by Ira North
(Reprinted by permission of the Gospel Advocate, Nashville, TN)
C. J. Garner has been preaching the Gospel for over fifty years. He is currently on our staff and is a great inspiration to us. He is the first minister I know to publish a church bulletin. He did so primarily to encourage attendance at the Sunday morning Bible school. C. J. was careful to mail the bulletin where each member would receive it on Friday or Saturday morning. Thus, he was able to achieve the maximum effect for attendance and interest the coming Sunday in Bible school.
Many denominational churches have emphasized Sunday school to the neglect of the worship services. It is not unusual to find a denominational church with considerably more in attendance in Sunday school than in worship service. However, among churches of Christ the very opposite is true. It is not unusual to find a congregation whose Bible school attendance is only one half the attendance at the worship service.
One of C. J. Garner’s favorite expressions is, “as the Sunday School goes, so goes the congregation.” I believe he has something. I believe in the educational program of the church , and any congregation that fails to develop it is not going to achieve the balance necessary to even start to begin to reach the peak of its potential.
So much depends upon our knowledge of the Word of God (See II Peter 3:18). We are comforted by the Word of God (Romans 15:4), we are kept by the Word of God, we are led by the Word of God (cf. Acts 20:32; I Peter 1:5; Romans 10:17), and we grow by the Word of God (I Peter 2:2). The congregation that goes all out for its educational program, encouraging every member to attend, and providing the proper incentive, motivation and training for its teachers will be the congregation that will look forward to healthy growth.
I believe in the educational program of the church because it provides a steady, solid growth that lasts and endures. I would like to offer a few recommendations for achieving a quality educational program.
1. Provide adequate opportunity for teachers to improve themselves. I recommend the summer workshop at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. This summer lectureship is conducted each year for the purpose of better preparing Bible school teachers in teaching every age level. The program is consistently of high quality and provides a great opportunity for teachers to improve themselves. Congregations are urged to spend some money in sending their teachers and providing them an opportunity to attend. There are also many regional workshops, where teachers share techniques and methods that can be of great help.
From our own experience, Madison has learned that providing at least one workshop each year for our teachers pays dividends in upgrading the quality of our educational program.
2. The educational program of the church should be given a high priority from the pulpit and in the church bulletin. A pulpit that is neutral on the educational program is a pulpit that discourages rather than encourages. The church bulletin that is filled with reprints of poems and articles rather than blazing with enthusiasm and encouraging the local educational program is a church bulletin that needs revision.
3. Recognition for Bible school teachers is recommended. The dedicated men and women who teach the classes are not seeking recognition and do not want it. However, they should have it chiefly so that they will be reminded and all others will be reminded of how important a contribution teachers make. Many congregations have an appreciation dinner each year in which a visiting speaker is invited, and some elder speaks expressing thanks from the entire congregation for the service that is rendered. Such an occasion is ideal to present certificates or special awards for teachers who have taught for a number of years and who have given so much for the ongoing of the program. It is sad when some dedicated teacher gives twenty years of service and no one is thoughtful enough to publicly say thank you.
4. The church leaders should give the educational program high priority in matters of budget. It does cost something to have a classroom well equipped with adequate materials and lesson helps, charts, maps, and graphs are expensive. However, when we consider the value, the cost is really minimal. Each growing Sunday school should have an Art Department in which men and women with artistic talent can donate their time to help the classroom blaze with enthusiasm. An attractive room, well equipped with the proper furniture and adequate aids is an asset.
5. A periodic study should be made of the organization of the Bible school. The Bible says, “let all things be done decently and in order.” Good organization in the Bible school adds to the quality and effectiveness of the teaching program. Many congregations have discovered gold mines of talent that could be utilized in the educational program of the church. A talent search in each congregation might well pay a great dividend.
Have A Sunday School Drive Each Year
I am a great believer in setting goals and having attendance drives in Bible school work. The goal in every Sunday school ought to be one more for Christ. I am often asked, “How many do you want in Bible school?” The answer is simply one more. The Bible teaches us to leave the 99 and go after the one. We should be willing to do anything that is legal and morally right to get one more student to come and study with us about our blessed Lord Jesus.
