Protestant Educators

Picture of Clate A. Risley

Clate A. Risley (1915-1974): Executive Secretary of the National Sunday School Association, a commission of the National Association of Evangelicals, from 1952 to 1964; president of Worldwide Christian Education Ministries from 1965 to his death in 1974. Known as Mr. Sunday School, he played a leading role in city- and state-wide interdenominational Sunday school conventions, many drawing as many as 7,000 participants. His leadership brought together Sunday school leaders from major evangelical denominations, heads of Christian education organizations, and Sunday school publishers. He believed that church growth was dependant on Sunday school growth. Risley was killed outside his inner-city mission office, a victim of a random shooting. His legacy lives on through Christian education conventions in the United States and the Philippines.

Biography

Clate A. Risley was born on a homestead in central Montana near Great Falls, on November 16,1915, the son of Paul and Sarah. He had a rather inauspicious beginning. The doctor told his mother not to bother weighing him because the scrawny little fellow probably wouldn't live. He grew up with an older brother Richard and two younger sisters, Pauline and Marjorie. He didn't start school until he was seven because he wasn't strong enough to ride horseback for several miles to get to school. When he was nine, his parents moved back to Palouse, Washington, 70 miles south of Spokane. In this farming community, he was known as a city boy and a good student.

The Risley family attended a Baptist church in Palouse until their father had a falling out with the Northern Baptist Convention. In reaction, he started his own Sunday morning services in his living room, preaching and reading Scripture to his family. This lasted for several years until a little Presbyterian church was started in Potlatch, Idaho, about ten miles from their home. The new pastor had graduated from Moody Bible Institute, and the older Risley liked his preaching so he brought his family.

When he was in high school, Clate Risley was a student leader in the youth group of a little Methodist church in Palouse. He played the violin and enjoyed volunteering for church and youth events. On several occasions he would sing solos but his sister Marjorie remembers, "Nicely put, singing wasn't his strength. But his speaking voice was excellent. He commanded his listeners' attention" (Risley, 2003).

His mother was a much greater influence on Risley's spiritual development than his father. They would spend hours talking about the problems in the world and trying to come to a Christian solution.

High school was not easy socially for Risley. He was weaker than most of the boys, a skinny "townie." Risley graduated from high school in 1935. He attended Biola College and while there, felt that God had called him to preach. He later attended UCLA and Whitworth College, Spokane. In 1941, he came to College Avenue Baptist Church (General Conference), San Diego, to serve as Choir and Christian Education Director. In the choir he met his wife-to-be, Carol Root. They married on October 9, 1942. In 1944, Risley answered the call to be senior pastor to Hillyard Baptist Church, Spokane. He was 28.

At Risley's first sermon as senior pastor, nine people showed up and several of them were family. By the time he resigned from the church, it had grown to 150 members. It was at this church that Risley began to believe strongly that kids were God's church-growth tool. Many of the bigger ideas he was able to implement with the NSSA were birthed at this church. For example, in order to generate excitement for vacation Bible school, Risley organized a big parade led by a police escort. Three hundred showed up. A newspaper article reported: One "float consisted of a large clock surrounded by children. 'Sunday School Time Is Church Time' was the legend on the face of the clock" ( The Spokesman-Review , 1949). Another time, he dressed two boys in devil costumes and had them run up and down the street yelling at people in passing cars, "Don't come to Bible school!" He couldn't tolerate the lack of interest many adults showed in teaching Sunday school. His sister Marjorie Williams said, "If he heard about a good teacher at another church, he'd go visit her and talk to her about his passion for Sunday school. Then, of course, he would invite her to join his team. He had this spark that was contagious. He just made people want to be a part of Sunday school" (Risley, M. 2003). By his ninth year in the pastorate, he had led Spokane's Hillyard Baptist Sunday school from one of the region's smallest to one of the Pacific Northwest's largest.

Word about Risley's enthusiasm for Sunday school was spreading. National Sunday School Association, a commission under the National Association of Evangelicals, was looking for someone to be a visionary for the Sunday school. The commission invited Risley to take the position. He accepted, and moved his family, now including two sons, Jack, age 7, and Gary, age 4, to the Chicago area where he took over the position of General Secretary, September 1, 1952. (A third son, Marc, was born in Chicago.)

