What Francis Scott Key is famous for is not what he was passionate about.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the story behind Key’s famous poem. Key was an attorney when the War of 1812 broke out. Two years later, he went on board a British ship to negotiate the release of a friend who had been captured. However, once he had secured the freedom of his friend, the two men were temporarily detained on the ship while the British bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore. The British were unsuccessful, and on September 14, 1814, Key was relieved to see the United States flag still flying. So out came the paper and pen.
Within weeks, newspapers all across the country had reprinted his poem, which had been renamed The Star-Spangled Banner.
Sure, Francis Scott loved this country, but he loved something more: Bible study.
The whole idea of Sunday School started in Britain in the 1780s, but it was in America that the movement gained traction. Robert Raikes, who started the first Sunday School, had children in mind, but the movement grew to include all ages. The American Sunday-School Union (ASSU) embraced the concept behind Sunday School as a way to teach the lower economic groups to read—and what better way to teach them to read than with the Bible? Exposure to the Bible in this way spread the gospel, introduced people to Christ, and changed lives.
And Francis Scott Key was passionate to see that happen. He served for many years on the board of the ASSU. In 1830 he led the meeting that instituted the Mississippi Valley Enterprise. This enterprise had a 50-year goal to start 61,000 Sunday Schools to reach 2.7 million people who lived west of the Appalachian Mountains. And a great number of those Sunday Schools grew to become churches.
A lot of folks want to write off Sunday School as something fine for 1830, but not 2018. It’s old. It’s archaic. NO, IT’S NOT—not if it’s done right and done well. In fact, some of the strongest churches in America are growing with Sunday School as a foundational part of their ministry.
My good friend, Ken Braddy, said it well:
“David Francis, Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources, conducted a survey of the 400 vibrant churches that were surveyed for the book, Simple Church by Eric Geiger and Thom S. Rainer. He was able to gather data on 94% of the vibrant churches (a vibrant church was identified as one that had experienced at least 5% growth for 3 consecutive years). He discovered that 87.5% of those vibrant churches conducted Sunday School adjacent to the worship service on the Sunday morning schedule.” [Read the full article.]
Francis Scott Key saw the value in Bible study groups, and we should too. So next time you stand to honor our country and belt out The Star-Spangled Banner, belt this out afterwards to the guy standing next to you:
I’m in a Bible study group. Why don’t you come with me next week?
Francis Scott Key would smile.
It’s always empowering to hear the story behind the story, especially when it’s so impactful for the body of Christ. Blessings to you and your’s as you continue to serve God.