In a post-COVID world, we need Flake’s Formula again

As summer approaches, the number of people being vaccinated is increasing. Mask mandates are ending. Restaurants are once again full. It seems like we are on the verge of “normalcy.” As we emerge from the pandemic, churches are reopening their Bible study groups again. Now is the time for churches to rediscover Flake’s Formula. In a post-pandemic world, this simple 5-step formula can help churches get back to the essentials that grow a Bible-teaching ministry. In a recent Lifeway Research blog post, it was reported that 91% of churchgoers are planning on returning to their pre-pandemic attendance levels. This is great news for the church, especially since some people have predicted a 30+ percent decline because of the pandemic.

Arthur Flake is considered the “father of the modern-day Sunday School.” In 1920, just as the Spanish Flu Pandemic was ending, the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convetion hired him to become its first Sunday School Superintendent.  He had grown the Sunday School of the First Baptist Church of Wynona, MS., and he had a passion for Sunday School and evangelism.

Arthur Flake had also been a successful businessman in Wynona, Mississippi. He owned or co-owned three different businesses, and he sold them all to accept the Lord’s calling to serve at the Sunday School Board. There, he helped churches grow through their Bible study groups. He brought his business acumen with him to the Sunday School Board starting in 1920.

Flake was a product of the scientific management theory that was popular in his day. As America became less rural and more industrialized, and as people moved from farms to factories, managers in those factories needed to help their workers become as efficient as possible.

Scientific management theory was concerned with getting work done efficiently. Arthur Flake took this knowledge of Sunday School and scientific management theory and applied both of them to church life. This is how he created what we know today as his 5-step formula for building a strong Sunday School ministry.

Today, churches that follow Flake’s Formula continue to see growth and success in Sunday School. I have used this formula in every church I’ve served over the past 25 years. My first church started as a mission church with 44 Sunday School members. Using Flake’s Formula, the church grew to over 2444 members in Sunday School in the first 10 years. The church I have most recently served in Tennessee became the fastest growing Sunday School in the state by percentage growth using Flake’s Formula. It is something I believe in deeply, and I encourage you to use it as your church continues to emerge from the current pandemic.

If you are not familiar with Flake’s Formula, I’d like to share the 5 steps with you now. You can read about this in greater detail in a new book we compiled last year titled Building A Disciplemaking Ministry: The Timeless Principles of Arthur Flake for Sunday School and Small Groups. It is currently available at for $4.99, or $2.99 in bundles of 10.

Step 1: Know your Possibilities – There are underserved people in our communities, and perhaps even in our churches. As you look at the kinds of groups your church offers, you may discover that there are gaps. If a young single woman showed up at your church for Bible study, would you have an appropriate group for her to attend? Are there people groups in your community for which you would not have a good group option for them? Are some of your current groups too large to adequately teach and care for people? Knowing your possibilities for reaching new people is the starting point for growing your Sunday School. Who hasn’t your church reached effectively? Who is being underserved?

Step 2: Enlarge the Organization – Once you know your possibilities, it’s time to enlarge the organization. This is a paper and pen exercise in which you map out your new and expanded Sunday School that includes groups for the underserved people you identified in Step 1: Know Your Possibilities. The “Enlarge the Organization” step is what I call the “dream stage” – it is when you dream about what your Sunday School could look like if it had more groups for current and potential new members.

Step 3: Enlist and Train Workers – Now that you have identified your possibilities for growth, and you have created a new organization on paper, it’s time for a third and crucial step: enlisting and training new workers for the new groups. Enlistment should always be done in person…try not to make “all-call” pulpit announcements. Meet with each potential new worker, give them curriculum resources to look over, explain the essentials of the work you are calling them to do, answer their questions, and give them time to pray. Follow up with them later and discern if God is calling them into your teaching church’s ministry.

As for training the workers, this is the time to show your potential new group leaders the ways you will train them in the coming year. I like to present my new workers with a list of the training opportunities the church will provide for them over the next 12 months. This communicates my expectations they will be involved in the training, and it shows them that the church wants to do all it can to prepare them to have a successful teaching ministry. Sources of the training come from several places: First, events that your church sponsors such as video trainings or in-person trainings in which you bring in an outside expert to speak to and motivate your workers. Second, your local association will provide training events, too…simply consult their calendar and add those events to your training plan. Third, your state convention will sponsor training events that may be in-person or virtual. And finally, Lifeway Christian Resources, the organization that I work for, also provides events in Nashville, in churches, and online.

Step 4: Provide the Space – Now that you have seen the possibilities for growing your Sunday School, mapped out a new organization, and recruited and trained your new leaders, you must provide a space in which their groups will meet. You may have empty rooms, or you may have to start a second Sunday School hour. A third possibility is to start new groups on other days and at different times than your Sunday morning groups. A lack of space keeps many Sunday Schools from realizing their growth potential.

Step 5: Go After the People – In this final step, everything is in place – the new organization has been built, the workers have been enlisted and trained, and they have rooms in which to meet. Now all they need is people! The church family can help promote the new groups through their social media channels, and the church can provide these new group leaders with names of potential new group members. But research has demonstrated the number one reason why people attend a Bible study group is because of the invitation of a group member or the leader of the group. Nothing else is as important as a personal invitation.

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