NSSA introduced Risley in the printed program of the 7th Annual National Sunday School Convention, Portland, Oregon, October, 1952: "Mr. Risley is a Sunday School enthusiast and knows the Sunday school field theoretically and practically. He has been a popular speaker at Sunday school conferences for years. He has now come to NSSA desiring to see a nation made Sunday school conscious."

Risley arrived at a time when evangelical churches were ready to respond to a cause and a charismatic leader. More specifically, they were ready to rethink the value of Sunday school. According to his executive assistant, Risley was able to get Sunday school executives from over fifty denominations working together (Potts, 2003).

Robert Hakes wrote, "Validation of Sunday school growth from 1945 to 1960 may be secured in the statistics of the Yearbook of American Churches for 1962, published by the National Council of Churches. The yearbook states on page 280 that enrollment almost doubled in this period, increasing from 21,426,453 to 41,197,313. The International Journal of Religious Education confirms the fact that this growth was 'outside the denominations belonging to the National Council of Churches.' Undoubtedly the National Sunday School Association has made a significant contribution to this growth. Moreover, the sacrificial ministry of the executive director of this organization.

Dr. Clate Risley, provided direction and impetus to the association (Hakes, 1964). Many of Risley's initiatives are dated by today's standards, but in the early fifties, they were just the initiatives churches would embrace. He established a number of national days when Sunday school was celebrated. Rally Day and National Sunday School week took place in the fall, Youth Week in the winter, and National Family Week in the spring. "March to Sunday School in March" became a national program, each year challenging churches to add 2000 feet to the Sunday school rolls. In 1963, 31 states participated. A total of 3,107 new people were added to the 36 churches that were winners or who received honorable mention. In the 36 churches, a total of 27,542 personal calls were made regarding the march. A total of 49,498 pieces of direct mail were sent ( NSSALINK , 1963, p. 11).

For each of these events, Risley authored booklets to encourage churches to participate in these special events and giving them tactics that would draw the congregation's and surrounding neighborhoods' attention.

Another tool was the publication NSSALINK , that started as a 4-page brochure and grew to a 32-page monthly magazine that sold for $1 a year. Championed by Risley, the superintendent and teacher tool was edited by Ed Potts, executive assistant under Risley. Advertising copy reads: " LINK is planned especially for Sunday school workers like you. Its purpose is to help you with your Sunday school problems and keep you aware of the Sunday school movement. If you wish to keep up Sunday school wise, LINK is a must." Booklets on canvassing and visitation, Sunday school songs, and worker dedication services were also available. Risley hired a designer-printer, Ransom Marvin, who was charged with making the publications appealing.

He continued the publication of the NSSA outlines known as the Uniform Bible Lesson Series that provided outlines used by approximately a dozen evangelical publishers, including Wesleyan Methodist, Union Gospel Press, Assemblies of God, and the Brethren, to develop Sunday school scope and sequence materials that ministered to two million students.

In Fall, 1962, Risley introduced the new publication, Journal of Christian Education . He served on the editorial board along with Gene Getz, Marjorie Soderholm, and Roy Zuck who edited the first issue. In his forward, Risley wrote: "I am happy to introduce you to the first issue of NSSA's Journal of Christian Education

"The journal is designed to be a scholarly, quarterly journal of interest to professionals and students in Christian education. Its purposes are four: 1. to study areas relating to the theory and practice of Christian education; 2. to investigate new concepts, and communicate recent findings in the field of Christian education; 3. to report on results of studies made by members of the Research Commission; and 4. to serve as the official organ of the NSSA's commission of Research in Christian education.
"Each issue will contain much valuable information by way of articles, summaries of research projects, book listings, etc….
"It is my hope and prayer that NSSA's Journal of Christian Education will be used of our Lord to forward, in a noteworthy way, the total cause of evangelical Christian education. I trust that through this organ, professors, pastors, directors of Christian education, research personnel, students and others interested in the professional and lay ministry of Christian education will be benefited greatly as they carry out our Lord's great commission to 'disciple all nations … teaching them to observe all things" ( Journal of Christian Education , 1962, page 2).
Early in his time with NSSA, Risley was interviewed by David Olson: "Recently I asked Risley where his incurable Sunday schoolism came from. His answer: 'From the observation that the churches and denominations doing the most for the Lord are the ones which have thriving Sunday schools.' As Mr. NSSA, Risley directs a very-much-alive organization through which aggressive Sunday school leaders of most Bible-teaching denominations are working together ever more closely-up-gearing their own work and each others' by comparing notes on each others' problems and solutions, and by shouldering the guns on their own fronts with a deepened sense of togetherness under the same Commander Jesus Christ… . Most valuable services of NSSA to teachers and local leaders are its answers-to-your-questions correspondence (hundreds of letters each month) and its inspiring, really practical conventions. A five-year survey of Portland area Sunday schools, which were best represented in five consecutive annual conventions, showed they had doubled their attendance in the five years. As Risley put it, 'The right kind of Sunday school has a contribution to make to the lives of the people of its community. When you realize that three of every four people you meet are not in any Sunday school and for the most part are getting no kind of religious instruction, you see that we have a great job. If the whole job is to be done, there is no one church in any community, and there is no one denomination in the country which can reach them all. We're going to do it together if we reach them all'" (Olson, 1955).

