The Sunday School Challenge – Step 1

Step 1: Pray

Two things I know. First, God has a plan for your church and your community. Secondly, God wants to use you in accomplishing His plan in your church and in your community. The book by Henry Blackaby entitled, Experiencing God, taught us to “find where God is working and join Him”. One of the most important aspects of the Sunday School Challenge is PRAYER.

Like you, I believe in the value and impact of Sunday School.  Your participation in the Sunday School Challenge can be a great foundation to move your church toward a healthy, growing Sunday School.

(If you are not yet a part of the Sunday School Challenge, you need to join us. Just go to LouisianaBaptists.org/SSC to find out more).

The primary objectives for the Sunday School Challenge are to 1) Reach & Enroll New People, 2) Teach Toward Life-Change and 3) Involve Members in Ongoing Ministry.  These goals begin through a commitment to prayer.  This campaign is built on prayer and a surrender to God’s leading.  Prayer efforts must be thoughtful and intentional for all involved.

To help you lead others in this heartfelt discipline, we have gathered resources for Step 1—Prayer:

  • PRAYER BOOT CAMP, developed by Claude King, based upon War Room’s “The Battle Plan for Prayer” is a flexible prayer training experience introducing the basics of prayer and weapons of our spiritual warfare. It is learning to pray by praying together. (Free download) blog.lifeway.com/growingdisciples/?s=Prayer+Boot+Camp.
  • CONSECRATE THE PEOPLE, by Claude King; an 8-day devotional guide to help Christian individuals, churches, and groups prepare themselves for a sacred assembly before God—a time to renew covenant commitments to the Lord. Download Here.
  • FRESH ENCOUNTER, by Henry Blackaby and Claude King, is a 28-day devotional guide which emphasizes “Seeking God Together for Revival in the Land.”  This guide leads you to seek the kind of relationship with God through which He can revive you and use you for revival and awakening.  Fresh Encounter Guides may be purchased for $3.99 each at lifeway.com/en/product/fresh-encounter-a-28-day-devotional-guide-P001305293.
  • COME TO THE LORD’S TABLE, from Claude King, is a 28-day devotional guide is a simple tool focused on church renewal, a daily guide to prepare mind, heart and life for meeting at the Lord’s table. Special attention is given to the preparation of hearts, and renewal of our covenant with the Lord in a worthy manner.  Cost is $6.99 each.   lifeway.com/en/product/come-to-the-lord-s-table-P001315091.

If you have scheduled your churches’ dates for the Sunday School Challenge, please let us know. We are available to assist you in any way we can. We are praying, expectantly, for His blessings in your church.

Sean Keith is the Sunday School/Discipleship Strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Check out other resources at LouisianaBaptists.org/churchgrowth.

The Sunday School Challenge – Overview

Over the last three or four decades, Sunday School Enrollment and Sunday School Attendance have steadily and consistently declined. There were a few bumps of growth, but the trend line has been heading down. Over the last several years God has challenged me to try and simplify what the average church needs to do to move toward a healthy, growing Sunday School. As I understand it, the average church in Louisiana has a worship attendance around 67. With the help of a focus group of Pastors, Directors of Mission, other staff and some lay leaders, we have developed the Sunday School Challenge. (You can find and download resources that will explain how your Church can participate in the Sunday School Challenge at LouisianaBaptists.org/SSC).

The goal of the Sunday School Challenge is to provide the Pastor and Sunday School Champions a tool to equip teachers and other leaders to develop a healthy, growing Sunday School class or Small Group. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (HCSB)

The Pastor can lead his congregation to accomplish three primary objectives through the Sunday School Challenge. They are: Reach and Enroll New People, Teach Toward Changed Lives, and Involve Members in Ongoing Ministry. The Sunday School Challenge seeks to engage every teacher/leader of every class to set a minimum of 3 goals during The Challenge. After setting goals, each class will develop a plan to accomplish the goals they have established with the help of their Sunday School Champion.

