to do is more than Jesus asked. He said Go, make disciple not Go, make super Christians!

What, exactly, did He mean by disciple?  What is a disciple?  Let’s look at what Jesus did when he made disciples.  In Matthew 4 when he called his disciples, He simply invited them to come learn from Him.  After all, he was a rabbi, a teacher; and it was common for rabbis to attract students, learners to follow him and to study his way.  It’s evident that Jesus had already built a meaningful relationship with these men or they would never have left their livelihood or their fathers to follow Him.  He promised to teach them how to transform their fishing.  What Jesus did was to make students, learners; He called for them to “Come, learn with me.”  When Peter and Andrew, James and John left with Him, they were not believers, but they were disciples; learner disciples. Transformation came later.

I see, in Jesus’ Great Commission a simple, three step transformation process for making disciples:


Step 1.  Go, make disciples – Learner Disciple

Making super Christians is not our job.  Jesus asks us simply to make learners.  The best way to do this is by building meaningful relationships with people who are in “our world”.  Research shows that 85% of people are willing to have an honest conversation about spiritual things these days, so in conversations, introduce them to the One you follow.  This can be done over a cup of coffee at work or a bowl of ice cream at your home.  Then eventually connect them with a small community of fellow followers at a cook out with your care group, or a class or small group fellowship.  As the relationship deepens, introduce them to your practice of gathering as a small group each Sunday morning or weeknight to discuss spiritual things using the Bible as the basis for conversations.  Invite them to Come learn with us.  A learner disciple is not perfect; s/he’s rough around the edges, unfinished, a work in progress; s/he’s not a Bible scholar or a spiritual giant, but a learner.  Sounds like Peter, doesn’t it?   But it took some time for him to be able to say, Thou art the Christ!


Step 2.  Baptizing them… – Believer Disciple

I truly believe that the gospel is so winsome that if a learner disciple hears the Word and experiences it lived out in you and the small group, he cannot help but become a believer disciple; one who makes the conscious choice to be a follower of Jesus.  For this to happen, however, the group of fellow followers must experience community, that closeness of relationships seen in Acts 2.  It must be Word driven, beginning with, returning to, and ending with God’s Word.  It has to be small enough for personal discovery and interaction where personal experiences and the biblical passage intersect.  It needs to be a “safe-zone” where the hard questions can be asked without threat.  Just as Barnabas was to Paul, the mature believer’s job is to be a spiritual friend and mentor to this new believer.


Step 3.  Teaching them to observe… Fully Devoted, Reproducing Disciple

When something is observed, it is being demonstrated which means change or transformation has occurred. The work of transformation is not complete when learner disciples become believers.  It is the job of the mature believers to continue to be mentors and coach them to become fully devoted, reproducing disciples.  The small community is at its best when even smaller groups are formed.  Care Groups can introduce the idea of ministry and outreach to new believers.  Small triads and one-on-one mentoring groups can be formed within the small community to strengthen the devotion of the new believer.  The communities’ job is not just making disciples but also maturing them.

So, when you hear someone pontificating about our great Co-mission of making disciples, think process:  From Learner to Believer to Fully Devoted-Reproducing Disciple.  All of this starts with the simple act of intentionally building a meaningful relationship, developing a new friend, introducing him/her to a small community of friends, and saying, Come learn with us.

Phil Stone is the State Sunday School Director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Sunday School in a Transformational Church

This is article one of a ten part series.



There’s a little praise chorus that has almost become the “Amazing Grace” for a new generation. Nearly everyone, young and old knows the words. Let’s sing it together


Lord, I lift your name on high.

Lord, I love to sing your praises.

I’m so glad you’re in my life.

I’m so glad you came to save us.

You came from heaven to earth

To show the way.

From the earth to the cross,

My debt to pay.

From the cross to the grave;

From the grave to the sky;

Lord, I lift your name on high.


What did we just sing? The transforming gospel of Jesus! Those of us who have experienced this transformation understand its power; we’re different people than we were or would have been had we not heard and accepted this gospel. Now, look outside of your four walls. Just beyond them are people who have not yet experienced this transformation. It is for them that Sunday School exists; not for us. Our job is to make disciples of them so they, too, can experience transformation. What is transformation?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Transformation? The answer most people give is Change. Some use the term Metamorphosis as in the change from caterpillar to butterfly. Change is a good word; it means fixing the past. A colleague of mind recently shared with me a new definition of transformation. It’s more than change; it’s creating a new path for the future. I like that!

What Scripture passages come to mind when you think about Transformation? The two most quoted are:

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.

Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Transformation: change; creating a new path for the future; from old to new… by the renewing of your mind. The word mind implies learning as a pre-requisite for transformation. Sunday School is a learning place; a place for the renewing of your mind; a place where transformation can happen. That’s why I think that Sunday School ministry is well suited for Transformational Ministry.

In their book, Transformational Church, Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer use the acronym B.A.R. to describe a transformational ministry.

BAR is a little unusual term for a Baptist church, but I’d like for us to think of it as a transformational church raises the BAR of what it means to be church. LifeWay research discovered that in a Transformational Church:

  • People Become more like Jesus.
  • Churches Act more like the Body of Christ.
  • Communities Reflect more of the Kingdom of God.

If Sunday School is to become a transformational ministry, its mission must be to make disciples that become more like Jesus.

I have a friend that exemplifies this mission. She lived a hard life of alcohol, drugs, and biker-bars. To look at her you can still see the effects of her past, but what a sweet and gentle person she has become. She came to know Christ because someone dared to build a relationship with her and invite her to come learn with them at church. Her life was not just changed or fixed; it was transformed with a new path for her future. Usually, when you ask her on Sunday how her week has gone, she humbly shares about

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how she was able to meet someone’s need that week, even though she is a woman of limited means. She’s a regular participant in the small group/Sunday School class and is constantly helping out at the church and on mission trips. For her, old things have passed away, behold all things are become new; and she keeps the transformation going by the renewing of her mind weekly in small group Bible study with fellow believers. She has become and is becoming more and more like Jesus.

Phil Stone is the State Sunday School Director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

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.