While some people decry Sunday School as antiquated and call for more modern means to effectively reach youth, John Wesley Ferguson, superintendent/founder of Big Harvest Community Sunday School, says he is of the belief that there is no substitute for the Sunday school movement.
“Life-changing lessons are taught in Sunday school. Extensive studies of many biblical stories are taught and discussed in a peaceful, tolerant atmosphere. Two of many examples include ‘The Good Samaritan’ and ‘The Prodigal So,’” says Ferguson. “Biblical stories, parables and principles for Christian living [that] provide useful and insightful moral lessons. The Ten Commandments and ‘The Fruits of the Spirit’ establish firm principles that can positively impact the decision-making skills of those that are ready to receive the information.”
Ferguson, of the community Sunday school located Woods Alley, off Market Street, says to save the nation, the baton must be passed, and therefore it is imperative that children are rescued and protected. As such, he says, the Sunday school movement must be a part of the country’s onward/forward march.
He says Sunday school must continue because mankind is currently living in a wonderful yet challenging age. And it is his hope that all churches continue to encourage vibrant, proactive, community-oriented Sunday/Sabbath schools.
“In 1992, in an address to the worldwide assembly of the church, the late Bishop Billy Murray, former general overseer of the Church of God of Prophecy, had this to say about Sunday school: ‘In some places, we are seeing a decreasing interest in Sunday school. This has caused some churches to consider abandoning Sunday school altogether. Worship is important, but we must make certain that teaching and discipling is being pursued. We do know that Sunday school offers a means of use for the gifted ministries of many individuals. We should consider extending this teaching and discipling ministry through some mid-week sessions.’”
Ferguson says the International Sunday School Department of The Church of God in Christ created a Sunday School Church Group Academy (SSCGA) to equip its leaders for church and community work.
The superintendent of Big Harvest Community Sunday School referenced a local 2001 initiative of numerous stakeholders coming together for the “National Back to Sunday/Sabbath School Drive” with the objective to encourage families to attend Sunday/Sabbath school to promote and enhance faith formation and character development.
The history of the Sunday/Sabbath school movement, which was started by Robert Raikes in Gloucester, England, in 1780, is something the religious hierarchy should all know.
“After surveying the social setting of his time and noting the unfortunate and destructive paths of young people and children in his community, particularly on Sundays, he decided that starting a Sunday school would be his mission. He acknowledged that it would be easier to work with children because it was a way of preventing the problem rather than adopting the harsh responsibility of curing it.”
From an initial 12 children, in large part due to Raikes, over 250,000 children in England began attending Sunday school regularly. Their main textbook of study was the Bible. By using his publishing company to produce hundreds of thousands of booklets, Raikes was able to promote the idea of service around the world.
“During this time, John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist Church, were delighted by Raikes’ work and incorporated Sunday school into their church’s routine. By the time of John Wesley’s death, there were more than 500,000 Sunday school attendees in Great Britain. By 1831, Sunday schools in Great Britain were teaching 1,250,000 children on a weekly basis. In 1858, after being inspired at the home of a ‘Mother Phillips’, D.L. Moody rented an old building in Chicago with the help of his mentor, J.B. Stillson. This became his first Sunday school. The school would go on to flourish so successfully that it attracted hundreds of students.”
Ferguson also paid credit to Arthur Flakes, a businessman from Mississippi, another major contributor to the movement, and who left his business to join the Baptist Sunday School Board to lead the Sunday school department.
“Under Flakes’ leadership, Southern Baptist Sunday school enrollment increased six-fold from one million to six million people. His legacy was able to impact not just Southern Baptist churches, but almost all Protestant denominations and non-denominational churches as well.”
Ferguson says what has become known as the “Flakes Formula” still holds true today – know your possibilities, enlarge the organization, enlist and train leaders and go after the people/children.
Ferguson says people should know their possibilities, as a dream deferred is a vision aborted, and as a result, having a vision is essential. The “Flakes Formula” says that in enlarging the organization, they must be willing to start new groups and support networks which allows the movement to grow and encourages cooperation across a larger portion of the community. Enlisting and training leaders means developing good leaders who can inspire others, succeed previous leaders and also become forerunners in their future endeavors. And in going after the people/children, reaching out to others in the community is important, driving people towards Sunday school/church, actively encouraging them through consistent effort and presence.