The Secret to a successful campaign is the Sunday School Champion(s). These wonderful leaders in your church will work with the Pastor to influence and encourage others to join God in accomplishing the three objectives listed above. Check out the Sunday School Challenge Guide for more information about the Sunday School Champion(s).

At the conclusion of The Challenge, the Pastor, in conjunction with the Sunday School Champion(s) will recognize and/or give rewards to the classes who have achieved their goals. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6 (CSB Bible) This verse skillfully reminds us that God gives the growth. Nonetheless, Paul planted and Apollos watered. We are to do our part. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without meJohn 15:5 (CSB Bible) This gentle reminder should encourage us to be faithful and obedient to do and accomplish what God desires.

We celebrate what God has done and we reward and affirm those who worked toward accomplishing the objectives God has given us.

Honestly, there is nothing new in the Sunday School Challenge. Unfortunately, too many of our churches are not practicing these clear and effective principles in building a healthy, growing Sunday School. Why not lead your church to participate in the Sunday School Challenge?

Head to the website LouisianaBaptists.org/SSC now and download your guide to the Sunday School Challenge. Let us know when you plan to lead your church in moving toward a healthy, growing Sunday School.

Sean Keith is the Sunday School/Discipleship Strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. More resources can be found at LouisianaBaptists.org/churchgrowth/.

When is VBS Really Over?

When is VBS really over? Friday afternoon or evening? How about when the last child and his or her family are enrolled in a Sunday School class? Make follow-up with prospects discovered during VBS a part of your planning now.

Fast forward about three months. Can you hear a church leader say,

THE SUMMER IS OVER, SCHOOL HAS BEGUN, AND VBS IS HISTORY!
(Or, is it?)

Months of preparation, effort, energy, time, and money has been expended in getting ready for Vacation Bible School. Now it’s Friday, the children are gone, and the workers are finishing taking down decorations and cleaning up their rooms. Maybe there’s the closing VBS Celebration Sunday night, but for all practical purposes, VBS is over for another year. Or is it?

Why do we have VBS? To have an intensive week of Bible studies, mission stories, upbeat music, recreation, and snacks? Yes to all of the above. But the main reason we have VBS is to discover prospects: boys and girls and their parents in our communities who are not involved in a church or Bible study; people who need the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

VBS is not over when the last child leaves, the last decoration is packed away, or the closing night celebration ends. VBS is not over until every child and parent in the community has come to Christ.

Do you remember those enrollment/registration cards you had each child fill out during VBS? Please don’t put a rubber band around the cards and set them on a shelf in the Sunday School office. Those cards are invaluable! They are the reason for VBS! Make copies and have people pray for the names on the cards. Study the cards for names of those who do not have a church home. Send a postcard or letter thanking them for coming and inviting them to Sunday School.

But don’t stop there! Assign the prospects to the appropriate preschool, children, youth, and adult Sunday School classes for follow-up as well. Think long-term relationship-building. Use a variety of ways to build friendships with prospects: week one, make a quick front-door home visit leaving SS literature or a magazine; week two, send a postcard; week three, make a phone call; week four, send a text or email. Invite prospects to other church events and activities.

VBS is not over until every child and parent in the community has come to Christ.

If there is indifference toward attending SS or church, then focus on ministry to them rather than just trying to get them to attend. For example, ask for prayer concerns, and then follow-up a week or so later. Build relationships without just focusing on their attendance. Keep ministering to your prospects, whether they come or not. Be a friend in Christ’s Name.

VBS is not over on Friday or Sunday afternoon, or even at the end of the summer. The work of contacting and cultivating boys and girls, men and women should continue. Keep those enrollment/registration cards visible and work them. Think long-term and continue cultivating friendships.

For more information on VBS follow-up or Sunday School, contact: Jeff Ingram, adult ministry strategist for Louisiana Baptists, Jeff.Ingram@LouisianaBaptists.org, or 318.448.3402.

All About Sunday School

Sometimes the best thing you can do is put something on the calendar! This may be true in regard to achieving a goal like getting in shape physically or registering for a 5k fun run in your town. I believe it’s also true when it comes to your church’s Sunday School.