In recognition of his innovative work in the Sunday school, Risley was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, at the June 5, 1956, commencement at Northwestern College of Minneapolis.

While director, Risley established a number of commissions under NSSA. One commission was on camping. A second was a research commission in Christian education. Lois LeBar, Wheaton College, was selected to head that study group. A youth commission was established to study youth and design programs for them.

Building statewide Sunday school conventions was Risley's major project and key to his success. He had a gift for bringing people together. His executive assistant, Potts, said, "He could work with very strong personalities. People liked him. Competing publishing companies would send leaders, as would Christian colleges. He was a dynamic person who made people feel that he deserved their friendship. He was easy to get to know and to get along with. He was such a great organizer that things rarely went wrong at the conventions" (Potts, 2003). Howard Hendricks said, "Clate was a promoter. He thought big and decided to go big with the Sunday school. Up to then it was small peanuts. He was negative on pastors who had no vision for the Sunday school. No one could ream them out better than he. I had a great relationship with him. Realistically, he was so committed to Sunday school that you were either with it or out of it. He felt that the church was neglecting something God had greatly used-the Sunday school-and he wanted to be sure it was enlarged" (Hendricks, 2003).

Hendricks was a workshop leader at the very first National Sunday school convention held at Moody Memorial Church, Chicago. "It was frankly pitiful in terms of people who came," said Hendricks. "Henrietta Mears spoke to only 500 or less" (Hendricks, 2003). But Risley and NSSA believed in what could happen. Quoted from NSSALINK : "The Sunday school is one of the greatest ways the church has ever known to fulfill the great commission to evangelize and teach. Surely it takes time and money, but these are investments well worth the effort in light of eternity" ( NSSALINK , October, 1962, p. 11).

Risley sited conventions as one of the key reasons for the existence of NSSA in NSSALINK : "NSSA was organized to help the local Sunday school… . One of the main purposes in the mind of our founding fathers was that the National Sunday School Association might take the lead in giving to our nation again the inspiration of the old time Sunday school convention along with all the advantages recent studies in the field of Christian Education had made available. This we have tried to do" (Risley, 1955).

The next convention was bigger, and each continued to grow. At the height of the movement, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Chicago were the biggest, drawing from 5- to 7,000 people annually. In 1963, the Buffalo Evening News reported that 6,000 people were attending the convention. "Sunday schools are big business. In the last 18 years enrollment in the United States increased from approximately 20 million to more than 43 million, according to a report given today by Dr. Clate A. Risley of Chicago, executive secretary of the National Sunday School Association" (Preston Smith, 1963).

Each national convention features from 130 to 200 workshops. The list of Sunday school conventions' keynoters and workshop leaders invited by Risley in the early sixties reads like a who's who of Christian education: Henrietta Mears, Lois LeBar, Mary LeBar, Bernice Cory, Charles Blair, Sherman Williams, Jr., Howard Hendricks; Donald Joy; Gilbert Beers; Charles Schauffele; Edward Simpson; Kenneth Gangel; Ray Stedman, Warren Benson, Ethel Barrett, Marie Frost, Julie Gorman, Cliff Raad, Roy Zook, Paul Loth.

