News Articles

Greenforest sees growth through the Sunday school

DECATUR, Ga. (BP)–When Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., called George McCalep as its pastor in 1980, he was new both to the pastorate and to the Southern Baptist Convention.
But after 17 years of leading an SBC church, McCalep has made several discoveries — among them, the effectiveness of Sunday school as a tool for growth and the need for a core group of excellent leaders.
Since 1980, McCalep has led his congregation from 25 to 4,500 active members. His staff of leaders has also increased proportionately.
“If you put two tasks before me — an administrative task and a ministry task — I will choose the ministry task and ignore the administrative task. If I had to sit in an office all day on a computer, I would probably go nuts. But there are others who are very comfortable with that.”
Through the years, McCalep has surrounded himself with people who enjoyed doing the tasks he was either not suited to do or did not enjoy. He first began using church members as volunteer staff, eventually adding a paid position as the needs arose. Greenforest now employs nine full-time ministers, with a total staff of about 75.
For a time, McCalep said he saw himself as a man in a carnival act.
“There are so many ministry tasks that a pastor — particularly in a growing and developing church — is called upon to do,” McCalep observed. “Since the pastor is the catalyst of programs that are going to get off the ground and run for a while, he will find himself sometimes just juggling ministry tasks.
“You have to discern the priority tasks. You can only spin so many objects before sooner or later they begin to drop. So you really have to be time-focused to determine which are most important. Even when delegating, you have to decide what you must be most careful in delegating.”
There are some tasks, McCalep believes, that the pastor cannot delegate.
“One of the things I think that a pastor cannot delegate is the preaching task. I think the pastor has a feeding obligation to his people,” he says.
However, the leadership of Sunday school is an ideal ministry to pass on to a qualified church member, McCalep said. Besides being an excellent tool for growth, it is also a Bible study and evangelism device, he said. In fact, McCalep gives Sunday school as one of the reasons Greenforest has spiraled upward in membership.
“Sunday school is probably the best vehicle for total church involvement in the areas God has mandated relative to the purpose of the church.”
Historically, African American churches have been strong in the area of praise, while relegating the Sunday school to the status of an outreach ministry to children.
Greenforest has effectively combined the best of both its African American heritage and its SBC heritage — strong in both praise and Bible study. “I think too often churches can be strong in praise and weak in Bible study or strong in Bible study and weak in celebrative praise service,” McCalep said.
Now averaging more than 1,200 each week in Sunday school attendance, McCalep observed that Sunday school has been the church’s most consistent outreach ministry, although other ministries, such as its recreation and academic ministries, have had a great evangelistic impact on the community.
In fact, Sunday school classes at Greenforest have grown so much that McCalep is considering hiring a full-time director of Sunday school.
Still, true to the African American church tradition, McCalep knows that no ministry of the church will be effective or long-lasting without the pastor’s endorsement. He recognizes the importance of giving strong pastoral support to the Sunday school.
“I go to workers’ meetings. I teach a Sunday school class and I am numbers-conscious. I emphasize Sunday school from the pulpit,” he said.
Sunday school attendance is published in the weekly bulletin and compared with last year’s attendance. Sunday school records are computerized and carefully monitored by both McCalep and the minister of education.
Growth at Greenforest has produced several benefits that were not planned, McCalep said. For example, the church has become a model for other African American churches.
“When people see that here’s a church with a senior pastor, an executive pastor, a minister of education and other staff ministers, it sends a message. Just like when young blacks saw Arthur Ashe or Tiger Woods, they saw a model they had not previously seen. It says to them, ‘You can delegate. You can have successful pastor/staff relationships. You can grow a church through the Sunday school.'”

    About the Author

  • Olivia M. Cloud