In the book Great Expectations by David Francis, Director of Sunday School for LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the expectations of any Sunday School class is that it start another one. Great groups start new groups. New groups typically grow faster and reach more people for Christ than do older, established classes. One reason for the rapid growth that new classes experience is what I like to think of as “the Lego factor.” In existing classes people have built relationships with each other, and newcomers have a hard time breaking into the group. People are a lot like “social Legos”…Legos have six connecting points (at least the rectangular ones do) and most people can handle six significant relationships. Newcomers can’t connect well to the members of classes who’ve been together for a long time because their relationship points are already connected to other people. In new classes, no one is connected to other people in the class just yet, and there is relationship room when friendships begin to form. So, if you were going to start new classes, when would you do it? Let me share four great times to start new groups.
1. At the start of the new year – many people come back to church after the busy Christmas holidays ready to get back into the swing of things; others are making resolutions as they start the new year, and among those include getting regular in a small group. New classes started at the beginning of the new year can reach people who are trying to reconnect with the church. Superbowl Sunday is a good day to target the introduction of new class options (advertise the new classes throughout January and build excitement). I used to make Superbowl Sunday “SuperGoal Sunday,” and my teachers would set high attendance goals and then host Superbowl-watching parties that afternoon for their class members. SuperGoal Sunday can include the goal of starting new classes, too, so get creative and get moving…people are waiting for new classes so they can connect.
2. The Sunday after Easter – Seriously? You bet! Just as people come back to the church after the first of the year, countless others come back to the church for Easter services. Promote the new classes several weeks leading up to Easter, and have a list of classes and a registration form in the Easter worhship bulletin…make it very easy for people to express interest in getting signed up for one of your new classes. Simply have the guests place the registration forms in the offering plate on Easter, and give their contact information to the new teachers that afternoon so that follow-up can begin on Monday. Phone calls, personal invitations, and gentle encouragement on the part of teachers can work wonders in making those Easter guests feel like they are really welcome in the new class. The good news: everyone who attends the new classes will be relatively unconnected to other people in the class, and as in the example above, they can begin to “Lego up” and get connected relationally.
3. Back to School – no doubt your church experiences the “summer slumps” – members take vacations and July is typically the month with the lowest average attendance. But just wait until August…the people return in large numbers, excited about the start of school, football, and fall. New classes can find a great toehold during this month since more people are attending and getting back into the groove.
4. Any Month when Attendance Spikes – keep track of your Sunday School attendance over time, and you’ll see attendance patterns develop. You can quickly identify the one or two months of the year when attendance spikes, and that’s the time to start new groups. I tracked the attendance patterns of the first church where I served as Minister of Education, and we always spiked in August/September and January. My second church had a slightly different pattern, and it spiked in February (probably coincided with the pastor’s sermon series that occurred after the first of the year). Get to know your church’s unique DNA in attendance, and you’ll know exactly what month is best for starting new groups; don’t work harder, just work smarter, and give new classes the best chance of surviving and thriving.