One of the good things about Sunday School is that it meets every week, every Sunday of the year. But one of the bad things about Sunday School is that it meets every week, every Sunday of the year! It’s easy for a church to just keep doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday and never taking time to evaluate and refocus the church’s Bible study ministry.

I believe the purposes of Sunday School are to reach people, to teach people, and to minister to people – all in Jesus’ name. In Matthew 9:35, we read where “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” I see here Jesus reaching through His preaching, teaching in the synagogues, and healing and ministering to the sick.

If a church wants its Sunday School to do more than it’s currently doing, there has to be a plan. You have to have a strategy; doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday expecting a different outcome just will not happen.

What about putting some things on the calendar – one event each month – to help your Sunday School fulfill its purpose? For example:

January – Offer a training event for your leaders to kick-off the new year or begin Pastor’s Sunday School class to reach adults who aren’t attending a class.

February – Plan a church-wide outreach/in-reach night.

March – Host a Vacation Bible School planning team meeting or a block party.

April – Invite prospects and inactive members to Easter services.

May – Plan a neighborhood prayer walk and flyer distribution for VBS, invite inactive members and prospects to a baby dedication, or give ladies a free book/gift.

June – Host Vacation Bible School – that means all hands on deck! VBS is a church-wide event. Don’t forget to follow-up with prospects and decisions.

July – Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up with your VBS prospects. Prayer walk your local schools.

August – Bring your pre-teens to PreTeen Invasion. Sunday School workers can attend ReGroup, a training conference.

September – Plan a new Sunday School year workers’ appreciation banquet or plan a church-wide outreach/in-reach event.

October – Schedule a High Attendance Day in Sunday School and plan to contact everybody in every Sunday School class.

November – Bring teenagers to the Youth Evangelism Celebration (YEC).

December – Invite prospects and inactive members to all special Christmas services and activities.

You can download a free resource, 3-Purposes of Sunday School – a brochure that describes these ideas more fully. This brochure and many more are available here.

Do you want your Sunday School to grow again? To reach, teach, and minister to people in Jesus’ name? Then pray for God’s direction as you make the three purposes a priority by scheduling events that focus your Sunday School on these purposes.

ReGroup Conference Resources

Baptists are good at talking about what we should do and how to do it, but do you remember WHY you do what you do? We exist to glorify God. We glorify God when we make disciples. We make disciples by sharing the gospel with the lost, developing biblical community, helping believers to mature spiritually and equipping believers to live missionally.

Connect 1

  1. Equip
    In an historic partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources, a six-week Bible study of the Gospel will be available in the Bible Studies for Life curriculum – Unvanished Truth.The six-week Bible study series of the Gospel includes the following studies:

    • One Great Creator (Psalm 33: 6-15; Colossians 1:15-17)
    • One Great Purpose (Isaiah 43:1-7)
    • One Great Problem (Romans 3:9-23)
    • One Great Savior (Romans 5:6-11)
    • Our Response (Romans 10:1-12)
    • Our Task (2 Timothy 2:1-10)
  2. Engage
    Church members are challenged in the second phase of Connect>1 to share the Gospel. As part of Harvest, church members are encouraged to take the 3151 Challenge. The 3151 Challenge is a simple personal evangelism plan that includes:3 – Pray for three lost friends daily
    1 – Learn a Gospel presentation
    5 – Invite five friends to their small group
    1 – Share the Gospel with at least one person
  3. Celebrate
    We encourage you to begin the Conect1 plan as a part of Harvest.

Let’s P.R.A.Y. for the Harvest
(How to lead someone to follow Christ)

The One on One: Evangelism Made Simple kit is a six-session personal evangelism study designed to help introverts and extroverts share the Gospel:

  1. The PRAY Gospel Presentation
  2. Using Your Personal Testimony and Sharing it on WhatIValueMost.com
  3. Using a Gospel Tract and a Marked New Testament
  4. The Role of the Holy Spirit in Evangelism
  5. Building Authentic Relationships with Lost People
  6. Praying Your Friends and Family to Christ

Want to learn more about One on One? Check out the details, learn about the authors and find out each session by downloading the kit brochure.


