Diagnosis Murder: How to Split a Class

Saturday 29th July, 2006

One of my Gallup StrengthsFinder strengths is Learner.  I enjoy learning new things. I've said for years that I'd be a perpetual student if it just paid enough to provide for my family.  The point is that over twenty years ago I learned about the great growth tool of new classes.  Since then I have read, discussed, and taught about starting new classes.

Obviously, the best source for such learning is in the trenches of hand-to-hand Sunday School combat. No, I don't mean that all such work is war. Some can be, but it should not have to be. I merely mean it is grunt work to avoid efforts to split a class that produce two classes that are too weak to survive. Unfortunately, I have seen classes shrivel and die--from preschool to youth to young adults to senior adults.

There are many reasons such efforts fail. Four of the most significant among the reasons for failure are splitting classes (1) for wrong reasons, (2) at the wrong time, (3) with poor communication, and (4) without the teacher's support. A concern only for growth in numbers is too shallow of justification for splitting a class. The "wrong time" is more than just a concern to start classes in the spring or fall when there is more momentum and energy. The wrong time can also include the moment in time in the life of the church, class, community, or the class leader(s). Unfortunately, poor communication also includes no communication with the teacher or class in advance of the split.

From my own personal experience, the support of the teacher is of paramount importance. I remember a set of co-teachers who came to me concerned about how to get more of their 30 early senior ladies involved in the lesson each Sunday. After a lengthy listening session on my part and a few suggestions, I offered a solution they had not considered.

Knowing they wanted more involvement, I suggested each of them take a new co-teacher to teach 1/2 of the class. That would allow more ladies to participate in the lessons as well as in leadership within the classes. They turned to one another and talked, oblivious to my presence. Eventually they turned to me and one of them said, "They would have to be good co-teachers." I assured them that it would not happen without good co-teachers. They said they wanted to talk to their class and then for me to come talk to the class.

They did. I did. There were questions and answers (good communication). Because the teachers were concerned about the welfare of the learners and were supportive of the effort, the class was almost unanimous in support. I told the learners that I would divide the class into an older and younger half, but if they had a friend in the other class, they only needed to let the class secretary know.

The plan was for them to meet in spaces next to one another in the fellowship hall (separated by movable partitions). They could open the partition before class to fellowship together and then close the partition when class was ready to start. The partition was only open one week--they realized they could fellowship in the fellowship hall without having to open the partition. As best I remember, only two of the 30 ladies chose another class than the one to which I had assigned them by age. Also, within a month, the two classes were averaging 40 in attendance. And more were participating in the lessons and in class leadership.

At times, the efforts to split a class (especially for the four reasons above) has produced the death of one or more of the new classes. I have seen people leave classes and the church, angry about being separated from friends and a teacher they enjoyed. On the other hand, I have seen so many success stories when splitting has been handled wel l.  I have seen growth in numbers, maturity, leadership, involvement, and so much more. (And I can only recall the failure of two classes out of more than a hundred in my personal experience.)

Share your stories of success and failure with others who read this blog by pressing the Comment button below.  Do you agree with my four reasons for the failure of many split classes? Can you think of one or two more? Yes, I know there are other ways to start new classes than just splitting. More about that later! Start new classes. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about starting new classes, check out these blog posts:

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