Monday, August 17, 2009

What Drives Our Mission and Purpose Vision?

"Anyone who has been to seminary knows that Arthur Flake was the father of the modern Sunday School. One of Flake's principles for growing a church's Sunday School could be summarized in the words "build it and they will come." Flake assumed that Sunday School would always be the primary means of outreach for churches. For decades, he was right, especially in the post-World War II baby boom years. In growing suburbs across America, virtually all you had to do was build a church, throw open the doors, and find yourself in need of even more space very shortly. Whole generations of pastors and educators were trained in that paradigm of church growth.

Flake's formula failed to take two major factors into consideration. For one, a day was coming in the post-modern world where, in many places, Sunday School would cease to be the most effective way of reaching people. The major flaw in Flake's paradigm was that church growth was too narrowly defined by how many people you could get into the church building on Sunday morning, a standard most Baptist churches still use to define the success of their professional leadership.

Another factor overlooked by Flake's formula was the natural tendency of church people to become territorial. After a few weeks in the same room, that room becomes the exclusive domain of the people who meet there for one hour a week.

The result was the billions of square feet at a cost of uncountable billions of dollars have been built since WWII that sits empty for seven days a week, except for one hour on Sunday. The back-hook of territorial thinking is that, before long, the building owns the church, literally defining and driving the church's mission."

The comments above are from Glen Schmucker in an article he wrote entitled "Survivor: The Story of a Pastor and a Church" shortly after resigning from Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, reprinted in the Fall 2008 edition of Christian Ethics Today.

Glen's insight seems keen. I often wonder in our churches, denominations and Christian ministries how many times we let the established program, the buildings, the overheard and traditional annual budgets, the fear of change and loss of personal influence, and the crystallized mentality of "That's the way we've always done it" drive our purpose and mission vision?


Bryan Riley said...

Excellent observations. Additionally, what drives the church and what "makes it work" is the people and the relationships between people. So, unless that empty space is a place of meeting, graciously open to people, it is like salt that has lost its savor.

Bryan Riley said...

One additional thought, in response to the titular question: If God doesn't drive our mission and purpose vision, the vision is lifeless and empty. And, where there is no vision, the people perish.

One of the thing that is most concerning about many contemporary churches is the lack of a dependence on a living God for vision. Many don't believe in a daily conversation with the Lord, where He speaks to them as a father to his children in the every day walk of life. As a result, we are detached from a daily, intimate relationship with God, the one who can truly direct our steps with purpose.

Ramesh said...

Christian Ethics Today > Survivor: The Story of a Pastor and a Church By Glen Schmucker, Dallas, TX.

Ramesh said...

Pastor Glen Blog.

WTJeff said...

Joe and Jeff,

Your entire focus seems to be that we can't trust anything Wade has to say because he will occasionally associate with CBF churches. This may come as a surprise to you but the CBF isn't the end all be all evil anymore than the SBC is flagship of all that is good. Both have something to offer, both have their warts...some larger than others.

Wade's post is a good one. Baptist churches of all stripes have become dependent on a "if you build it they will come" mentality. It worked for awhile but now falls short. New paradigms are needed to reach people today.

Do you have anything to add to this particular conversation or would rather comment on how Wade once smiled in the general direction of Tony Campolo? (Sarcasm alert. To my knowledge Wade and Campolo have never been in the same room......its really sad that I had to say that.)

Tom Kelley said...

From Glen Schmucker's article:

It is in the eyes of those who are hungry, broken by life, homeless, out of a job, dispirited by personal defeat, mentally disabled, unkempt, orphaned and widowed that the face of Jesus is very, very visible, if we will only take time to look.

Truly, truly.

greg.w.h said...

From the bowels of the BGCO site, offer this article on a missional perspective on Flake's Sunday School formula.

Sunday School itself is a program or a methodology (Europeans dislike the American use of "methodology" and much prefer "method" since methodology suggests the study of methods.) The cell group concept is just a minor iteration on Sunday School as the linked article demonstrates. Any consistent, prolonged effort to associate unchurched individuals with a specific group who share similar interests provides a sense of "place" within the "church" even if that isn't a geographical location within the building.

