2075: the future of sunday school
by Keith Fletcher, editor in chief,
Randall House Publications
WHAT WILL SUNDAY SCHOOL LOOK LIKE among Free Will Baptists in 70 years? Critics may predict its demise long before then, but our denomination’s history of Christian education includes Sunday School as the keystone of local church outreach and ministry. For Sunday School to remain effective, it must adapt to the needs of people in a changing society.
When Sunday School first came to America in the late 1700s, it looked very different than today. Targeting the needs of uneducated, underprivileged children who worked long hours six days a week in urban factories, Sunday School was not limited to religious education. It provided a rudimentary general education to these youngsters, while keeping them off the streets and out of trouble on their only day off—Sunday. As child labor laws were enacted and leadership shifted from individuals or parachurch groups to local churches, Sunday School became primarily a means of reaching and teaching all social classes (and eventually all age levels) the truths of God’s Word and the doctrines of the church.
When the Free Will Baptist denomination reorganized in 1935, Sunday School, as we know it, was not new. The Sunday School movement in the United States was growing. In 1938, the National Association of Free Will Baptists elected a Sunday School Board, which began promoting the ministry through Sunday School conventions. Yet a national Free Will Baptist literature program was slow in coming. For a while, Free Will Baptist Sunday School literature flowed from Free Will Baptist presses in North Carolina and Oklahoma into many other states, but national leaders recognized the need to unite the denomination under an umbrella of consistent, age-appropriate Bible curriculum—one which, unlike independent publishing houses, supported our doctrinal distinctions.
They started with little, hand-collating materials and shipping out of a residential garage. Funding was difficult to come by, and debts grew faster than trailblazers like William Mishler could rally support. A Sunday School office near the Free Will Baptist Bible College campus in Nashville closed in 1959 due to indebtedness. Roger Reeds, a Sunday School board member at the time, kept the national Sunday School ministry going while pastoring a growing church in St. Louis. In 1962, another Nashville office was opened and Brother Reeds became full-time director. Published curriculum and books soon followed.
The department soon outgrew its allotted 859 square feet in the “new” National Office building on Murfreesboro Road in Nashville, TN, and built a 10,000 square foot building behind the National Offices in 1968. In 1969, a Sunday School curriculum for adults was published, capping off the full line of departmentally-graded curriculum. It was a Free Will Baptist curriculum, written by Free Will Baptists for Free Will Baptists.
In 1971, the rapidly growing Sunday School Department purchased 9 acres and a 53,000 square foot building for $178,000. This facility, located near Nashville International Airport, is now worth about $3,000,000. The building, after several renovations, still remains the home of the publishing arm of the denomination.
The Sunday School Department adopted Randall House Publications as its trade name in 1972. In 1978, the Church Training Service merged with the Sunday School Board. The Youth Division, now Student and Children Ministries, was organized in 1983 and sponsors not only the National Youth Conference each July, but also various leadership training events throughout the year for junior and senior high school students and adults who work with children and teens. The cost of these events is underwritten by the sale of curriculum. Randall House is a self-sustaining, non-profit entity that receives no financial support from the Together Way Plan.
Roger Reeds served as General Director of Randall House for 31 years. He was succeeded by Alton Loveless who retired in 2002 after upgrading much of the department’s prepress technology and developing an extensive backlist of print-on-demand titles. Ron Hunter, Jr., now serves as director and has guided the development and production of a totally new curriculum based on Randall House’s own CLEAR Learning System™.
For the first time in 35 years, Free Will Baptists have a Bible curriculum designed from the ground up to meet the needs of churches today. With an increased emphasis on evangelism and discipleship, CLEAR curriculum unites family members around key biblical themes each week and encourages Spirit-guided application of biblical principles. Colorful, cutting-edge designs present the timeless truths of Scripture in packages that pique the interest of even today’s media-saturated readers. The goal of CLEAR is to guide teachers and students of all ages, from birth to eternity, with a simple 5-step approach to learning: Connect, Learn, Explore, Apply, and Respond.
With a renewed emphasis on customer service and a vision of serving the broader body of Christ, Randall House’s CLEAR curriculum is being accepted by likeminded churches and denominations, perhaps for the first time, crossing both racial and regional boundaries. Randall House exists to serve the local church, providing tools to help churches develop their own God-directed, Christ-centered, and Spirit-empowered ministries rather than following the latest fad and doing what everyone else is doing.
SO, WHAT WILL SUNDAY SCHOOL LOOK LIKE in 2075? Perhaps very different from today. Certainly very different from 75 years ago! Just as the very first Sunday Schools addressed the needs of 18th century society, our 21st century Sunday Schools must change and reach out to those who need the life-changing gospel of Christ. Instead of back-breaking factory sweat shops, few educational opportunities, and a lack of Sunday supervision, children today suffer from broken and abusive homes, a godless public education system, and money-hungry marketers of tasteless entertainment. To be effective, the church, in its educational ministries, must cling to God’s Word and yet utilize pervasive technologies like the internet, cell phones, and digital media. We must continue to develop new resources, not neglecting children in transition, spiritually starving young adults, or the growing population of computer savvy senior adults. We must not neglect personal relationships and the power of our simple story of faith in our unchanging God.
Free Will Baptists have remained true to God’s Word, and those who are committed to faithfully and effectively teaching it are seeing (and will continue to see) lives changed. God has blessed us, and He will guide us and give a vision of fields that are “white unto harvest.”
Keith Fletcher has served as the editor-in-chief of Randall House Publications since 1995. A member of Donelson Free Will Baptist Church, Keith and his wife Sarah live in Antioch, TN. Contact Keith at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about Randall House and their innovative new curriculum, visit the website: www.randallhouse.com