Four Stumbling Blocks for Sunday School Growth, Part 1

Friday 7th November, 2008

In the past two months, I have worked with three churches in three states, two were in suburban locations and one in an urban location. Our purpose together was to examine and evaluate the Sunday School to determine actions that could be taken toward growth. All three had been plateaued or declining in Sunday School attendance for some time.

There are a number of issues that can be stumbling blocks for contributing to plateaued or declining attendance. Surprisingly, none of the three churches currently had a space problem. Each had options for starting several more classes. Worship was not filled. There was plenty of parking still available. Space can be a significant issue. This can occur when any of these spaces are full: Sunday School (any age group), worship, parking, bathrooms, or hallway. Without giving attention to the filling of any one of these in advance, frequently growth will slow and stop.

Even though space was available, growth was plateaued or declining. What then were the stumbling blocks which if addressed could enable the church turn this around? Four issues appeared to be common. As I share each one, examine your Sunday School. How are you doing in each area? Is one or more of them a stumbling block for growth in your Sunday School? In Part 1, we will look at the first two stumbling blocks:

  • POOR RECORDS. In each case, Sunday School records had become simply a record of those who were regular in attendance. The percentage of attendance versus enrollment was higher than 60% which was a sign that absentees had been dropped and few new people were being enrolled. None of the churches saw their class lists (enrollment) as a ministry list. A ministry list is a list of persons the class has the privilege and responsibility to pray for, minister to, and fellowship with. Regular contacts (weekly) should be made. When needs are uncovered, the class should mobilize in ministry. A person does not have to have attended to be added to the ministry list. He/she simply agrees when invited to be added. On the other side, people should not be removed from the ministry list unless they die, join another church, or move out of the ministry reach of the church. As a stumbling block for growth, this is both a practice and mindset issue for many churches.
  • NO PROSPECT FILES. This is really a subset of the previous stumbling block. In my experience, all three churches had greeters. They nodded and spoke to me in the parking lots and hallways. They were friendly. But there is a difference between friendliness and friendship. Friendship has a desire to continue the relationship beyond the initial encounter. Many of the classes in these churches did not keep prospect contact information. They did not intend to follow up when a guest attended class. They did not pursue continued relationships. No one was assigned to follow up. No one asked the guest to enroll. No one from the class contacted the worship guest. As a result, few new people were being added to the class ministry lists. Without new people, there can be no growth! I am going to guess that class members assumed that the guest could decide if he/she wanted to return--rather than the class taking the responsibility to pursue a continued relationship. Like the previous stumbling block, this is both a practice and a mindset issue.
How are you doing in these two areas? Does one need some attention in order to remove it as a stumbling block? What can you do this month to address this issue? What is the first step? Who needs to be involved? In Part 2, we will look at two more stumbling blocks: no goals and no new classes. Evaluate your Sunday School growth. What are the challenges and barriers you face? Pray. Work to remove them. Grow. Be revolutionary.

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