The fact is that you cannot get around these principles and grow a church:

1. Know your possibilities;
2. Enlarge your Sunday School organization;
3. Enlist and train your leaders;
4. Provide space;
5. Go after the people.

Flake's approach may be too programmatic, though, and there are certain aspects of it that sit poorly with today's churches. One specific one that has been jettisoned is the concept of age grading of the Sunday School. Most adults want the freedom to choose which group they associate and identify with and there is a certain amount of vanity expressed regarding being in an appropriate age group, especially among boomers.

The church can either fight that fight or modify the method. Most find more traction in modifying the method. Another frequent modification is to drop the term "Sunday School" in favor of something a little less smarmy like "Adult Bible Fellowship". Neither jettisons the 5 central principles of growth that mentioned above. And when you provide "space", it doesn't HAVE to be in the physical facilities of the church, either, nor necessarily on Sunday morning. The singles department of Immanuel Baptist Church before the move to Highland, California met in a funderal home, for instance.

The only biography I could find online was this obituary. No on Southwestern, died 20 years or so before Patterson was finishing his PhD at NOTBS. BUT there was a link to Patterson. See if you can dig it up, Joe.

Greg Harvey

John Fariss said...

Whwen I was new to the ministry, the Sunday School Board was still proclaiming Flake's Formula, as well as the one about how for each 20 doors you knock on, you will get one visitor at church (or Sunday School) one time. I remember hearing this at Ridgecrest, and possibly at Seminary as well. Interesting though, at about the same time, I went to a conference at which the speaker was from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who disparaged all this. Well, I took the SSB's word, and at the church I served near the beach (in NC), I knocked on door after door after door in apartments and condo's. A lot of times, I just heard a voice from behind a closed door, either asking, "Who are you and what do you want?" or saying, "Whoever you are--go away!" To the former question, I don't recall ever having the door opened after I told them who I was; and I never saw anyone come to the church from any of it. I also noticed a few years after that, the SSB (now Lifeway) dropped reference to the 20/1 ratio, and mention of Flake has been less emphasized. Bottom line: American culture has changed. THE PRESUPPOSITIONS OF FLAKE AND OTHERS NO LONGER APPLY. Maybe--MAYBE--here and there, in isolated and mostly rural areas, these "focmulaic approachs" still approach, especially when there is a charismatic pastor, but for the great majority of us: no. And they tend to feed a man-sized and man-shaped vision anyway, rather than a God-sized and -shaped one.


Ramesh said...

Ok. I stand corrected. Thanks for the correction.

Alan Paul said...

Glen is agood guy. His blog is:

Anonymous said...

WT Jeff,

Amen and Amen. It would be refreshing if Joe or Jeff would contribute to a comment stream in a positive way with some constructive ideas. I would even be fine with continued opposition if some rationale was included; at least it would give us the opportunity to dialog about issues. However, I am beginning to believe they are not interested in edifying, either by encouraging or by correcting error, because I have not seen any of their comments that adequately explain why particular interpretations seem to them to be erroneous. My experience is that Joe, Jeff, and many others do not want to discuss specifics because they do not have answers to legitimate objections to their interpretations of scripture. I believe their allegience is not to the best and most objective interpretation of scripture but to a self-defined conservatism through which all scripture is viewed.

david b mclaughlin said...

Seems to me tehre is one other factor Flake did not account for. Really lousy Sunday School teachers.

I dont mean to be mean or critical when I say that. I am a corporate trainer by vocation (now) but even as a teenager I remember thinking that I could do a better job than many of my teachers.

As I talk to people about their experience in sunday school many (not all) have had the same experience. Bad teachers does not promote church growth. said...


You and Jeff are free to comment here at anytime. I enjoy dialoguing with you, but I would ask that both you and Jeff speak lovingly toward those who disagree with you.



Benji Ramsaur said...

I think this is a great thought provoking article on the perspective of Flake.

2 Issues for me:

1. What I call "hookology". Now, I'm not talking about being a "fisher of men" with the worm being the gospel. I'm talking about "Come to the church for pizza" and the reasoning is this:

If we can get them here with pizza [or whatever], then we can tell them about Jesus.

Is hookology biblical? Is hookology a gimmick? Whatever you hook people with, it seems you have to keep that hook a'hookin' in order to keep people a'comin'.