Heads of colleges and denominations also participated. Among them were Willard Aldrich, president of Multnomah School of the Bible; A. L. Brown, general secretary of the Sunday school department for the Free Methodist Church; Paul Copeland, director of the Assemblies of God Sunday school department; Ray Hughes, Sunday school general director, Church of God, Cleveland; Paul McBeth, Christian education board, Brethren in Christ. The 1959 Sunday School Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, reported that over 90 denominations had been represented at National Sunday school conventions.

NSSA gave a training certificate to anyone who attended a total of 18 workshops at its conventions within a five-year period.

Risley gave one address at each national convention. He always started with the same turn of phrase:

"Everyone who believes that Sunday school ought to be, ought to be in Sunday school.Everyone who comes to Sunday school, ought to come to church.Everybody who comes to church, ought to come to Sunday school.There is a place for both Sunday school and church.There is a place for both to be in both, and if both are not in both, there is something wrong with both" (Risley, J, 2003).

A Sunday school encyclopedia was created for each national convention and sold for $3.00. It included a two-page summary of every workshop offered. Each included Sunday school standards that would be adopted by denominations, allowing them to evaluate their Sunday schools against it.

Conventions reflected the concerns of their times. The 7th National Sunday School Convention was held Oct. 1-4, 1952 in Portland, Oregon. Sponsored by the NSSA, Greater Portland Sunday School Association, and other evangelical groups, the cover of the program read:

"They will not seek, they must be sought.They will not come, they must be brought.They will not learn, they must be taught.The answer to Communism - The Sunday School."

Risley's keynote address that year was "National Organization with a World Vision." At the 1955 National Sunday School Convention, Risley was presented with the title "Mr. Sunday School of America" and the name stuck throughout the rest of his life.

Smaller state and city conventions were held in imitation of the national conventions. Potts said, "One year we did city conventions across Canada. I believe this led Clate to think about international outreach" (Potts, 2003).

Risley announced his resignation at the 18th Annual National Sunday School Convention, Buffalo, Oct., 2-4, 1963, effective the end of the year. LINK overviewed his accomplishments: "During the past eleven years the National Sunday School Association has grown from a small, one-room agency to the leading interdenominational organization in the field of Christian education serving evangelicals today. Nearly one hundred denominations were registered at the recent Buffalo Sunday School Convention" ( NASSALINK , 1963). In the next issue LINK announced Risley's successor: "Rev. Richard W. Cooke has been named Acting Administrator of the NSSA by the NSSA Executive Committee … effective Jan. 1, 1964, following the resignation of Dr. Clate A. Risley as NSSA executive Secretary" ( LINK , 1964).

Soon after leaving NSSA, Risley started his own organization, Worldwide Christian Education Ministries. His emphasis centered on South Africa and the Philippines, and at the time of his death, he was investigating Christian education among Native Americans (Amy Baltzell, 2003). In South America and the Philippines he worked through church leaders who believed in the Sunday school. Betty R. Javalera, General secretary of the Overseas Crusade Incorporated Christian Education Ministries, first heard Risley speak in 1969. He followed the same convention pattern he had used when he led NSSA. Several thousand people attended, and heard his familiar theme: "Our church has got to be concerned with Christian education" (Javalera,1976). Following his death, Javalera wrote to her mission constituency: "So blessed were our churches and workers by the ministry of Dr. Risley that they did all they could to bring him back to the country. Imagine their delight when in 1974, he consented to return. One mission executive wrote to say: 'We are delighted that Clate A. Risley will be coming again. He is well qualified and has much to contribute toward Christian education here in the Philippines.' … Dr. Risley was definitely used of God to help the Philippine Church in general, and the Philippine Association of Christian Education in particular, to get a clear and better vision of the Christian education ministry" (Javalera, 1976).

The office of WCEM was in the high-crime Austin area of Chicago. Risley often remarked that those mission organizations that left the city for the safety of the suburbs ought to rethink their commitment to missions. On October 12, 1974, Risley was shot to death on the sidewalk near his first-floor office. Police suspected it was a random shooting, perhaps part of a gang initiation. His death came the night before his supporters were scheduled to celebrate the end of a successful year for Worldwide Christian Education Ministries.


Contributions to Christian Education

Risley's contribution to Christian education was his promotion and high commitment to the Sunday school. When he came to the National Sunday School Association things were languishing (Hendricks, 2003). He pulled together evangelical denominations and helped them work together toward the goal of growing Sunday school. Howard Hendricks said of the Sunday school movement during Risley's tenure with NSSA, "God overcame a lot of barriers. It is possible that some of the growth of the church today goes back to this vision. In that period, everywhere I went Clate was the bright one. He was our hope. His vision won over a lot of people. I think a lot of the credit taken today in the area of Christian education was planted years ago" (Hendricks, 2003).

