Sunday School’s Neglect of Care for One Another, Part 8

Thursday 23rd July, 2009

How can Sunday School hope to carry out the Great Commission when it is unable or unwilling to care for its own members? How can it hope to impact the world when it does not care for those God sends to them? How can Sunday School continue to mobilize workers into the harvest when so many potential workers are lost shortly after joining?

Far too many years have been wasted because of neglecting to care for one another. Church rolls are filled with millions of nonresident members—with many of whom churches have lost all contact. Sunday School which should have been able to prevent some of those church losses has stood idly by. As opposed to those who don’t, new members who become active in Sunday School are more than seven times more likely still to be connected five years later.

Like church rolls, Sunday School rolls are filled with those who have dropped out over the years. Some of these dropouts have died. Some have joined other churches and Sunday School. But the great majority of dropouts is simply lost through neglect. They may live in the same community in a different house, but they dropped out of Sunday School and no one pursued or even checked on them. Now Sunday School classes and leaders cannot find them. As a result, our communities are filled with dechurched people—those who are former members or who previously attended.

With a quick scan of recent statistics from mainline Protestant denominations, baptisms along with Sunday School enrollment and attendance are plateaued or declining. This can even been seen in the Southern Baptist Convention which has long been noted for the strength of their Sunday School work. Study the statistics long enough and you will notice something. Forgetting all church transfers and focusing on the baptisms, these denominations have the potential to see annual increases in Sunday School enrollment and attendance. Then, what is the problem? They are losing new and long-term members as fast or faster than they are gaining people through baptism. These Sunday Schools are losing people out of the back door (dropouts) faster than they are leading them through the front door (baptisms).

It’s about more than numbers. It’s not about increasing or maintaining attendance. No, it’s a concern for individuals. They grow and benefit from the connection and so does the class and church. But it is impossible to disciple and mobilize people who are no longer there. Without a vital connection to the body of Christ, those who drop out tend to stop growing in Christ and stop serving Him actively. When muscles are not used, they atrophy. In the same way, the growth of those who are no longer connected to the body also atrophies. They become less and less able to make a church and Kingdom contribution. The harvest is in need of more laborers—not less. Our Lord himself said, "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned" (John 15:6-7, NIV). The damage to the Church and impact on the harvest are great.

Why are so many dropping out? Taken seriously, this one question has the potential to turn many Sunday Schools around. Understand and address the issue, and lives and Sunday School will change and Kingdom impact will increase. Sound too good to be true? It can happen in this generation. Neglect must end. Revolutionary care of one another is needed.

Far too many drop out due to Sunday School negligence. Why do we neglect to care for one another? Are we just too busy to care? Seldom does it begin as intentional neglect. We get busy. Other things gain our attention. We neglect to prioritize our time. We forget to call like we promised. We are embarrassed when we remember. One week becomes two, and two becom e four. Embarrassment grows.

Failure to care for one another is reflected in many ways:

  • sometimes classes are too large;
  • sometimes we simply don’t care;
  • sometimes we are too self-focused;
  • sometimes we are just too busy;
  • sometimes we fail to invest in relationships with anyone beyond our own circle, beyond our own clique;
  • sometimes we fail to get to know the “new people” who joined six months ago or worse intentionally avoid associating with them;
  • sometimes we are we lazy in our care;
  • sometimes our is just not organized, not done well, or gets forgotten;
  • sometimes prayer is intermittent;
  • sometimes members are encouraged to call or e-mail or make a visit and sometimes we are just tired or just don’t feel like it;
  • sometimes the opportunity for a caring response has passed;
  • sometimes we just not persistent;
  • sometimes when a need is discovered, we immediately pray and respond, but then we forget about the situation when the problem persists--we move on to the next need too quickly;
  • sometimes we don’t know how to care--no one trained us or organized us to care
  • sometimes no one informed us that it is part of the responsibility--it was not in the job description;
  • sometimes no one holds us accountable to carry care out care; and
  • sometimes when we are unsure how to respond in the situation we don’t go.

It should be noted that not all of the blame is due to Sunday School neglect. Some attenders drop out for personal reasons which have nothing to do with the care they received. Why do they drop out? People drop out for a variety of reasons. They were sick one Sunday, tired the next, and had to travel the third. Now, they are in the habit of NOT coming. When we don't check on them immediately (after the first time they are absent), we miss opportunities to show how much we care.

Look at this beginning list of reasons people drop out:

  • sickness of self or a family members;
  • caring for a person with special needs;
  • had to work/work trip;
  • too tired/stayed out too late;
  • death of family member;
  • vacation;
  • sports teams/personal recreation;
  • catching up from the week/running errands;
  • and so many more.

In some ways, that is a more positive list. There are other more negative and difficult reasons. Class is boring. They have no friends. No one talks to them. The teacher does not seem to care. They don’t feel that they are making spiritual progress. No one has asked them to serve. They feel unconnected and useless. The teacher is judgmental. Class members are hypocritical. Someone is rude, hurts their feelings, or makes them angry. Wow, that is a painful list.

Obviously the problem is compounded when there were personal reasons for a dropout’s absence and then the class takes no steps to reach out and care. The dropout was sick and no one called. He had to miss because of work and no one checked on him. Her dad died and no one attempted contact or extended comfort. There was a problem and no one made any effort to resolve it.

The problem comes down to neglect of care. Fixing the problem in our Sunday Schools is vital. We may not be able to recover all of the people lost over the last few decades, but we must try. If we don’t stem the tide that is flowing out the back door, Sunday School will continue to lose its effectiveness and impact. But we can change from this point forward. We can put our best foot forward and let no one drop out without our best attempts to reach out and care. We can begin to ease the back door shut and watch as our classes and Sunday Schools begin to grow, more disciples are made, more teachers and leaders step forward, and more people carry out the work that our Lord has given us.

For more ideas about increasing care in Sunday School, check out these blog posts:

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