2. It seems like the hook for Sunday School and now today "small groups" [possibly meeting in homes] is the same--relationships.

Okay, maybe food at first and then relationships, but bear with me here a bit.

Anyway, I think I have a hard time calling relationships a "gimmick". Also, it seems that relationships allow for more long term relationships towards the entire local church.

What I mean is this: If you hook people with a professional Gospel trio, then you hook people for only a Sunday since that professional Gospel trio is not going to be there every Sunday morning.

However, if people are hooked by "relationships", then those relationships WILL be there Sunday after Sunday.

Gregory said...

Just a point of historical clarification: while stipulating Arthur Flake's importance in the Sunday school movement, I would argue (with plenty of historical evidence to back me up) that Lowell Mason is the "father" of modern day Sunday school. Perhaps we could call Flake the "father of SBC Sunday school."

Anonymous said...

I too believe the church in America has moved from the Sunday School age of the 60s.

I'm not there all the time, but my impression is that the most growth in the American church is happening in those larger churches with programs and worship styles that appeal to people. It seems that most often this includes a great worship team and a dynamic personality preaching on Sundays.

Praise God that there seems to be an increase in churches with attendance in the thousands on Sundays! Also, it seems from my visits to some of these large churches that they do have a lot of souls saved and baptisms. So I would not want to criticize something that God is apparently blessing.

But even though there are more large churches with 5,000-10,000 people at worship on Sundays, it seems that there are even more disconnected people staying home!

I haven’t done a formal survey, but when we are there and staying in the suburbs, it seems that about 90% of the people in the neighborhoods are staying at home on Sundays! They don’t go anywhere! The mega church is reaching a lot, but apparently not the masses of those unchurched surrounding them.

My impression is that these “unchurched” masses are generally not conditioned to a “church culture” and would be totally mortified to enter a formal church. They probably don’t have a Bible and wouldn’t know where to find the book of Hezekiah if they did!

But at the same time, when probing with a few questions in casual conversation I discover that they are often interested in spiritual things and in seeking answers to life issues. They seem to be hungry for a relationship with God if they could just talk to some non-judgmental person who is sensitive to their lack of Christian education. But they would never pursue answers by entering a church.

Seems like some radical, new approaches are needed to lead our American church into a new age of outreach. Any ideas on how to get the church out of the buildings and into the “hood” where most of our country resides? said...

Joe and Jeff,

I deleted every comment you made on this comment stream. I respectfully ask (again) that unless the two of you wish to contribute to the dialogue about the original post in a civil manner, with Christian grace toward those who comment here, that you refrain from coming to this blog.

In His Grace,


Joe Blackmon said...


In all seriousness, are comments about comments not allowed?

As I talk to people about their experience in sunday school many (not all) have had the same experience. Bad teachers does not promote church growth.

I'd go one further--bad materials do not promote church growth either. Most of the stuff that has come out of Lifeway that I've seen has been shallow. Actually, that's putting it politely. It's like they start out with a topic they want to address and try to find scriptures to back their point up. Sad.

Rex Ray said...

“Build it and they will come.”

Been there – done that- and it does not work if that’s all the church does.

“Hezekiah” :)

BTW, you have my initials – you know: ‘reading’, ‘riting’, ‘rithmatic’.

I agree that big churches grow having a “dynamic personality preaching”.

For instance, a man upon hearing Ellis Orazco's sermon on my computer, said: “I feel like I’ve been in church; if I lived near, I’d join his church.”

But dynamic is not all. When Jesus said to “feed my sheep”, us sheep need food of the Gospel. “If I be lifted up…”

It’s like one man replied to being asked, ‘what was a good sermon’ – “I just want to hear someone brag on Jesus.”

My father said, “I hate a sermon that does not mention His name.”

I’m afraid too many preachers work on being dynamic without the food.

I believe it’s important what Benji Ramsaur said about “relationships” that keep people coming to church.

Relationships are not built by sitting next to someone, but communication with them as in SS and especially working with them on some project such as mission trips or construction projects.

Probably, the best would be visitation and witnessing together.

Now the problem is if I would practice my own advice.

Unknown said...