Potts, Risley's NSSA executive assistant, said of his contribution: "His greatest success was to bring together almost all evangelicals involved in Christian education to study methods which they could all agree on … It was amazing to see people from Presbyterian, Baptist, Church of God (both Indiana and Tennessee), Assemblies of God, Brethren, Christian & Missionary Alliance, etc. working together and enjoying one another and coming to respect one another in a new way. I doubt that there was before or has been since such a cooperative effort in the Evangelical arena. Clate's work brought together grassroots people, local church staffs, denominational leaders, and denominational and independent publishing houses, as well as people in high education" (Potts, 2003).

Of his work in the Philippines, Betty R. Javalera, General Secretary Philippine Association of Christian Education (PACE) wrote in a prayer letter, January 15, 1976, following Risley's death: "Since [Risley's ministry] churches here have been giving better attention to Christian education ministry. Pastors have been pushing the education program of the church. Christian education leaders have been taking more active roles, church leaders have been involved themselves in the very important ministry of reaching, winning, teaching, and training individuals and groups for Christ… . It was Dr. Risley who made us realize that 'our church today seems to be concerned with evangelism only-the bearing of children … Our church has to be concerned with Christian education also-the rearing of children-so that ours will not be a church of babies, but a church of mature people.' … To perpetuate the fire for Christian Education which Dr. Risley kindled in our country, the PACE executive Committee in its meeting on May 5, 1975, decided to name the library of the PACE Learning Center Dr. Clate A. Risley Memorial Library. It is our prayer and hope that through this library, Dr. Clate A. Risley, though dead, still continues to speak" (Javalera, 1976).

Interviews

  • Baltzell, Amy. (Interview). (2003, May). Relationship: Private secretary for Risley while he served NSSA . Kissimmee, FL.
  • Greig, William. (Interview). (2003, May). Relationship: Chairman of Gospel Light; convention workshop leader . Ventura, CA.
  • Hendricks, Howard. (Interview). (2003, May). Relationship: Frequent speaker at Sunday school conventions representing Dallas Theological Seminary . Dallas, TX.
  • Kincaid, Bobbie. (Interview). (2003, April). Relationship: Secretary for Worldwide Christian Education Ministries . LeGrange, IL.
  • Potts, Ed. (Interview). (2003, April). Relationship: Executive assistant under Risley with NSSA . Santa Barbara, CA.
  • Risley, Carol. (Interview). (2003, March). Relationship: Wife . Downers Grove, IL.
  • Risley, Gary. (Interview). (2003, May). Relationship: Son . Medinah, IL.
  • Risley, Jack. (Interview). (2003, May). Relationship: Son . Colorado Springs, CO.
  • Shackley, Elsie. (Interview). (2003, May). Relationship: Secretary for Worldwide Christian Education Ministries . Chicago, IL.
  • Simpson, Frances. (Interview). (2003, April). Board member: Worldwide Christian Education Ministries and frequent Sunday school convention speaker . Youngtown, AZ.
  • Williams, Marjorie. (Interview). (2003, April). Relationship: Risley's sister . Greenacres, WA.
  • Williams Sr., Sherman. (Interview). (2003, April). Relationship: Fellow pastor and frequent Sunday school conventions speaker. Archivist of NSSALINK . Castro Valley, CA.

Works Cited

  • Williams Sr., S. (1964, January). Risley resigns NSSA post. NSSALINK , 12 (1).
  • Williams Sr., S. (1949, September 24). Sunday school pupils parade. Spokesman-Review .
  • Hakes, J. E. (Ed.). (1964). An introduction to evangelical Christian education . Chicago: Moody Press.
  • Olson, D. (1955, July 17). Mr. NSSA. Today , 8 (7).
  • Overseas Crusades Incorporated Christian Education Ministries letter . Betty Javalera, January 15, 1976.
  • Risley, C. (1955, May). Why was NSSA organized? NSSALINK , 3 (5).
  • Risley, C. A., & Reeder, W. D. (1962). Sunday school encyclopedia (Vol. 11). Chicago, IL: National Sunday School Association. (This volume had 61 different discussions on the Sunday school and Christian education outreach and was sold for $3.00. Marketing copy referred to it "as an excellent reference tool with a bibliography at the close of most chapters" NSSALINK (1963).
  • Risley, C. (1962). Forward. Journal of Christian Education , 1 (1).
  • Risley, C. (1963, October). Conventions, conventions. NSSALINK , 11 (10).
  • Risley, C. (1963, July). March to Sunday school in March. NSSALINK , 11 (7).
  • Smith, Preston (1963). Sunday schools in the U. S. are becoming big business. Buffalo Evening News , September 28.