It is true, when we have a Bible school drive that we do not keep all the contacts we make, but the point is we keep some, and interest is increased and enthusiasm is generated. The Sunday school drive is an excellent method to smoke out lukewarm members who fail to realize the necessity of backing the educational program.
It has been the experience of many of us that the spring and the early fall are the ideal times for such a drive. The spring is a good time because winter is over, people are feeling better, and the springtime just seems ideal for a new beginning. The early fall is ideal, because school vacations are over, the children are back in school, the weather is favorable, and psychologically it seems to be an ideal time for the drive.
Super Sunday School Drive Every Five Years
A super Sunday school drive about once every five years is recommended. It has been our experience that a well-organized drive about once every five years in which you strive to set a new attendance record at the local congregation pays dividends. In our last drive our goal was for 8,002. The two were you and me. We were fortunate to reach 8,410. We used 43 billboards, television commercials, radio commercials, newspaper advertising, direct mail, personal advertising, and promotional pieces such as buttons, pencils, and balloons for children. Also, we pitched a large tent on the back of the lot in order to have a fellowship dinner. We advertised it as the “Feeding of the 8,000 in twenty minutes.” We had considerably more than 8,000 and fed them in 15 minutes with 80 serving lines. It was an old fashioned basket dinner. We asked each one of our families to bring enough food for their own plus six people. With over two thousand family units this gave us enough food for approximately 12,500. The fellowship dinner provided excitement and happiness and joy and fellowship.
Another feature of our Bible school drive is the bringing in of outstanding speakers to teach classes on special subjects. This gives us an excellent excuse to invite our friends and neighbors to hear these men speak on subjects which they have done a great deal of preparation on and have proven effective.
“What about the cost?”
The cost of a super Sunday school drive is considerable. We have found through experience that the drives pay for themselves and then some. Our contribution on the day of our last drive was $6,000 above everything that we spent. Now, if a Sunday school drive is not worth one Sunday’s contribution, then we ought to forget it. The truth of it is, you cannot put the value on such a thing.
We baptized five people as the result of the drive the first two days after it was over. We expect to baptize people for years to come from contacts that were made on this great and happy day.
What About the Criticism?
But someone says, “Yes, but what about the criticism you get when you have a Bible school drive?” Our answer to that is the good you do outweighs the criticism a hundred thousand times. Those who criticize are generally the poor souls who are born in the objective mood and the kickative case. They are always looking to criticize someone else but are woefully lacking in showing us the way to grow in the reaching of new souls for Christ. It is my considered judgment, after thirty years in the ministry at the Madison church, that congregations that are paralyzed by the fear of criticism can just throw in the towel as far as church growth is concerned. Another interesting thing is that the criticism you receive is always from those outside who are as a rule, lukewarm. The members of the congregation are thrilled to be a part of a growing, going work and are thrilled to see things being done.
Our advice to every congregation that loves the Lord and wants to reach souls, is don’t let the dissenters make the decisions. Don’t be afraid of criticism. We advocate a philosophy of progress and growth in every way possible that is consistent with the Word of God. The philosophy is not peace at any price, principle must be placed first, and these questions are to be asked:
(1) Is this right?
(2) Is this scriptural?
(3) Will this please the Lord Jesus?
(4) Will this advance the cause of Christ?
When these are carefully answered, the course is carefully set, and we (at Madison) go all out. We determined many years ago not to be afraid of petty criticism. We know the Bible, we know what the church is, and we know what its mission is, and when the course is clear and we know we are right, we are determined not to be stopped or even slowed by criticism. We are determined that the dissenters will not make the decisions.
The educational program of the church offers us the great and glorious opportunity for solid, permanent growth. We urge every member of the local congregation to support the educational program of the church. Give it your time, your attendance, your energy and your help in every way you can. The truth of it is that most of the additions to the congregation come from the educational program, and those that are not converted largely through the educational program of the church must be integrated into such a program or eventually we lose them.
Part of the balance of a loyal, faithful New Testament church is a strong educational program. It is worth the patience and the time and the prayer and the money and the effort to achieve it.
The above is from Ira North's classic book Balance which continues to be one of Gospel Advocate's most popular titles. To order, contact the Gospel Adocate Bookstore at 1-800-251-8446. We are grateful to the Gospel Advocate for giving us permission to reprint.