As a seminary graduate of an SBC institution, I can assure you that Flake's formula is being taught to a new generation. I can also assure you that the Tennessee Baptist Convention still encourages this approach. The association meeting I attended last year promoted the 20/1 statistic. The KEY is ENROLLMENT!!!

Many in the convention claim that Flake's formula has been "successful". The question is what is success? This is the question posed by Burleson. Let me give my 2 cents worth on the situation.

First, I believe Flake's formula has contributed in part to the lack of spiritual growth in the church. We sacrifice "depth" for making things "comfortable" for visitors.

Second, Flake's formula has emphasized a warped view towards evangelism. Flake's Formula has fostered a view of the Great Commission into "Come and Hear" rather than "Go and Tell." Many in our church would consider inviting someone to church as their duty in witnessing. The logic is, "I will invite them to church so they will hear the gospel" rather than sharing the Gspel themselves in their workplace, at the gym, or with their neighbors.

Third, Flake's formula has contributed in part to the membership issues we face today. Removing people from the roll is considered high treason. Flake's formula would never encourage or foster church discipline.

Benji Ramsaur said...

"Flake's Formula has fostered a view of the Great Commission into 'Come and Hear rather than 'Go and Tell.'"

Therein lies the difference between attractional and missional as I understand it.

Attractional--attract them to a buiding called a church with some hook [or hooks] and speak the gospel.

Missional--go to where they are and speak the gospel.

Few thoughts:

1. Limitation: I think small SB churches are pretty limited in being able to "attract" like the mega churches can. They don't have the resources to put on a light show or whatever.

2. Mindset conditioning: If it is relationships that attract, that is one thing. However, if what attracts is some program for my kids/the drama team/etc., then my concern is that this contributes to the mindset that the church is to revolve around me instead of thinking "how can I sacrificially love the people of this church based on the example of Christ [John 13:34].

3. Pragmatics: I don't think the attractions of Sunday School and Revivals "work" in bringing people to a building called a church like they probably once did. The culture around the small rural church has changed. How should the church respond? Maybe that is the million dollar question.

Chris Ryan said...


I'm going to agree with you! The content of most Lifeway studies is so shallow and topical that it is almost nauseating. The Sunday School teachers I enjoyed the most usually prepared their own material, taking the time to do research and have all the sides of whatever passages we were talking about. There was depth and honest inquiry.

We wonder why we lose so many youth when they get out to college. In my experience, most don't know enough about their faith to claim it. I was a sophomore in High School before the SS teachers might as well have stopped using the felt boards and velco-on bible characters. If they'd started teaching with some sense of depth and purpose before that, things might have been different for some of my classmates.

linda said...

Maybe the million dollar question is this: is bringing them in enough?

There are all kinds of programs and models from "friendship evangelism" at one end to "city-wide crusade" at the other end.

There are all kinds of building paradigms--from meet me at Starbucks to the best way to grow your church is to build a bigger building.

But are any of these really working?

We count nickels, or count noses, or count baptisms, and say we are reaching the world.

But are we?

If we are, members of our churches as a whole will be less involved in messing up their lives than are the unchurched.

Statistics are not backing that up.

So maybe the strategy that nets 100 new members by baptism but doesn't change lives is a bad strategy.

And maybe a strategy that produces 1 changed life is a good strategy.

I have no answers, just the niggling thought in the back of my mind that we aren't keeping the main thing the main thing somehow. said...


Good comment. I, like Linda, agree. Bad materials are not good for anyone in small groups.

By the comments about comments are allowed when the comment is actually about the comment and not the commentor.


Jeff said...

Wade is that a new rule? Because I noticed
where this rule was broken in other posts.

Joe Blackmon said...

But Wade,

What if the commenting commentor comments on the comment's comment about the commentor commenting on the commentor's comment? Is that allowed?

The Sunday School teachers I enjoyed the most usually prepared their own material, taking the time to do research and have all the sides of whatever passages we were talking about

That takes time. It's sad that some Sunday School teachers don't want to take that time. Many of the churches I've been in have been smaller and typically they depended on the curriculum and reading out of the teachers book. It's so much more fun to do the work yourself I think.

Alan Paul said...

