This is the second 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 second post, your passcode is 0-0-1-8.
The number 18 is an important number to remember as you seek to lead your Sunday School class to grow and reach new adults for class membership. In this case, the number 18 represents 18 months…and that is a critical time for most adult classes. After class members have been together longer than 18 months, the class will tend to have a hard time continuing to reach new adults. During the first 18 months after a class begins, the energy level is high, the level of excitement is high, and people begin forming relationships. The class develops a history as people “do life” and ministry together. When a new person or couple visits the class, they find a group that is often hard to break into. Most of the people in the class have plenty of relationships and may not be able to take on new ones. Assimilation into the life of the class can be very difficult for the potential new members. They may feel like a fifth wheel, and may see themselves as being on the outside of the circle looking and listening in to the relationships and conversations that take place.
Sound like any class you know or have been a part of? Within the past two years my wife and I tried to find a new church home after a relocation, and we experienced this very thing. We visited multiple classes at multiple churches, and never found a group that was interested in taking us in and making us a full-fledged part of the class. I was amazed every Sunday as we tried class after class in multiple churches how few people (if any) even spoke to us, yet carried on conversations with one another while we just sat there feeling awkward; my wife and I were left to flip through a worship brochure or some other piece of literature we’d picked up. Even filling out guest information cards did us no good, as only two Sunday School classes ever followed up with us over the course of many months of visiting. I am thankful for the people at 3BC (3rd Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN) for having groups that had not been together for so long that they couldn’t take in my wife and I and make us feel a part of the class. We are thankful to have “landed” at this church and to be relatively new members who are now finding new ways to serve in leadership roles. Other churches we visited could have had us if we’d felt that we could connect and build relationships, but God lead us to the place He wanted us to invest our lives…so the story has had a happy ending! And it has shown me in a whole new way how important it is to keep new groups starting before classes have been together longer than 18 months.
Please know that 18 months is a big marker in the life of a Sunday School class. How many classes at your church that have been together for a long period of time could branch off and start new classes so that people could attend, find adequate space, and discover people who were open to building relationships with them? If your Sunday School is struggling to grow, think seriously about starting new groups so that newer members or prospective members can build some relationships and “stick.”
When I was on staff at my first church in Texas, we were in a high-growth mode for the 10 years I was there. We often began new groups, and as I reflect back on that time in my ministry, I believe one of the keys to the success of that church’s Sunday School was the number of new groups we began so that all of the visitors who were attracted to our church and Sunday School could find people to connect with as they visited our classes. If they’d found groups that had been together for 18+ months, they might not ever have gotten plugged in to the Sunday School.
0-0-1-8 is an important code to unlock the growth potential in your Sunday School. Talk to those teachers whose classes have been together for a long period of time and encourage them to think like missionaries and begin a new group to reach a specific target group.