By David Francis
This is the fourth of an eight-part series of articles summarizing the chapters in Transformational Class: Transformational Church Goes to Sunday School. This book addresses the seven elements of transformational churches and how they might apply in a small group or Sunday school class. You can learn more about these seven elements by visiting http://www.transformationalchurch.com/.
When LifeWay's team of consultants returned to Nashville to debrief what they had heard with Dr. Ed Stetzer and his team during the Transformational Church research project, there was one element that almost defied description. Transformational churches clearly have an intentional process for making disciples. Yet, the focus is less on the process itself than on the people who benefit from it. So, we coined the term "Relational Intentionality" to describe it. Why not two separate elements? The concepts of helping people develop relationships and doing so in the context of an intentional disciple-making process intertwine in transformational churches.
This finding was remarkably consistent with the research Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger reported in Simple Church. Transformational churches have a clear and well-communicated discipleship process. Differing types of group experiences mark this path, serving as proxy indicators of spiritual growth. People can clearly identify where they are on the path and what kind of group represents the next step.
Sunday School for step twoIn most churches, the primary weekend worship experience is "step one" in the disciple-making process. Step two is some type of smaller group experience that helps people assimilate relationally, introduces them to foundational discipleship through systematic Bible study, and provides them a channel to give and receive ministry. Sunday school is an effective step-two strategy.
Dr. Geiger and I conducted an analysis of the 400 "vibrant" Southern Baptist churches in the Simple Church research. We found that 87.5 percent of those growing churches operated Sunday school - or its functional equivalent by some other name - as the second step in their disciple-making process. The remainder primarily used off-campus small groups, at least for adults. Am I suggesting that all the transformational churches were also "Simple Churches," or that they all operated Sunday school as part of their process? No. But the findings were very consistent.
Until next time...share the journey and enjoy the ride!