WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
In other parts of this wonderful country, the approaching season is called autumn. In South Georgia, the approaching season is called football, and in many of our coastal communities the approaching yearly cycle is known as hurricane season. Whatever else it may be called, it heralds the beginning of school, and in the Methodist movement the beginning of Sunday School. What’s old is new again.
According to the Sunday School Board’s report in the 1908 South Georgia Conference Journal, 40% of those who “pass through the Sunday School are converted and become members of the church.” The 40% of Sunday School members who do join the church make up 87% of the members of the churches. So, 87% of the people who joined the church participated in a Sunday School class. That is an amazing return on investment! In contrast, only 13% of church members joined while not participating in Sunday School. From these figures, the Sunday School Board declared that Sunday School is “the most successful evangelizing agency in the church.”
This is something that Methodists have known for quite some time. Rev. John Wesley knew this to be true in the mid-1700s which is why he went to such trouble creating societies and bands. These classes must be populated with locals who share specific needs, blessings, and troubles so members could support each other and also hold each other accountable. Rev. Georgia Whitefield knew this to be true as well when in 1749 he surrendered the leadership of the Calvinist Methodist Societies so that he could travel easily between America, England, and Scotland preaching to all who would listen. In contrast, John Wesley would not send preachers to any place where societies could not be formed. He thought it was like “begetting children for the murderer.”
The report of the Sunday School Board in the 1908 South Georgia Conference Journal continues with the importance of Sunday School classes by asking each church member and each church to support this ministry with two actions. The first is that every church should have a Sunday School class and the second is that every member of every church should regularly attend a Sunday School class. Not only should every member regularly attend a Sunday School class but each member should “be on time, with a studied lesson, an offering, his/her own Bible, a mind to learn, and a heart reaching out to the unsaved of earth.”
I can almost hear the Sunday School leaders rejoice at the mere thought of members being on time and prepared in heart, mind, and soul. The children’s scissors would open and close spontaneously in glee and anticipation. Cokesbury would double its sales. Gallons of coffee would be brewed, and thousands of mini muffins gobbled up. What a year that would be!
To the Methodist churches of 2022: the 1908 church has just issued a double-dog dare to us. Let’s rise to the challenge. A class in every church, and every member in a class. Oh, what a year it will be!
Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at email@example.com.