Growing Sunday School Research, Part 1

Tuesday 17th July, 2007

The Georgia Baptist Convention did some Sunday School research in 2001. The project was entitled Georgia's Fastest Growing Sunday Schools: Ten Common Factors. They sent surveys to the top 50 churches in Sunday School enrollment and attendance gain. Forty-six of the churches completed and returned the survey. Of the responding churches, 85% had all classes meeting on Sunday morning with another 11% who had all classes meeting on Sunday morning a few exceptions.

In the research, all but two churches could answer "yes" to seven or more of the questions, and the two exceptions had "phenomenal worship growth that likely accounts for their Sunday School growth." The research makes three statements prior to presenting the research results: (1) none of the factors stands alone, (2) Sunday School growth takes work, and (3) each of the participating churches tends to be struggling with one or more of these areas.

Allow me to share the ten common factors (in all capitals) followed by my commentary. Of these churches:

  • 98% PROVIDE TRAINING FOR THEIR SUNDAY SCHOOL LEADERS. Monthly worker meetings were most common (63%) followed by weekly (17%) and quarterly (9%). Nearly half offered a launch event before the new Sunday School year started. Nearly half had an annual teacher appreciation banquet with a speaker. Many other options were listed from state and associational training events to Ridgecrest to an annual leaders retreat to special training at the church. Training raises expectations. Training reinforces the essentials. Training raises the value of teamwork and accountability. How will you train your leaders this year?
  • 96% BELIEVE THAT THE PASTOR'S SUPPORT OF THE SUNDAY SCHOOL IS IMPORTANT OR VERY IMPORTANT TO THE HEALTH OF THEIR CHURCH. Even when these churches have an identified leader for the Sunday School (such as a Sunday School director or Minister of Education), they still believe the pastor's support is "critical to the success of the Sunday School." The people tend to listen to what the pastor communicates is important. Pastors, I want to encourage you to develop a plan for regularly highlighting the Sunday School ministry. Preach about its importance. Personally invite people to attend and enroll people in Sunday School. Lead the congregation to pray for Sunday School. Arrange Sunday School testimonies during worship. Your support makes a difference!
  • 96% ARE OVERCOMING SPACE LIMITATIONS. This statistic was interesting: 96% were completely out of space but still growing. It should be no surprise that growing Sunday Schools encounter space limitations. Sometimes the difference between growing and not growing churches is in how they overcome the barriers--including space. This requires flexibility and planning. Over a quarter of the churches had construction of new facilities underway. But most were able to continue growing by using the following options: mutiple Sunday Schools: multiple classes in large areas (like a gym or fellowship hall without walls); off-campus space during Sunday morning; mobile units; classes meeting at another time; etc. Pray. Plan ahead. Be flexible. Look for additional options. Don't allow space limitations to stop or stall your growth!
  • 91% PRACTICE "OPEN ENROLLMENT." In other words, they "enroll anyone, anywhere, at any time so long as the person agrees." "They make it easy to get on the Sunday School roll and difficult to be removed!" In many of these churches, new church members are strongly encouraged to enroll when they join (43%) or automatically enrolled when they join (41%) . In most of our churches, we do a better job of caring for people on our Sunday School rolls. Let's enroll more people! People like to be invited. Ask them if you can add them to the mi nistry and fellowship list of a class. Then pray for them, meet their needs, and invite them to fellowship with you. Love them into relationship with your class and with God.
  • 85% ARE USING AN EVANGELISTIC TRAINING PROCESS OR METHOD. One of the ways these churches are training their leaders (the first common factor) is evangelistic training. They are using FAITH (46%), Share Jesus Without Fear (17%), one-day soul winning workshops (15%), The Net (13%), CWT (9%), and others. Some are using more than one strategy. They are intentional in preparing Sunday School leaders to reach out and share their faith. Not all of the sheep we are to care for are already in the sheep pen (John 10:16). Sunday School can be a great community to reach out, care for, and love people to God.

In Part 2, we will look at the second half of the research ten common factors:

  • 83% ARE CREATING NEW UNITS.
  • 80% HAVE A WEEKLY VISITATION MINISTRY.
  • 78% HAVE A PROSPECT LIST.
  • 78% HAVE HIGH STANDARDS FOR THEIR LEADERS.
  • 78% INTENTIONALLY ORGANIZE THE SUNDAY SCHOOL FOR GROWTH.

Of the first five common factors, which are true of your Sunday School? Which one does your Sunday School struggle with most? What step could you take this month to strengthen that factor? Without leadership, little will be accomplished. Pray. Lead. Be revolutionary!

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