Initial Reflections on Sunday School Survey Results, Part 7

Wednesday 9th February, 2011

In the previous posts of this series, I have shared some interesting results of a recent Sunday School survey, highlighting some of the differences between growing and declining Sunday Schools. I shared statistical data in the first five posts (links are listed below), and I summarized my comments in Part 6. In this post, I want to look at survey results that are connected to each other and check to see what could be missing.

CONNECTIONS. Results of differences between growing and declining Sunday Schools appear to be bunched around five areas:

  • Prospects. For a class or Sunday School to grow, there must be the addition of new people. Sunday Schools which grow intentionally organize and implement practices which lead to building relationships, care, invitations, and new members. This is reflected in results about a high attendance emphasis, prospect lists, age graded classes, worship guest registration, contacts, and visitation.
  • Retention. A class or Sunday School which loses members faster than reaching new ones, cannot grow. In some churches, having decisions in worship masks and confuses the fact that people are leaving faster than people are joining. Sunday Schools which grow give attention to those who are already enrolled. This is reflected in results about apprenticing new leaders, high attendance emphasis, contacts, visitation, age graded classes, and care reflected by having a higher percentage of enrollment in attendance.
  • Teaching. Life-changing Bible study is attractive. Changed lives are attractive. Sunday Schools which grow have lessons which are prayed over, prepared, and participative. This is reflected in results about planning, training, teacher early arrival, and even in starting time and amount of time for Sunday School.
  • New Classes. Almost no Sunday School will grow while having the same number of classes or fewer. More classes mean more people to reach, teach, and care for more people. New classes require intentionality about preparing new teachers. This area is reflected in results about apprenticing and training new leaders, recent new classes started, having more classes, and offering off-campus Bible study groups.
  • Planning. Sunday Schools and classes which grow are led to do so by a leader who understands the importance and leads in pursuit of high expectations. This requires time spent together and work to establish ownership of that pursuit. Planning is reflected in results about planning meetings, training of leaders, setting goals, high attendance emphasis, parking, and almost every other area mentioned above which requires planning and leadership.
MISSING PIECES. It should be noted, that I plan to look back through the survey results from another angle to see what I may have missed. One of those angles is the fact that the lag of growth data to the time of this survey may have skewed results. But in the meantime, I wanted to acknowledge that the survey asked 56 questions, and 31 of the questions did not appear to have significant differences between responses of growing and declining churches. In general that simply means that both sets of churches are practicing these actions about the same frequency. As a quick way of sharing some of those areas, glance through this list:
  • number of class leaders, pastor attending Sunday School, when a guest is invited to join, when prospects are dropped, teaching method, name tags, enrolling new church members in Sunday School, praying for Sunday School members and prospects, job descriptions, general Sunday School and class greeters, pastor inviting people to Sunday School from the pulpit, worker enlistment difficulty, enrollment management, good records, involvement in service projects, prayer for Sunday School, reporting contacts, frequency of Sunday School, registering guests at special events, enrolling new people, size of Sunday School, attendance ratio to worship, and number of classes ratio to attendance.
Would addressing these missing pieces aid the Sunday School to undergird its growth efforts with prospects, retention, teaching, new classes, and planning. Definitely. But the missing pieces may be secondary while the above five connections areas may be primary. These missing pieces should not be ignored but no Sunday School can effectively pursue many goals simultaneously. Thus, choosing priorities is essential in order to bring about change, movement, and growth.

Of the missing pieces, which surprises me the most? Probably the first one: number of class leaders. Here is the survey statement:

The majority of classes in my Sunday School have the following number of class officers/helpers (teacher, coteachers, apprentices, outreach leaders, care group leaders, etc.).

My expectation was that growing classes and Sunday Schools would have more leaders and workers to care for more people in the class and community. That fact would enable growth. But responses of growing and declining Sunday Schools were nearly identical. The only real difference between them was reflected in those who responded that most classes had four or more officers/helpers. Sharing that response were 6.6% (8 churches) of growing Sunday Schools and only 2.5% (5 churches) of declining Sunday Schools.

Statistics are only helpful if they help us reflect, learn, and adjust our practices. When you look through this survey's results, what do you learn about your Sunday School. One person completing the survey wrote a letter to send with the survey. Here is what the note said:

Filling out this form was a very sad/hard thing to do! Wow, do we need help.

What adjustments do you need to make? Where do you need to start? Refuse to accept mediocrity. Be revolutionary! To look at the survey data and my comments, check out the previous posts of this series:

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