If you know me well or have visited my office recently, you know that I am a golf enthusiast – not that I play that well, or even get to play that often. One thing that I was taught very early in my golfing life, along with “keep your head down,” “bend your knees slightly,” “don’t grip the club too tightly” and about a hundred other tips, was that “it’s the follow-through that counts.” According to my favorite golf instruction book, Golf for Dummies, 2nd edition … the follow-through is defined as “the part of the swing after the ball has been struck.” It’s the follow-through that will determine whether the ball will go straight, fade or slice to the right, or draw or hook to the left. In other words, bad follow-through, bad score. Good follow-through, good score.
I believe the same can be said about your Sunday School strategy. If you have attended any of my conferences in the last couple of years, you have heard me say over and over again, “It’s the follow-through that counts!” What exactly do I mean by the “follow-through?” Well, first, as in golf, there are some basic principles that we need to understand. In golf, there’s the stance, the swing, the short game and knowing the rules of golf. In Sunday School we need to understand what the purpose of the Sunday School is: Reaching people; teaching people; and ministering to people.
Reaching people: The Sunday School is the organization mandated to win people to Christ. It is also the best strategy for assimilating people into the church. I believe that a church’s evangelism strategy and its assimilation strategy should never be separated. We attend Bible study so that we can learn to have a heart like God’s heart and so that we can help unsaved people come to faith in Christ.
Teaching people: Jesus left the church with the command to make disciples (Matt. 28:19). I believe discipleship best occurs in small group settings (Jesus did His most intense and intimate discipleship with the Twelve). There are two things that every person needs to be discipled: Instruction (or the Word of God); and individuals (or the People of God). And Sunday School offers both. So the Sunday School must not only teach God’s Word, but also “teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).
Ministering to people: The Sunday School is also charged with the responsibility to minister to people. Allan Taylor, minister of education at First Baptist Church Woodstock, Ga., says that ministry best takes place within the context of relationships. And relationships best take place within the context of small groups. Therefore, ministry best takes place within the context of a small group.
So, what does this have to do with “follow-through?” Well, it’s easy for us to say that we want lost and unchurched people to join us for Bible study. But if we really want to see our church grow, then we have to get out into our communities and find those people that are lost and not attending a church. Believe me, there’s plenty of them out there. We need to begin to reach out to them and encourage them to enroll in our Sunday School classes. Once enrolled, we can’t just wait for them to become active and regular in attendance. We must make a special effort to pray for them regularly, contact them regularly, invite them to attend class activities, and minister to them regularly. In other words, we must “follow-through” with our commitment to “make disciples” and to “teach them all things.” And I’m not just talking about the Sunday School class teacher. Every member needs to “follow-through” with the work of the Sunday School. We are all called to be on a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).
Remember the golf definition of “follow-through”? “The part of the swing after the ball has been struck.” Inviting lost and unchurched people to Sunday School, and enrolling them in a class is the “striking” part of the swing. The “follow-through” is the teaching and ministering part of the swing. How’s your Sunday School class’ game? Are you constantly seeking and expecting new people to be part of your class? Are you enrolling new people in your class regularly? Are lives being transformed by the teaching of God’s Word? Is ministry taking place through your class? Remember, it’s the “follow-through” that counts.
Announcing our third Annual “Show-Me Sunday” Statewide Sunday School High Attendance Day: This year we are suggesting Oct. 31 as Show-Me Sunday. Full details and resources will be mailed to all Missouri Baptist churches in August or go to www.mobaptist.org/sunday_school for free downloads and information. (Mark Donnell is Missouri Baptist Convention state Sunday School specialist.)