Bibliography

Books

  • Risley, C. A. (1955). How to make announcements . Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing Co.
  • Reisinger, D. K., & Risley, C. A. (Eds.). (1957). Apt to teach: Training teachers for today's Sunday schools . Wheaton, IL: Evangelical Teacher Training Association.
  • Murch, J. D., Simpson, E. D., Rees, P. S., Risley, C. A., & Carlson, A. F. (Eds.). (1957). Redigging the wells and other Sunday school addresses . Elizabethtown, PA: McBeth Press.
  • Risley, C. A., & Reeder, W. D. (1962). Sunday school encyclopedia (Vol. 11). Chicago, IL: National Sunday School Association. (This volume had 61 different discussions on the Sunday school and Christian education outreach and was sold for $3.00. Marketing copy referred to it "as an excellent reference tool with a bibliography at the close of most chapters" NSSALINK (1963).
  • Reisinger, D. K., & Risley, C. A. (Eds.). (1965). Teach with confidence: Trained teachers for today's Sunday schools . Wheaton, IL: Evangelical Teacher Training Association.

Other Publications by Clate Risley

  • Clate Risley was not a prolific writer. Most of his publications were focused on a lay-volunteer audience. Most of these were published through the NSSA, appearing in the NSSALINK from 1953 through 1964. A thorough listing of articles was not possible for this project. A sampling of articles that we were able to access include:
  • Risley, C. (1953, January). Your teachers' meetings. NSSALINK , 1 (1)
  • Risley, C. (1953, February). The question of the month. NSSALINK , 1 (2).
  • Risley, C. (1953, March). Can't spell victory with an absent 'T'. NSSALINK , 1 (3).
  • Risley, C. (1955, May). Why was NSSA organized? NSSALINK , 3 (5).
  • Risley, C. (1955, May). Editorial. NSSALINK , 3 (5).
  • Risley, C (1958, June). How to increase pupil participation by leading a discussion. NSSALINK , 6 (6).
  • Risley, C. (1959, May). Sunday school is a family affair. NSSALINK , 7 (5).
  • Risley, C. (1962). Forward. Journal of Christian Education , 1 (1).
  • Risley, C. (1963, October). Conventions, conventions. NSSALINK , 11 (10).
  • Risley, C. (1963, July). "March to Sunday school in March." NSSALINK , 11 (7).

Recordings by Clate Risley

  • Risley, C. (n.d.). Leadership and church growth (Cassette Recording).Bellwood, IL: Good News Ministries.
  • Risley, C. (n.d.). Vital vitamins for Sunday school victory: How to spell success with a capital "M" (Cassette Recording). Bellwood, IL: Good News Ministries.
  • Risley, C. (n.d.). What Moses knew about Sunday school: The church is for growing (Cassette Recording). Bellwood, IL: Good News Ministries.
  • Risley, C. (n.d.). Jesus the master teacher: Mandate for mobilizing the church for action (Cassette Recording). Bellwood, IL: Good News Ministries.

Materials about Clate Risley

  • Risley, C. (1964, January). Risley resigns NSSA post. NSSALINK , 12 (1).
  • Olson, David. (1955, July 17). Mr. NSSA. Today , 8 (7).

Excerpts from Publications

Risley's writing and teaching priorities were directed toward lay-volunteer Christian education leaders such as Sunday school superintendents. He dealt with practical issues that could make them more successful next Sunday.

Risley, C. (1953, January). Your teachers' meetings. NSSALINK , 1 (1).

The teacher is the key to the whole problem of Sunday school improvement. The teachers' meeting is a golden opportunity for the pastor and the superintendent to let the teachers know what is expected of them….

