Golf, Mulligans, and Adult Sunday School Promotion, Part 1

This is the first of a 2-part blog on adult Sunday School promotion.  I wrote this article at the request of the editor of LifeWay’s Life Ventures adult curriculum series in which it will appear in Fall 2012.  Thanks to the editor, Jeff Holder, who has given me permission to use it here on my blog, too!

I love the practice of taking a mulligan when I play golf. You won’t find the pros doing this, but weekend golfers typically take a mulligan (the name for a “do-over” shot) at least once during a round of golf. In my experience, the second shot is almost always better than the first, and it helps erase a mistake I’ve previously made.

When it comes to Sunday School, I wish I could take a mulligan. For 18 years I served as a minister of education, and looking back I’d like to take a mulligan with regard to the practice (or lack thereof) of promoting adults in Sunday School. It’s the one “do-over” that would have helped adult classes remain vibrant, and it’s a mulligan I regret not taking. May I share some insights about the advantages of having an annual opportunity for adults to regroup, reorganize, and revitalize their classes? Maybe it’s not too late for you as a teacher to take your “Sunday School mulligan” and help to begin or renew an annual time for promoting adults that could lead to a revitalized ministry to senior adults in your church.

Running Stream or Stagnant Pool?

I have two bodies of water close to my home. My wife and I pass by them both on our daily walk through the neighborhood and into the surrounding community. The first is a stagnant pond into which no fresh water flows; it only accumulates. The water in this little pond is unmoving and has a layer of green algae atop it. Classes that don’t promote adult learners tend to become like this little pond. Relationships become stagnant when new members can’t make friends because people have been together so long, and leaders in the class stagnate because people tend to continue serving in their class leadership roles, and no new leaders are developed.

Then there is the second body of water we pass by on our walk. This one is a flowing stream. We often pause on top of the bridge that spans the little creek and look down into the water. The creek is always flowing, it’s clear, has small fish in it, and it has no foul smell. Which of the two bodies of water do you think we find more attractive? Which one is better for the neighborhood?

Now think about your Sunday School class. Which of the descriptions above best mirrors your class? I hope you can say your class resembles a running stream more than it does a stagnant pool. I hope you can say it resembles a running stream because of the fresh flow of new people into the classroom. If you feel it more closely resembles a stagnant pond because no one promotes into it, there’s hope! Even classes that currently have little movement of new people into the classroom, yes, even senior adult classes, can once again become places that see new life and vitality.

Promotion Benefits Everyone

Many Sunday Schools have discovered the importance of giving adults an opportunity to promote into a new class. Some churches make this a formal process at the start of the new Sunday School year, while others encourage movement throughout the year as people are ready to move up to the next age or life stage level class. Whichever practice your church has, there are several key benefits to promoting adults.

Benefit #1: Class members will be free to find the best fit for them.

Having a time for adult promotion gives every adult member an “out”—a way to graciously move from one class to the next without feeling guilty about leaving a teacher or the friends they have in their previous class. Promotion and movement become the norm, and no one thinks twice when a person or a couple leaves to explore the possibilities of being in another class. It is viewed as a natural and healthy event and part of the process of Sunday School.

Benefit #2: An influx of new people brings new life and needed change to classes.

New class members will add their own unique personalities and perspectives to your lessons each week, and to the overall class session. They will arrive with ideas for fellowship and ministry that you may not have thought about.

Benefit #3: New people are potential new leaders.

Have you ever felt as though you have gone to the same well over and over again, asking for someone, anyone, to step up and provide leadership in the classroom? New class members are often excited about their new class and want to help, so they become a terrific source of new leadership.

Benefit #4: Releasing class members creates health and vibrancy.

Sunday School classrooms should be clearinghouses, not storehouses. Providing an opportunity for adults to promote keeps a flow of new people moving into classes, and that includes new people moving into yours!

Benefit #5: Classes will maintain an identity with a target group.

If people do not promote, a class that was once charged with reaching adults age 50-55 will have much older members in it, and it won’t continue to reach its assigned group. Promotion helps to make sure that classes reach the people they are targeted to reach.

Later this week I will release part 2 of this article and share principles for having a successful adult Sunday School promotion.

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