Project 3151 is designed to help promote evangelism through groups. Download the brochure below.

The Trip to the Mound: Coaching Confidence to Your Young Leaders

The bases are loaded and our once large lead has disappeared.  I call the team to the mound. Lots of mistakes have been made and it looks like my shortstop is crying. I’m looking in the faces of 10 discouraged and disappointed 5 to 7-year-old boys watching their undefeated season disappear due to a few simple missteps.

And because I’m a leader, I must enter into that age-old tradition: the trip to the mound. But in little league you have to have a different approach. I don’t discuss strategy or correct mistakes or complain or get fiery serious about baseball. I tell them a silly joke and then ask my catcher what cartoons he watched this morning. He rambles on about SpongeBob until the umpire breaks us up.  We all put our hands into the middle and I tell them that I believe in them. I tell them that they’re great baseball players that have practiced hard. I tell them they are doing fine and they can win this game, so don’t worry. Then we chant “1,2,3 – Bobcats!” They go back to their positions with tears gone and smiles on their faces, believing all things are possible.

Every young leader, no matter their level of giftedness, needs to hear the words, “You are doing great and I believe in you”. One of the first 10 Bible verses I was encouraged to memorize is Hebrews 10:24.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” (ESV)

This verse changes my leadership DNA. It drives how I coach, supervise, parent and preach. Encouragement is crucial in a culture that is rife with bullies and naysayers.  In my last post, “Keys to Developing Next and Now Generation Leaders”, we unpacked the concept of upcycling or empowering and recognizing the potential of your new leader.  In order for potential to be realized Coach Confidence needs to be in the dugout.

In the original Greek language of the New Testament, the word encourage means to comfort, to console, to give strength and come alongside. Jesus used this word as another name for the Holy Spirit, Comforter.  Building up others is foundational to the Christian faith.

So what are the key principles to communicate to your leaders? They aren’t rocket science or knuckleballs – but they have to be communicated over and over.

Your evangelical mantra should be:

  • God called and gifted you to serve Him.
  • Setbacks are normal.
  • You can and will improve.
  • I believe in you! You will do well!

Our foundation for each of these message are sourced in scripture and we must infuse them constantly into the life of a young leader. I often go the the mound of a struggling young leader with 2 Corinthians 12:9. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (ESV) Our roster must be filled with leaders who lean into the strength of Jesus.

But it’s not all affirmation!  I hope you’ll join me next post as we coach’em up with correction.

In case you were wondering, we won the game and went on to have an undefeated championship season.

Go Bobcats!

How to Baptize More People at Your Church 

People in the water being baptized serves as a highlight and significant spiritual marker in the life of an individual and a church. Recently, I polled a few of our highest baptizing church plants in Louisiana and found that they have 5 intentional practices that every church can do to increase baptisms:

1. Pray & Share the Gospel

If you don’t have anybody to baptize, you need to ask the question, “Are we communicating the gospel clearly to our community?” It may be that you are in a hard soil area and cultivation will take time. That’s fine. But the promise of the word of God is to produce results (Isaiah 55:11). God’s working in all our communities to bring people to himself (1 Corinthians 5:19-21). As we pray and share, planting seeds in our communities, eventually we can expect a harvest (Psalm 126:6).  If you need some ideas, see my article Proven Ways to Cultivate Relationships and Plant Seeds in Your Community.

2. Keep a current list of potential candidates

Write down the names of people in your fellowship that you’re not sure of their relation to Christ and/or if they’ve followed the Lord through believer’s baptism. Share it with core leaders and ask them to pray. Plan on systematically talking with them about making this important step in their faith journey. Also, teach parents how to look for signs of God’s work in the lives of their children and when they begin to respond, put them on the list and begin to pray for them.

3. Put it on the church calendar

As you do calendar planning, go ahead and put at least two dates for baptisms on the calendar. Announce these regularly. Expect to have candidates. Pray and share the Gospel. Work the list.

