Diagnosing Your Sunday School’s Assimilation of New Members

Saturday 3rd November, 2007

There are several questions every Sunday School director and leadership team should ask itself about Sunday School:

  1. How are we doing at assimilating people into Sunday School classes who have joined the church? in the first year? the second year? five years?
  2. How are we doing at assimilating new Sunday School members who have not yet joined the church? in the first year? the second year? five years?
  3. Which classes/age groups are doing a better job of assimilating new members? Are the classes/groups doing any things differently which are contributing to greater success?
  4. What are the new members who are staying telling you about why they are doing so?
  5. When you "interview" them, what do the new members who are dropping out tell you about why they are leaving?
  6. How are new Sunday School members involved in other church ministries beyond the Sunday School?

It is valuable to track your success in assimilating new members. God sent these sheep to you to steward for Him. Since the first six months and the first year are critical in the life of a new member, it is important to track each new member's progress during that period. In fact, assigning an Encourager (someone to walk the journey through the first year with the new member) can be a concrete step toward ensuring the new members successful connection to the Sunday School class.

It can be valuable to track your success statistically as well. There are several ways to do so:

  • divide the increase in Sunday School attendance by the number of new Sunday School members; multiply by 100; that is the percentage of assimilation of new members in Sunday School
  • divide the increase in Sunday School attendance by the number of new church members; multiply by 100; that is the percentage of assimilation of new church members in Sunday School
  • you might also want to track the difference between those who join the church by baptism and those who join by transfer
  • this tracking can be done by age group (preschool, children, youth, and adult) or by hour of Sunday School if multiple hours are offered
  • this tracking can be done monthly (when a church has many new members), quarterly, semi-annually, or annually (and it can also be helpful to compare with the previous period and previous year)

But the bottom line is that new members are more than statistics. They are people who deserve our best efforts to provide care for them. It should be noted that there are some legitimate reasons why people leave our churches: death, job transfers, marriage to a member of another church. At the same time, we need to work to reduce the number who are leaving for reasons we can and should address. While we will likely never have 100% success in assimilation, we need to do all we can to keep our success rate high.

I would like to recommend an article by Chuck Lawless. It is entitled Diagnose Your Church's Health: Is the Church Keeping New Members? In the article, he recommends seven steps to determine a church's success in keeping new members:

  1. Compare the church's addition number with corresponding attendance. 
  2. Review attendance and participation records of specific new believers. 
  3. Evaluate the church's current strategy for keeping new believers (expectations, involvement, relationships, and convictional teaching/preaching).
  4. Determine the church's primary approach to evangelism.
  5. Review the church's covenant. 
  6. Listen to new believers who no longer attend the church. 
  7. Interview new believers who have remained in the church.

Sunday School is a great tool to help the church create connections with new members. Thom Rainer found that 87% of new members who become active in Sunday School will still be at the church in five years while only 13% of new members who don't become active in Sunday School will still be there in five years. Sunday School is most successful in assimilating new members when it is high expectation and involvement, works on genuine relationships, and leads attenders to apply God's truth. Diagnose your efforts today. Be revolutionary!

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