As a member of a growing and Sunday School class — not the leader, as the leader is someone else in the class although I sometimes lead the discussion — I was rather excited to see this book. As a member of the United Methodist Church and in the Wesleyan Tradition, I am firm believer in the power of small groups, including Sunday School, as a means of strengthening the (local) Church. I was not disappointed.
While I disagree with some of the theological statements found here, I believe the authors of the essays are very much right on track. They express a hope for the rest of us, that we do not have to be the cookie-cutter dynamic small group leader with massive plans of church growth. No, instead, what you get is a sense that cookie-cutter programs, beyond the basic, does not work. Why? Because there is no church exactly like the other. And we are introduced by various essayists to more than a few of these different churches. From rural to city, from old to new, the churches and Sunday School classes spoken of in this book are easily recognizable as our own.
There is little doubt this book is written to those in the Southern Baptist Convention, with a focus on how the SBC views Holy Writ and only tapping SBC writers. But, for United Methodists and other mainline Christians, we should not be afraid to learn from those with a passion that should be ours as well. What I’ve learned is that what it takes to grow your Sunday School is to pay attention. Pay attention to your cultural situation. Several authors mention towns in extreme rural areas, such as northern Louisiana or someplace in Kansas. Imagine how they would have reacted to New York or Los Angeles style set-up and lessons. Pay attention is to design the Sunday School not with what the naysayers — and even some of the most positive people can be naysayers — have in mind, but what the local church needs. Finally, pay attention to engage your members, and not just with internal discussions, but with external events.
This book is a wonderful volume filled with success stories, with no two the same. The success is not measured in explosive church growth, but how well the Sunday School contributes to that growth. The final essay, written by the editor (Steve R. Parr), attempts to bring about all of the keys to success into a formulaic, over-arching, plan centered on what may otherwise be considered the ideal organizational growth map. There is nothing earth-shattering, but that — the ability to be earth-shattering without an earth-shattering plan — is a powerful statement.
The only question you have to answer is, Does Sunday School matter? I believe it does. The essayists believe it does. And if you do — or if you don’t — then you’ll need to read this book.