Allow at least an hour and a half for your meeting. Set a starting time and begin on time. What you plan your meeting, include at least three elements: Inspiration, Information, Instruction.

Inspiration should be first and come in the devotional part of the meeting… It is important to prepare hearts for all that is to follow.The second phase of the meeting is devoted to the giving of information. This can come from the records of the Sunday school, which reveal the progress, or lack of progress, in various departments and classes… .

Instruction - This is the actual teaching time for teachers. The superintendent or pastor or an outside speaker may be used. Sometimes a good book on Sunday school can be used as a text. The mimeographed outlines of the workshops of the National Convention provide many suggestions for the workers' meeting.

Risley, C. (1953, February). The question of the month. NSSALINK , 1 (2).

How large should classes be before they are divided? The answer depends on several factors. How much class room space is there? How many available teachers? How capable are they? The department is also a deciding factor….

Some of our fastest growing Sunday schools have followed the rule, 'Divide and multiple.'… .

The average untrained or partially trained teacher can usually hold the interest of a small class better than a large one. Second, it is easier for the teacher to keep in touch with the class and to contact absentees when the class is small.

Risley, C. (1953, March). Can't spell victory with an absent 'T'. NSSALINK , 1 (3).

No school ought to plan an expansion program until it cares for its absentees and visitors… . Each absentee is someone's responsibility and that responsibility is not only assumed but accepted. In the lower departments were the classes are not large the teacher is the logical person to accept this job… . In a larger school it may take someone most of Monday to get (absentee information) ready to be mailed to the teacher.… Visitors are the best prospects you have. Take care of them.

An important thing to remember in all kinds of assignments can be given in the words of Clarence Benson - 'No responsibility without accountability.'

Risley, C. (1955, May). Editorial. NSSALINK , 3 (5).

A pastor recently said to me as he looked at his watch and saw it was time for Sunday school to begin and as he looked around and saw practically no one to begin it with, 'How do you get people to come on time?' I didn't answer because I was afraid the real answer would embarrass both of us; but in my mind the thought was going 'round, 'Why should anyone come on time? Nothing really is going on.' … When I see the average opening assembly program (I never call it opening exercise. There is not enough going on in most opening periods to be called an exercise) the question that comes to mind is not, why don't people come? But, why do as many people come as do come?

… We improved this situation in the church where I served with Sunday school attendance contests. Anyone who was late received no points, and if the person he had invited to come was late he received no points for getting him to come. People became punctuality conscious. They would urge their friends - 'Be sure to come and be sure to come on time or it won't count'.

Risley, C. (1958, June). How to increase pupil participation by leading a discussion. NSSALINK , VI (6).

Many teachers who would like to vary their lesson presentation seldom deviate from the lecture method because they are afraid. They are afraid no one will respond. They are afraid pupils will ask questions they cannot answer. They would like to have a discussion but they are afraid that it will get out of hand. They are afraid of disagreement.

We must realize that while it may be enjoyable to talk things over, a discussion is more than finding out what everybody thinks. There is no solution in just finding out what everybody thinks. The leader must be prepared to point to the Scriptures for the answers. A class that has been taught in the Word will have members who will be able to come up with answers.

The wonderful thing about studying the Word of God is that it deals with every phase of life and properly taught and related to today's living we find the answer to today's problems therein. We remember better and we listen better when we participate; therefore the discussion is a valuable tool of the teacher to get attention, to keep attention and to fasten truths in the pupils' minds because they have been part of the learning process."

Risley, C. (1959, May). Sunday school is a family affair. NSSALINK , VII (5).

Take a realistic look at the Sunday school hour. If we expect families to come, we must have a program that meets the needs of families. Every member of the family must be challenged. There must be something for father, mother, teenagers, junior and baby. This means leaders that are trained to lead. It means facilities to care for the family. It means a nursery for the babies, properly supervised. It means a graded Sunday school with classes for all ages, in fact and not just in word. It means many traditions broken down and changes made. It means a new cooperation and a new concern for those we have and those we have not.


Author Information

Marlene LeFever

Marlene LeFever is Director of Educational Ministries for Cook Communications Ministries, where she teaches class hours through phone and teleconferencing at 50 colleges and seminaries annually. She is daughter-in-law to Clate Risley, married to his oldest son Jack.

Biola University
13800 Biola Ave. La Mirada, CA 90639
1-562-903-6000