LifeWay leader applies transformational church
Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications
July 05, 2011

LifeWay leader applies transformational church

LifeWay leader applies transformational church
Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications
July 05, 2011

Many churches across the nation are declining or plateaued,

and it’s not hard to find research indicating as such. Yet, this does not

negate the fact that the church is still God’s chosen instrument to tell the

world about the hope and salvation found in the gospel.

In light of this truth, LifeWay Christian Resources

published a book last year based on research about transformational churches; churches

truly focused on, as authors Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer write, “the gospel’s

ability to change people.”

The research points to seven elements that help define a

transformational church: missionary mindset, prayerful dependence, relational

intentionality, vibrant leadership, worship, community and mission.

David Francis, director of Sunday School & Discipleship

at LifeWay, recently met with leaders from across the state to talk about how

to apply these transformational church elements to the Sunday School ministry.

The weekend conference was held at Apex Baptist Church in Apex.

Seeking open groups

Sunday School was always intended to work with an open group


In other words, “an open group expects new people every

week,” Francis said. “If you can get this one idea permeated through a few

Sunday School classes, it will mean everything.”

An open group makes sure that newcomers feel included from

the moment they arrive.

The Sunday School lesson for that week should stand on its

own, so that whether or not a person has been to the class or will ever come

again, they can still learn from the lesson.

An open Sunday School class also contacts every member every

week, thus practicing relational intentionality.

Sunday School classes with the most impact are the ones that

create an environment where the classroom is a safe place to invite others.

The truth no one likes to admit is that some classes do not

want new people; they are content with the group they have and the focus is

more inward than outward.

“We are secretly hoping no one comes,” Francis said.

A transformational Sunday School does everything with the

expectation that guests will come.

Even seemingly little details make a difference to

newcomers, such as the door near guest parking that needs to be fixed and the

small classroom preschool space.

Transformational classes, and churches, are those with

church members living close to the church and getting involved in the


“It’s hard to reach the community when you don’t live in the

community,” Francis said.

Need a balance

Francis reminded participants that Sunday morning Sunday

School classes are different from discipleship groups or small groups.

He said small groups are typically thought of as groups

meeting during the week, off the church campus.

Although that may be the case, the defining characteristic

of a small group is that it primarily seeks biblical community.

David Francis

Discipleship groups, however, primarily aim for biblical

content to be the focus of the group; equipping is the main purpose of the


Small groups and discipleship groups are best able to

fulfill these intended purposes when they function as closed groups, meaning

once the group begins for a certain time period (quarter, semester, etc.)

newcomers must wait for the new time period before joining.

Francis said it’s up to Sunday School to “strike a balance”

between small groups and discipleship groups. Sunday School is not intended to

be everything a small group or discipleship group is intended to be — each has

its own unique purpose and is most effective when leaders understand what they

are trying to accomplish through the group.

Missionary mindset

All groups function at one of three levels: a class, a

community or a commission. Sunday School classes functioning at the class or

community level are more focused on class members and meeting the needs of

those members.

Classes at the commission level are the ones really centered

on the missionary mindset. Their focus is the Great Commission. While they care

about the needs of others, they also focus on lost people and seek

opportunities to share the gospel.

Their evangelism strategy is not just being nice to people

or being attractional; they are intentional in sharing the gospel.

Francis further explained that at the class level members

talk about what they learned, and at the community level members talk about

what others did for them. Yet, at the commission level, the mindset is: “What

did we do for others?”

The Three S’s

A transformational Sunday School is one that includes

scripture, stories and is led by a shepherd.

“The Sunday School’s one textbook is the Bible,” Francis

said. “Curriculum is the plan for teaching the Bible.”

Francis encouraged Sunday School teachers and leaders to

remember that everyone they meet has a unique story. As leaders, the task is to

draw out those stories and then help people connect with one another’s stories.

A gift for teaching is certainly important in a

transformational Sunday School class; but as Francis pointed out, gifted

shepherds may be more important. “A shepherd will tell you who they are

teaching and not what they are teaching,” he said.

“Shepherds pray for people. Prayer is the ultimate secret

weapon. As you pray for people you really get to know people.”

Baptist State Convention of North Carolina consultants are

available to meet with N.C. Baptist church pastors about the transformational

church process. Contact (800) 395-5102, ext. 5649.

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