Don’t you wish you had a dollar for every time someone has said they like to “think outside the box.” Or maybe, you have used this phrase in describing someone you know or with whom you work. Typically, we use this in a positive way of describing someone who is creative, “cutting edge,” or just always sees things in a unique way. However, it can also be used to describe a person who is a non-conformist in every sense of the term and basically is against anything they perceive to be “old” or that’s been previously done. In essence - every idea, event or concept must be original and new in order for it to even be worthy of consideration.
One hundred years ago, a businessman from Winona, Mississippi named Arthur Flake became the leader of the Sunday School department of the Baptist Sunday School Board. You may have never heard of him, may not know about his “formula” for Sunday School growth…and, you may not even care because – to you – it represents what’s INSIDE the box. But if you take time to examine Flake’s five principles, you will find that they are used in some fashion in almost every conceivable model of groups ministry including Sunday School, small groups, home groups, and even church planting.
Although Arthur Flake, himself, never officially compiled his five principles in a single book or unit, he taught them consistently whenever he spoke and in various writings. Flake’s Formula can be summed up by the acrostic KEEP…Go!
Know the possibilities (What is God’s vision for this ministry? Potential? Need? Demographics?)
Enlarge the organization (Create and introduce potential new groups – before you need them.)
Enlist and train the leaders (Identify, call out, and train those in your leadership pipeline.)
Provide space and resources (Make decisions about location, childcare, curriculum – and provide them.)
GO after the people! (LAUNCH! Evangelize, visit, assimilate, and disciple.)
(Although this is known as “Flake’s Formula,” not “Bob’s Formula,” there is one change in the process that I would suggest. You may wish to enlist and train the leaders BEFORE enlarging the organization.)
For some of us, our instinct would be to overlook Flake’s Formula because it is basically 100 years old…not outside the box enough for us. The difference here is in the details. Try not to view the formula as prescriptive measures in any specific sense or for use with a specific ministry…say, Sunday morning Sunday School only. Better yet, view these as concepts or principles that are useful in guiding any church, any group ministry, any vision, or any specific strategy. They are useful in a multitude of settings. You will even find some or all these ideas taught - with different words - by many leaders and innovators in the Disciple-Making/Groups movement like Jim Putnam, Neil Cole, Robby Gallaty, Eric Geiger or others. In other words, the principles are sound, and their application can be specific to your church and your situation.
In the next year, you will likely see or hear more information celebrating the 100 years of Flake’s Formula, especially in Southern Baptist circles. If you need help with strategy, approach, or training, please feel free to give us a call. We will help you navigate a path towards an effective groups ministry (no matter what it looks like) or disciple-making culture using these and other principles. So, before you throw out the box, take a second to look inside it. You might find something helpful to the ministry God has given you.
Bob Johnson, Sunday School/Groups Consultant – Evangelism & Church Health Team, ABSC