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Small-group Bible study called key for African American church growth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In the Bible, Jethro helped Moses organize the people into groups of 10 to better meet their needs.
Jesus worked through a group of 12 disciples.
“Does that tell you anything about small groups?” Elgia Wells asked 140 pastors, ministers of education and Sunday school leaders from African American Southern Baptist churches in 20 states. They were attending the first national Sunday school growth seminar Nov. 13-15 at the Sunday School Board. Wells is African American church leadership consultant in the board’s church leadership services division.
“If there’s anything the church should be, it is a place where I am known,” Wells said. “For too many, the church is an event. It should be a relationship. The larger the group, the more shallow the relationships.”
He acknowledged a stereotype exists among some African Americans that Sunday school is only for children. If that is the case, he said, change the name. “Call it Bible study.”
“Do you ever get too old to study God’s Word,” Wells asked. “Do you graduate from studying God’s Word?”
A strong Bible study ministry is key to developing mature believers and leaders, Wells said. He cited six characteristics of a growth-oriented Sunday school:
— organized to reach, teach and minister;
— comes together for Bible study;
— strong pastoral leadership;
— focuses on adults;
— gives priority to growth planning; and
— focuses on outreach.
Marvin Jackson, pastor of Bible Fellowship Church in Houston, emphasized the importance of pastoral support of the Sunday school if growth is to take place.
“A commitment to the Sunday school requires you to be present and visible,” he said.
Also, Jackson said he gives himself a weekly exam each Tuesday, asking, “‘Did I support the Sunday school from the pulpit on Sunday?’ If I don’t support the Sunday school from the pulpit, how does my church, especially those who only attend worship, know of my commitment?”
Katherine Gooden, minister of education at Emmanuel Baptist Church, San Jose, Calif., said a church must measure its commitment to reaching non-Christians against its calendar of activities.
“If most of the calendar time is devoted to fellowship among the members, then growth is not a priority,” she said.
Eugene Gibson, pastor of Mission of Faith Baptist Church in Chicago, cited four requirements of a “growth-conscious” Baptist church, beginning with “one-accord, one-mind, altogether kinds of people.”
“Fellowship without unity is useless. Satan cannot defeat a unified church,” said Gibson, who also is president of the Southern Baptist African American Fellowship and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association.
A growth-oriented church also must include “whatever-it-takes” people, “all-things-in-common kinds of folks” and “Jesus-is-the-answer folks.”
“The man drowning in alcoholism doesn’t care how pretty your church looks,” Gibson said. “He wants to hear about Jesus.”
Wells said giving priority to reaching people through the Sunday school has increased dramatically in the last 20 years among African American churches.
“Sunday school work is hard work,” Wells said. “But Jesus spent more time teaching than anything else. When we’re talking about Sunday school, we’re talking about something very significant in the kingdom of God.”

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  • Linda Lawson