I recently received an email from Noah E, a new Sunday School Director who also oversees his church’s student ministry…two very big jobs! He told me he’d found my blog and relayed some information about his church that may remind you of yours: he has dedicated teachers who love God, use LifeWay curriculum, yet the church struggles to get people to attend Sunday School (Noah said that more folks attend worship at his church than Sunday School, and that the Children’s Chapel attracts more kids than does his children’s Sunday School classes). Noah’s question: “Any tips on how I can allow the parents to feel, and the people in church who don’t come, to feel that SS is important and discipleship is important?” Of course I do! Noah, here we go…
1. Take a good look at your children’s Sunday School space – I have led workshops in Sunday School ministry all over the country, in all kinds of churches. I always like to take a peek at the types of classrooms that churches use for their education ministries to see what my impression would be if I were a parent dropping off a child for the first time. I’m convinced that good things happen when churches get serious about making their children’s Sunday School classrooms some of the very best rooms in the church. New paint, brighter lighting, and a good de-cluttering can work wonders and make parents feel much better about leaving their kids in your Sunday School. Challenge your teachers to take on the work as a Saturday workday project, and get your deacons involved in painting the classrooms.
2. Make sure you’ve got plenty of clear signage – your members and guests need to know how to navigate the corridors of your church, especially the area that houses your children’s ministry. You know how to get around…but do they? My family and I have recently been searching for a new church home, and one of the common denominators we’ve seen is a lack of signage! It’s challenging when you are new to a church, and it’s easy to get turned around. Invite someone who doesn’t attend your church to come in during the week and look at your church through the eyes of a first-time guest. They may let you know that you need a LOT more signage than you currently have. If people aren’t comfortable in your church, they won’t let you have their kids.
3. Share testimonies during your worship service – there are few things more powerful than a person’s story, especially stories about changed lives. Ask your pastor to schedule a family or individuals to share how Sunday School has made (and is making) a difference in their lives in a worship service every quarter (more often if he’s comfortable with that). You can hi-lite the preschool, children, student, and adult Sunday Schools over the course of a year if you hi-lite one of them each quarter. Talk about reaching the people who are “worship only” kinds of folks with a great message! Call attention to a bulletin insert you create for those special emphasis days that allows people to respond to the message by indicating their desire to get themselves and their family members connected in age-appropriate Sunday School classes.
4. Practice great follow-up in the adult Sunday School – Noah mentioned in his email to me that his church has strong attendance in the adult classes compared to other age groups. Use that to your advantage and work with the adult classes to do great follow-up on members and guests. If moms and dads are connected and involved in an adult class, the kids will be connected to a class for kids or students – remember, “get the parents, get the family.” Noah’s church may have members who only attend the worship service, so go after them Noah! As guests register each week, funnel those names to the appropriate adult teachers for quick follow-up, and if the guest indicates they have children or students in the home, assign those kids to their Sunday School teacher for follow-up, too. A little effort can go a long way. Today as my family visited yet another church, we were instantly connected to an adult class when 6-8 couples came up to us and made us feel welcome; we ran into the teacher at a restaurant after church and he promised to contact me by phone or email this week; I am sure a call from the youth pastor is imminent as well, as I have a 16 year-old in my home. When mom and I get connected to the adult class, my son gets connected to the student ministry. Did I mention the class invited us to their Superbowl fellowship next week? We’re already committed to attending that special event, and it looks like church membership is imminent.
5. Use the Children’s Chapel to your promote Sunday School– in Noah’s church there is a very healthy Children’s Chapel that takes place during the worship service…he indicated that many children attend it, but don’t attend Sunday School during the hour prior to it. Talk to the kids about the fun and learning that takes place in Sunday School and ask them to talk with their parents about allowing them to attend Sunday School. Send home information sheets with all the kids who attend Children’s Chapel that tell about the Children’s Sunday School, what the kids are studying, where the classrooms are located, and who the teachers are.
6. Involve your teachers in a brainstorming session – the Bible says, “With many advisers plans succeed; for lack of counsel they fail.” Gather your leaders together and talk about the issues and opportunities related to reaching more children and families. The teachers may have knowledge of something in the church’s history that could be preventing folks from taking their children to Sunday School, and they will certainly be able to think through creative ways to get kids and families involved in the church’s Sunday School.
7. If you are using LifeWay curriculum, talk that up! – LifeWay has a strategy called LifeSpan (heard about that yet?) that makes a promise and then backs it by a plan for the life-long spiritual transformation of people. The plan begins in childhood with children’s curriculum that encourages children to Hear-Know-Do (Hear God’s Word, know what it says, then do it). The plan continues in the student years with the part of the LifeSpan strategy that is Know-Own-Known (Know Christ, own your faith, and make Jesus known in all your relationships), and concludes in the adult years with Connect-Grow-Serve-Go (Connect to God and others, Grow in your knowledge of Scripture, Serve in the church, and Go missionally into your community). The plan is built on biblical concepts that are taught throughout a person’s lifetime (8 concepts are taught during the preschool years, 10 during the children’s years, 15 during the student years, and the same 15 continue all the way through the adult years). If parents in your church aren’t placing their children and students in your Sunday School, they are limiting the spiritual transformation that could be taking place right now in the lives of their kids! That’s a message worth telling since parents are the primary influence on the spiritual growth and development of their children. To learn more about LifeSpan, click here and you can jump to the LifeSpan landing page inside of the LifeWay website. There are free downloadables for you to save and print, and there are PowerPoint shows that explain more about the importance of having a life-long strategy. If I was a leader in the church, and my church used LifeWay curriculum in all age groups, I would tell that story to every member and guest that would listen! Talk about a strong reason to get the family involved in Sunday School.
As I wrap up this blog (sorry…it’s a little longer than normal), I received another email from Noah. He’s in San Antonio and he said that today was a good day in his Sunday School. He has 100 people enrolled, and 75 were in attendance. Noah, that’s great!! Most churches that have 100 people enrolled only have 45-55 in attendance, so I know that God is at work in your church. As someone much wiser than me once told me, “The grass isn’t greener on the other side…it’s always greener where you water it.” I encourage you and others who are reading this blog post to keep pouring the water of hard work on your Sunday School. It’s challenging work at times and I know you can feel that you’re spooning out the ocean with a teaspoon, but hang in there! God sees and rewards your work.
I also encourage you to pick up a copy of David Francis’ newest book titled Great Expectations. It outlines three great expectations of any Sunday School, is a quick read, and is packed with good ideas for raising the level of excellence in your Sunday School. Click here and you can jump to the page on Great Expectations…again, free stuff here that you can use to train your teachers! Come and get it.