Get People Off the Sideline and Into the Game

This blog was inspired by a request from one of my readers, a personal friend named Grace.

Football season is here again, and I really enjoy watching the battle for starting positions that takes place during the pre-season.  Rookies competing against starters…starters competing against walk-ons…and starters competing against starters.  The one place that no player wants to be is on the sideline.  They fight for those cherished few starting positions that allow them to be seen by the fans during the regular season.  I wish more members of our churches fought for “starting positions” in their Sunday School classes, but unfortunately many of them stand on the sideline week after week.  So what can you do to encourage class members to strap on a helmet and take the field?  How can you encourage them to get into the game?  Here are six thoughts:

1Adopt a new mindset.  If you are the coach/teacher, you must have a mindset that you can’t do it alone…you need other men and women to come alongside you and divide the workload.  I love what I’ve come to call “the Exodus 18 Principle”.  Moses judged the people from sunup to sundown and still couldn’t hear all the cases.  People were frustrated, Moses was frustrated, and then along came Jethro with some great advice:  divide the work and share the load.  Moses took that advice and trained others to be judges over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.  He got people into the game, moving them off the sideline and into leadership roles by training them to judge cases.  The Exodus 18 Principle simply says that you can’t do it alone…your job as a leader is to train and empower others to do the needed work.  In the recent book Transformational Church, Rainer and Stetzer found that transformational, vibrant leaders always think “team”.  “Lone Ranger leaders” will struggle to move people off the sideline and into class leadership roles.

2Clearly communicate your desire for others to partner with you in leading the class. People can’t read your mind, so tell them you need them!  Let them know you think “team”.   Give people ownership of the class.  Remember one of my favorite phrases:  “People never wash a rental car”.  They won’t take care of their Sunday School class, either, if they feel no ownership.

3Decide on the leadership positions that you need to make an effective class.  Smaller classes won’t need many leadership positions, and leaders may have to double-up roles for a while until there is a sufficient number of people in the class. As the class grows, new positions can be added.  Medium and large classes need care group leaders, a prayer leader, fellowship leader, secretary, class greeters, ministry/missions leaders, and discipleship leaders.  I know of a teacher in my the first church I served who had a leadership role for everyone in the class.  He felt the more people who had an assignment, the better.  In his experience, this helped him achieve a higher weekly attendance than if people had no jobs.

4:  Create a job description for the leadership roles you need.  People have to know the expectations you have of them.  Keep the list of tasks short and simple for each leadership role.  Don’t over-think the tasks…go with about 4-5 essential ones per role.  Most people will do much more than what’s on the list, anyway.

5:  Pray.  Jesus told His disciples to pray that His Heavenly Father would send out workers into the harvest.  The Greek word used in that verse is deomai and it literally means “to beg”.  As the leader of the class, prayer is the real starting point for finding people to help you lead the class.  Beg the Lord to call people to accept leadership roles in your class.

6:  Ask. Recruit people one-on-one.  It’s fine to let class members know you want and need their help leading the class, but you ultimately must recruit people the right way, and that’s one person at a time.  Set an appointment after you’ve prayed, and share the job description with them, but don’t stop there.  Recruit the person to a vision you have for that role, don’t recruit to the job description.  For example, if you are recruiting a class secretary the tasks they will perform are pretty simple:  take the role each week and turn those records over to the appropriate staff leader, keeping a copy for the class.  A better strategy is to recruit the person to the vision of what the position can do for the people of the class.  To recruit a class secretary to a vision for the role, tell the person their important job is to keep accurate records so that people are prevented from slipping through the cracks; the goal is to make every person aware of how important they are to the class.  See the difference between these two ways of recruiting?  One recruits to a task, the other to a vision.


If you’ve had success in recruiting leaders to step up and serve in your class, getting them off the sideline and into the game, post a comment here and share your story of success with the world.  As always, thanks for reading the blog!  Pass along the site to people you know who might benefit from becoming part of our online community of life-long learners.

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