Unlocking the Sunday School Passcode…0-0-8-0

This is the first in a series of blog posts I’ve decided to deliver on the topic of unlocking your Sunday School’s passcode.  If you have a smartphone, no doubt you’ve set a passcode to secure your information.  You (or someone else) can’t get to critical information without the right passcode entry.  So over the next few weeks, I’ll give you some passcodes to unlock “secrets” to Sunday School growth and health.  In this first post, your passcode is 0080.

Churches that have experienced growth in Sunday School groups have discovered the importance of what is known as “the 80% Rule.”  That’s why our passcode today is 0080…to remind us that the number 80 is very important to groups.

Groups that consistently see more than 80% of their available space filled with class members and guests will struggle to continue a growth trajectory.  Although there is a small amount of space available, people will perceive the classroom as being full.  This will have the unfortunate side effect of communicating that there is no room for them in the class for them.  The next time you are at a movie, watch this in action.  My wife and I recently saw a movie that had just released, and the theater was crowded…it was beyond 80% full, but there were still a few seats together, and lots (I mean lots) of single seats.  We watched couples walk into the theater, look up, then freeze because they could not find a place to sit.  Some left, others stood there for 5 or more minutes trying to decide what to do while the previews were playing.  Two couples went and brought a manager back with them to help them locate seats.  The 80% Rule is alive and well, and it affects your Sunday School class.

Ken Hemphill, in his book The Bonsai Theory of Church Growth, wrote about this real phenomena and said that if an organization’s “pot” is too small (in his analogy of Bonsai tree growth, he equated the size of the pot with the size of the Sunday School organization and classroom) then growth would be limited.  In order to grow the church or class, a larger container was needed.  He advocated starting new groups to allow the Sunday School to grow.

Church growth consultant Lyle Schaller also has similar thoughts and experiences about the 80% Rule.  He’s written more than 30 books on church growth and health, and Christianity Today quoted him as saying, “When a sanctuary is 80 percent full, it’s full as far as Americans are concerned since Americans tend to prize a large personal space separating them from others. Get closer, or wedge in together, or put chairs in an aisle, and visitors will think there’s no room for them. Church growth can stall.”

What to do if your class is beyond 80% full

> Talk with your pastor or staff leader about starting a new group. If your classroom is getting maxed out, don’t think that the biggest class wins…that’s not the goal.  Have room for members and guests by starting a new group and reducing the number of people in your classroom.

> Move to a larger classroom.  This isn’t my favorite option, but it’s an option.  If your class has a great care group system, this could work in the short-term, but we moving toward starting a new group as quickly as possible.

> Ask class members to help you find a solution that keeps the class growing.  Ask for their input.  The Bible says, “With many advisers plans succeed; for lack of counsel the fail.” That simply means that none of us is as smart as all of us.  You may be surprised with the solutions your class members come up with.

Pay attention to the 80% Rule in all education ministries…they’re connected

It’s one thing to pay attention to individual classes, but you must also pull back and take a broader view of your entire Sunday School because if one area of your Sunday School ministry is climbing to over 80% of its capacity, that will affect your ability to grow the other areas of your Sunday School.  For instance, if your nursery is 80% or more full, then it will most likely have a negative impact on your young adult Sunday School (parents aren’t comfortable leaving their children in an overcrowded room and they won’t attend your young adult classes).  Take an even broader view of the church:  if your worship service is over 80% of its capacity, it can have a negative affect on your Sunday School attendance.

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