Books written by theoreticians can sometimes be helpful when you are trying to learn information about a new area of mission or ministry. However, when wanting advice on how to evaluate and improve upon an existing area of ministry, the careful thoughts and experience of the practitioner is the greater need. In Sunday School That Really Excels, (Kregel, 2013) author Steve Parr has sought insight from exactly that source – a group of practitioners.
What makes this book even more unique is that it shares the stories of multiple kinds of churches that used Sunday School to help them excel in ministry. Often, Pastors will read of another church who utilized a certain program or strategy and saw great success, and decide they must implement the same ministry in the same way in their own ministry. The problem is, those same pastors often fail to take into account the context, size, and setting of the successful church, not realizing that the particular program might not work to the same degree or in the same way in their church’s own ministry context.
There would hardly be a church for whom this book is not helpful. Paar has sought the insights and counsel of those who have not only thought about making Sunday School excel, but who have actually lead a Sunday School ministry to excel. And, the “experts” chosen for this book are from a variety of church contexts – rural churches and urban churches; small churches and large churches; established churches and new churches.
Some people may be wondering if a book on excelling in/through Sunday School ministry is already outdated in our contemporary culture of “small groups” and “organic discipleship.” Can Sunday school really be effective today? Perhaps it is the case, as I have often heard quipped, “It is not that Sunday school doesn’t work. It is that we have stopped working Sunday school.” As Allan Taylor (also a practitioner – Minister of Education at FBC Woodstock, GA) says in the foreward, “I am afraid we have fallen in love with our rhetoric about Sunday school more than excelling at Sunday school.”
While this book would be most helpful for Pastors and Ministers of Education, it could certainly be helpful for Sunday School Directors, teachers and other leaders as well, perhaps as a part of Sunday School leadership training. Hearing the success stories from practitioners in similar church contexts could certainly serve as a motivating factor for local church leaders.
I was a bit surprised, but thankful, that there was a chapter (Chapter 13 – “Excels in Transitioning to Small Groups”) in this book on excelling in Sunday School that dealt with transitioning a church from a Sunday School ministry to a ministry of small groups. This will certainly not be the best option for many churches with a strongly established Sunday School ministry. However, it is certainly helpful to provide counsel to those who may be considering such a ministry shift, based on their own church context and needs. The chapter included not only information on how and why such a transition may be appropriate, but also the very needed warnings about taking time, communicating clearly and often, and leading the people through such a transition.
This book is worth the money, even if you only read the chapters that are most similar to your own ministry context. I did, however, find the other chapters interesting and helpful as well. I will likely get Paar’s other books in this series for further study and evaluation: Sunday School That Really Works and Sunday School That Really Responds.
FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.