Sometimes when I need to gather my thoughts, I will go to a space where I can be surrounded by reminders of Lifeway’s history. In the middle of one display is Arthur Flake’s journal. Flake was a businessman and volunteer church leader from Winona, Mississippi. In 1920, he became the first leader of the Sunday School division at Lifeway (then the Baptist Sunday School Board). One of the first things he did was establish a set of standards that painted a picture of an effective Sunday School. The journal on display at the Lifeway building contains Flake’s notes for establishing that standard.
The journal is opened to a significant page (see image above) that includes a list of actions that would become known as Flake’s Formula. The formula eventually evolved to these points:
- Know the possibilities
- Enlarge the organization
- Enlist and train leaders
- Provide space and resources
- Go after the people
The men who followed Flake (Gaines Dobbins, J. N. Barnette, Othal Feather, A. V. Washburn, Harry Piland, Bill Taylor, and now David Francis) built upon this formula. Flake’s formula was the impetus for much of the growth of Southern Baptist Sunday School in the 20th century.
The contents of the page displayed also served as the outline for chapter 2 in Flake’s book Building a Standard Sunday School (first published in 1922). Of interest is the title of the chapter: “Enlargement.” In Flake’s journal, he used a different title across the top of his page: “Enrollment.” I am not sure when the title changed, but obviously, Flake saw the two things as interchangeable. If one wants to grow (enlarge) a Sunday School, then in Flake’s strategy it begins with enrollment.
Over the past few years, the emphasis appears to have flipped. Some people treat enrollment as the last step of Flake’s Formula (go after the people) when in fact it was the first step. Knowing the possibilities was borne out of enrolling and grouping the new people enrolled. Enrolling new people required the leader to enlarge the organization, which in turn meant enlisting and training leaders. New enrollees called for finding a meeting place and providing resources for the group. The final step was releasing the new leaders to gather the new enrollees in new groups. Enrollment drove the engine. Without enrollment, the current organization had no real reason to expand in the first place. Growing (enlargement) was contingent upon enrollment. It still is today, and we need to revisit the call to enroll people anywhere.
So why worry about enrolling everyone? Flake summarized it this way:
The name of every man, woman, and child in the community who is a stranger to grace should be in the possession of the church and the pastor. It is very much easier to become intensely concerned about the salvation of the souls of people when we know them personally, who they are and where they live.” —Arthur Flake, The True Functions of the Sunday School
How would you rate the importance of enrolling people in your Bible study groups? What do you need to do to increase that rating?
Read part two in this series: what open enrollment means.
G. Dwayne McCrary is a project team leader for ongoing adult Bible study resources at Lifeway. He also teaches an adult group and preschool group every Sunday in the church he attends.
Quotation from Arthur Flake, The True Functions of the Sunday School, Nashville: Convention Press, 1930, 1936, 1955, p. 46.