Monday, September 23, 2013

BookPastor >> "Sunday School That Really Excels" (Steve Parr)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on July 18th, 2013.


TITLE: Sunday School that Really Excels: Real Life Examples of Churches with Healthy Sunday Schools
AUTHOR: Steve R. Parr
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013, (208 pages).

Many experienced educators know that learning is something more caught than taught. For such a practical topic like creating Sunday Schools that excel, we cannot simply talk about theories and strategies. We need to learn from various real life examples as well as tested methods. Simply put, this book is a book of stories and storytellers, of how different churches put into practice their sense of God's will for their Sunday Schools. Instead of reading the book straight through, and then teaching the concepts to others, the author suggests another approach. Encourage all the leaders to have a copy. Read a chapter or more together. Then gather again to discuss it and apply it if necessary. Seventeen stories from thirteen contributors are put together about Sunday Schools that excel. Sunday school is the Christian Education arm of any Church, from kids to adults.

Thom Rainer talks about the state of the Sunday School today. Backed by years of research and familiarity with the North American Church scene, Rainer emphasises the strong link between Church health and a strong Sunday School. He calls Sunday School an "open group" ministry where anyone can join at any time. SS has become more infused with the need for a "worshipful experience." There is a shift toward missions and ministries. There is also a rising inconsistency in materials being used. Following that snapshot of the current SS climate, readers can then dive into 16 stories of SS excellence.
  1. Normal Church: Josh Hunt shares that normal Church is one that has a growing Sunday School. Through the example of Pastor Roger Radliff, we learn that a growing Sunday School has the elements of a caring leader. There is a vibrant Visitation strategy. Churches with a strong visitation program are double likely to grow.  
  2. Rural Church: Tim Smith shares the example of how Corinth Baptist Church continues to thrive despite being in a rural area, and the majority of the residents earning below the national average household income.  On top of that, there are four major challenges: mindset; long commute; family power structure where a negative leader will mean the whole family not go to Church; perceiving the pastor more like a chaplain rather than a leader. Excelling means to have a clear mission and vision. It means reaching outward as well as inward. It means commitment to a Sunday School strategy. It means leadership. 
  3. Established Ministry: Every Church ministry needs to be re-vitalized from time to time. Ben Pritchett thinks so. Keep working at it is a good reminder.
  4. Small Congregations: J.D Tucker mentions four factors behind thriving SS in small congregations. Strong in evangelism; wide in fellowship; deep in prayer; and broad in welcoming.
  5. Hands-On Missions: Bob Mayfield talks about a rare aspect of SS: Missions. It is the paradigm of missions emphasis that drives the entire SS strategy. It is what members do AFTER the class that makes for a successful SS.
  6. During Crisis: Learn to find God and then find friends, especially during a crisis situation. Each crisis brings about an opportunity for positive change.
  7. Equipping Leaders: David Francis and Gary Jennings talk about equipping leaders through shared vision, regular communications, clear processes, and team work.
  8. Volunteer SS Director: Even 'normal' individuals can excel. Five critical leadership factors are identified. Teachers need to be valued, and known personally. Regular teacher meetings are held. Making guests feel at home is needed. Regular recruitment.  
  9.  Attendance Campaign: Whether the Church is small or large, SS can be an outreach program through 'Friend Days.'  
  10. Declining Church: Stressing the need for the pastor to champion the SS, churches can arrest any decline through promoting the importance of SS. Interestingly, the author indicates that growing churches have growing SS rather than growing numbers in worship services. 
  11. Multicultural: Leaders need to have a multicultural understanding as they try to be as welcoming as possible to all. 
  12. Small Groups: Elmer Towns talk about how SS classes can transition to small groups, like how a weekday group can supplement Sunday group.
  13. Innovative Home Groups:  Tim Smith discusses the traditional SS structure with innovative ideas like home groups. While the SS serves as an initial entry point, the home group cultivates an environment for community and growth. 
  14. Teaching God's Word: Ken Coley affirms the need for excellence in teaching the Word of God. The fruit is in the transformation of believers' lives outside of the classroom. For where there is no change, no teaching or learning is done. Engaging members is key, through knowing the learning styles of each member and tailoring the teaching accordingly.
  15. Examples: Steve Parr gives more glimpses of some SS that excel. One starts care groups within each SS. Another involves the casting and the executing of a clear vision.  
  16. Excelerate: Some best practices are then considered. 
The SS is here to stay. Whether traditional or non-traditional, large or small churches, thriving or declining, there is a way in which SS can excel. The traits are common. Every successful SS has:
  • The pastor as the primary advocate;
  • Training of lay leaders;
  • Elevating SS as key ministry of Church
  • Leadership;
  • Growing relationship among members;
  • Communications and teamwork;
  • Missions
This collection of stories, strategies, best practices is a ready resource for any Sunday School leader, pastor, volunteer director, teacher, or simply an interested member. Filled with so many great ideas and ready illustrations, one can turn to any page and there will be at least one idea to take to our home churches and apply them. That is most important is that many of these ideas and stories are real tested ones. I recommend this resource highly for anyone involved in all things Sunday School, Church School, Education Ministry, or whatever names chosen. Let me close with this very passionate plea.

"A church can have more than one priority. On the other hand, if you have a dozen priorities you might as well have none. Vibrant churches usually have three to five key priorities and Sunday school or their small group strategy is clearly communicated as one of them. Can you have six or seven priorities? You can, but the others become more and more diluted and ultimately devalued. Your Sunday school ministry must be elevated as one of the churches priorities through the pastor’s preaching, pastor’s verbal affirmation, the affirmation of the staff in larger congregations, through written communication, through calendaring, and through commitment as a key priority." (Steve R Parr, p195)

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Kregel Publications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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