By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — While enrollment and attendance numbers for Sunday School have declined across the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years according to Annual Church Profile (ACP) reports, Sunday School remains a much needed ministry tool in churches, says Mark Miller.
Miller, Sunday School specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, cited research on “transformational groups” provided by LifeWay Christian Resources.
“Worship attenders who also participate in a group or class read their Bible more, pray more, confess their sins more, share the gospel more, give more, and serve more than those who just attend worship,” he observed.
“These are six great reasons that we should encourage every church member and every worship attender to enroll in a School School class or small group,” Miller added.
Miller also is convinced that a strong Sunday School will enable a church to be more effective in reaching people for Christ (evangelism), one of the Five Objectives (seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship) that Tennessee Baptists have adopted as goals to achieve by 2024.
“Our Sunday School classes and groups should be involved in outreach and evangelism for the purpose of not just getting people to attend worship but to become involved in a group,” Miller said.
“Historically, outreach was a ministry of the Sunday School. The goal was to reach out to worship attenders, church members, prospective members, and lost people with the goal of getting them into a Bible study group. As the Bible was taught, lost people would become saved and saved people would become fully devoted followers of Christ,” he added.
To enable Sunday School classes and small groups to be more effective once again in reaching those who do not know Christ or those who are unchurched, Miller and the TBC are launching the Connect>1 Evangelism Campaign this fall.
The goal of the campaign is to “equip and engage every church member in personal evangelism through the church’s small groups or Sunday School,” he said.
Miller said that on the first Sunday in October this year (designated as Soul-Winning Commitment Day), pastors are asked to encourage every church member to participate in a four-step evangelism strategy to:
- Pray for three lost friends daily.
- Learn one gospel presentation.
- Invite five people to attend their group/class.
- Share the gospel at least one time.
For that emphasis to be as effective as possible will require as many people already attending Sunday School as possible to participate, Miller observed.
Miller is a strong believer in using High Attendance Days, once a staple tool of most every Southern Baptist church, as a means to increase Sunday School or small group attendance. “High attendance days and special emphases lift up the importance of being in a group,” he noted.
He observed that the key to a successful High Attendance Day is for members of the Sunday School class to contact others leading up to the event. “You can’t control attendance, but you can control the contacts,” he said.
Miller noted that when he was minister of education at Hilldale Baptist Church in Clarkville prior to joining the TBC staff, the church had successful High Attendance Day events. Each of them required planning and preparation, he said (see list of suggestions on this page).
It takes work to make them successful, he stressed. “You can’t just announce that you’re having a High Attendance Day and say ‘You all come.’ ”
Rock Springs Baptist Church in Greenbrier held a High Attendance Day in March, said Pastor Randy Harmon. He credited David Brandon, Rock Springs’ minister of education, and other leaders for making the event a success.
The High Attendance Day was based on a basketball theme, “Slam Dunk Sunday,” Harmon said. The church set a goal of 175 and surpassed it, he said.
He noted the emphasis “gave our folks a reminder that Sunday School is still important in the life of our church.”
While the church has not gotten back to the High Attendance Day goal, the average attendance is higher now than it was a year ago, Harmon said.
Hoyt Wilson, pastor of Flatwoods Baptist Church, Holladay, and former long-time pastor of First Baptist Church, Lexington, has used High Attendance Days at both congregations (one small and one large) effectively.
Flatwoods recently had a seven-week high attendance emphasis on “The Road to the Cross” which started seven weeks before Easter Sunday with an escalating goal. It culminated with a High Attendance Day on Easter Sunday, Wilson said.
“The emphasis helped us tremendously,” he observed, noting the church saw an increase of about 15 people per week consistently after the emphasis.
Miller noted that High Attendance Days helps Sunday School classes see what can be done year-round with some effort. “If a High Attendance Day is done right, attendance seldom drops back to where it was,” he observed.
For more information about Sunday School and the Connect 1>Evangelism Campaign contact Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-476-5564.