4. Get info out about Believer’s Baptism

Teach on it regularly. Produce a brochure and keep it in a well trafficked area in your building and on your website. I’ve also heard of churches doing brief Informational meetings about baptism before and after church. Don’t assume people realize the importance and biblical reasons for baptism.  Here’s a sample brochure that my current church has utilized.

5. Make it a celebration

Baptism is an opportunity to celebrate God’s work in the heart of human being. Jesus died so that work could be done! A person has left the kingdom of darkness and entered the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13)! Even the angels in heaven throw a party when this happens (Luke 15:10)!. Let’s celebrate! Make it a big deal. Send out invitations, post pics, share videos! We throw parties for much less, so a thing that makes heaven party and busts people out of the kingdom of darkness should instigate a celebration!

An evangelistic culture must be cultivated & maintained with intentionality. We have a command from Jesus to go & baptize (Matthew 28:18-20). We have so many people without a relationship with Christ. Get intentional about moving people to understand & respond to the Gospel & celebrate it through baptism.

Keys to Developing Next and Now Generation Leaders

There is a semi-new trend going on in our culture called binge-watching.  The idea is to set aside a lot of time, load up on snacks, turn the lights down and watch many episodes of your favorite television program that you’ve stored up on your DVR, or maybe on Netflix or Hulu.  One of my favorite binges is the show Flea Market Flips.  It’s not the prospect of making cash out of junk that attracts me to this show.  I’m drawn to the idea of taking something that in its raw state has been useful in another context and transforming it into something brand new that is better than the original item.

The term for that process is called upcycling.  The art of this process is being able to recognize potential, and seeing beauty in something that has not yet been realized.  For twenty-five years serving as a collegiate minster I was blessed with thousands of potential great leaders in our ministry.  I could say all of them had potential to become leaders, but not all responded to the challenge.

The guiding principle used for determining who was willing and interested in growing is found in the New Testament book Matthew chapter 13:1-9. The parable of the sower and the seeds is a powerful teaching about those who hear of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how they respond.   Jesus says  “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” In this passage we find seeds, or as it is implied people, who fall into four categories.

1. Fallen along the path

This potential leader is wandering in life and hasn’t given much thought to what he is going to do with his life.  Figuratively and maybe even physically stop this person in their tracks and tell them that you see potential in them for becoming a great leader and give a clear specific example of something they could accomplish.  It may be that no one has ever taken the time to tell them that God created them for a purpose in life and you are delivering great news to them.

2. Seed in the rocks

This leader may be coming to Christianity without a family of faith heritage. Not only will you be helping this student realize leadership potential, extra effort will be required to develop a foundation of Biblical faith in her life.  Be patient when the scorching sun of life and love discourage this potential leader.

3. Seed among the thorns

This leader is influenced greatly by the human environment in which they live.  The thorns that choke back this leader could be an unbelieving best friend, love interest or even family.  I can remember many students that worked jobs that were so worldly it was near impossible to grow beyond their existing state without quitting and moving to a new environment. Tory was a bartender.  Steve was an athletic trainer in a very spiritually hostile environment.  Janey was raised in a home with rotating father figures where alcohol and drugs always present.  Leading these students to find more “fertile” soil is crucial.  As they learn to move on from the past and take faith steps their trust in the Lord is affirmed and they become even more resolute leaders.

4. Soil fertile and ready for success

You can recognize these students by how they respond to your leadership.  Use the following defining questions to determine their potential.  Does he complete assignments quickly and come back enthusiastically for more? Is she teachable? By teachable I mean are they willing to change their long-held opinions and habits to a more productive behavior.  Everyone has potential and deserves the opportunity to grow.  However, your time might be best spent on those that are growing in fertile soil.

Recently while driving down the street I noticed someone had cleared the attic and taken everything to the curb, my brakes instinctively screeched to a halt.  I looked over the pile and spotted an old blue china hutch.  I loaded it up on my jeep and took it on a short trip home.  Shortening the story, it now makes an incredible art display and supply storage place for paints and brushes.  It has a new purposeful life.  Sharpen your vision and scan your student horizon to see all the great potential that God has placed right in front of you.