Jim Collins studied companies that were good but became great and shared his findings in the classic book Good to Great.
“They took a complex world and simplified it,” Collins says. “In a world overrun by management faddists, brilliant visionaries, ranting futurists, fearmongers, motivational gurus and all of the rest, it’s refreshing to see a company succeed so brilliantly by taking one simple concept and just doing it with excellence and imagination.”
Collins and his team of researchers developed the “Hedgehog Concept” to describe the process these great companies used to clearly define their mission. They asked three questions: What are we deeply passionate about? What are we best in the world at? What drives our resource engine?
“This is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial,” he explains.
When we ask these questions of our churches, how do we answer the question, “What do we do best?”
One answer is Sunday school. Baptists have made many significant contributions to the church in America, but one of the most unique is Sunday school, and Texas Baptists often have led the way. David Strawn of First Baptist Church in College Station, wrote, “Texas Baptists contributed the work of men like William P. Phillips, John Sizemore, Harry Piland and Bernie Spooner to the greater constellation of churches.”
Sunday school always has been at the heart of the churches where I have served. It has provided the basic biblical preparation for our preschoolers, children, youth and adults. But it also has been the organization that facilitated fellowship, outreach and ministry.
I have served churches with strong deacon family ministry programs and trained professional staff. Yet when a family was in crisis, it was the Sunday school class that provided the context for ministry. Meals were served, grieving family members were consoled and the sick were visited. Families who only attended worship might have needs that were completely overlooked by the church, but that was seldom the case with those who were active in Sunday school.
It also has been our greatest outreach tool. I learned to share my faith when my sixth-grade Sunday school teacher from James Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth took me to my friends and asked me to tell them how they can come to know Christ. This allowed me to see many of my friends come to know the Lord.
Of course, we need innovation. Call them life groups, cell groups, Bible studies or whatever; small groups are essential for growing effective churches.
When I listen to the generation younger than 35, they insist they are looking for authenticity and community. Texas Baptist churches have had a model for this for more than 100 years. As we search for exciting and innovative ways to reach and disciple our communities for Christ, let’s not be too quick to overlook one of the things we have done best.
Randel Everett is executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board.