The best classes I have been in are classes where the teacher doesn't use the book as a crutch, he/she offers more well-researched content than is in the book and there is ample opportunity for dialogue about various interpretations and ideas about the passages we are discussing.

Jeff said...

I like this quote by Rick Warren,and I thought about this blog and the followers of it. Perhaps some can take it to heart.

RickWarren A proof of my sin nature is that I can say the worst to those I love the most.Does that ever bother u 2? James3:8-11

Ramesh said...

Off Topic:

Emily Hunter McGowin tells their side of the story for their leaving the Church in Cincinnati area.

Think. Laugh. Weep. Worship. [Emily Hunter McGowin] > What Happened: August '07 to August '09.
(Note: There are many sides to every story and I can only tell ours from mine. I do not pretend that I am blameless or that I do not have anything to learn from the story that follows. I have put this post off for many months, but I share it with you now because I feel like its time. You will notice I have disabled the "reader comments." I do so because I don't believe it is necessary to debate the story as I present it, or to allow free reign for negative things to be said about the church, the pastor, or us. As I see it, our story is what it is.)
I'm sure there will be varying opinions about the choices we've made. I'm sure many will call us stupid, naive, foolish, arrogant, etc. But, to put it bluntly, we don't care. Though we're struggling financially and may lose our home to foreclosure, though we have felt spiritually adrift and even abandoned at times, though we've been deeply lonely without a stable community of faith, we have found liberation from the situation and the pastor's domineering leadership to be a sweet and welcomed relief. When there is peace in nothing else, there is peace in that.

Christiane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christiane said...

Thank you, THY PEACE, for letting us know of Emily's difficulty.

I will pray for her in hopes that she and her husband find peace after their ordeal.

Emily is an extraordinarily gifted young Christian writer, I think. It is very sad to this new mother so distressed.

Love, L's

greg.w.h said...

Jeff Thomas wrote:

I like this quote by Rick Warren,and I thought about this blog and the followers of it. Perhaps some can take it to heart.

RickWarren A proof of my sin nature is that I can say the worst to those I love the most.Does that ever bother u 2? James3:8-11

Well, Jeff, does that ever bother you, too?

Greg Harvey

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christiane said...

Jeff, you have a sense of humor.
Love you dearly, L's

greg.w.h said...

Jeff wrote:

Not one bit Greg. My plans are to preach on humility because I am the most qualified person to do so.

Well, I guess there is some advantage to using hypocrisy to force God to prove his love for us by judging us, just in case unintended irony fails to produce the same result.

Greg Harvey

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christiane said...


No. I'm not 'the smartest'.
I'm just L's.

Sometimes people see a comment differently. And that's okay.

Christiane said...

You know, after reading all the comments, I have been thinking about how Christians are to speak to one another or to ANYONE at any time.

There is this tradition in my Church.
Before the reading of the Gospel, we make a triple sign of the Cross.

One on our foreheads:
'Christ be in my thinking'

One on our lips:
'Christ be in my speaking'

And one on our hearts:
'Christ be in my heart'

The Gospel is read, and then we say 'This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.'

I wonder, would it make a difference,
if Christian people,
before speaking one to another, reminded themselves this:

"Christ be in my speaking" ?

Would it make a difference?
Love, L's

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...


I'm grateful for your sentiments and trust they pertain to your comments to others as well.



Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

Sorry Jeff, I guess you deleted your comment affirming what Christiane wrote and your wish that others on this blog would apply it.

Nevertheless, I do appreciate your sentiments.

Rex Ray said...

Wade’s post quotes Glen Schmucker saying, “Billions of square feet at a cost of uncountable billions of dollars have been built since WWII…the building owns the church, literally defining and driving the church’s mission.”

This struck me between the eyes last night at a deacons’ meeting.

Of all the ‘business’ discussed, what caused anxiety/temper involved a small church trying to maintain a new million dollar addition.

This particular problem had been discussed many times as it existed over a year, but it boiled down to one major job to start the ball rolling.

You’d be surprised what this big job was that caused the finger pointing – a phone call.

I believe the stress was caused mainly by lack of money and lack of growth and instead of the dog wagging the tail, the building is wagging the church.

John Fariss said...

Well said, Rex!