25 Reasons Sunday School is Declining…in some places (Part 2)

Today’s blog post is Part 2 in a series on why Sunday School is declining in some places. I listed 12 reasons in declineyesterday’s blog post (in no particular order). The final 13 reasons are here in today’s post. Put the two lists together, and you have 25 reasons why Sunday School has a downward trajectory…in some churches.

I actually have several other reasons, but to keep the list at 25, I’m going to hold those in reserve until a future time! Like I said in yesterday’s post, there is good news even when we hear the bad news that Sunday School is declining: most of the reasons for it are within our ability to act on. We don’t have to settle for decline. We can “swing for the fence” and take our best shot to give our Sunday Schools a fighting chance to win.

Here, in no particular order, are the remaining 13 reasons for the decline:

Reason 13: Space limitations in worship negatively impact Sunday School’s ability to grow

  • At 80% of capacity, a worship service will tend to plateau, and so will adjacent ministries. The key to growing a Sunday School in some of our churches may be the addition of another worship service.

Reason 14: We are too campus-centric in our approach to Sunday School

  • Sunday School often becomes “our four and no more.” David Francis has said, “The natural inertia of any group is to turn inward.” We must change our thinking and see the need for starting new groups outside the church campus.
  • We must start new on days other than Sunday – no one has dictated that classes and groups must meet on Sundays only! In fact, around 22% of the people in your city work on Sunday morning and cannot attend your Sunday School, even if they wanted to. Who will reach them? You can, if you start groups “out there” and on a day and time they can attend.

Reason 15: Rise of the untrained and non-degreed education staff member

  • These new leaders, typically “promoted” from within the church family, will not understand Sunday School’s rich history, nor will they be trained in leading groups to grow and multiply. They may even struggle to explain the differences between open and closed groups, and they often allow a “Judges 21:25” Sunday School.
  • In addition, although they know the church and its members, they don’t know education theory, lifespan issues that affect people’s abilities to learn over the course of their lives, plus other key subjects that professional educators are familiar with.

Reason 16: Many Sunday School groups (adults) are just too large

  • Large groups will not produce disciples in the same way that smaller groups will. Jesus’ model was to work with a group of 12 and a group of 3. Although he lectured to large groups occasionally, His normal practice was to “do life” with a small group of people He could influence as His disciples.
  • Discipleship depends on having a relationship with someone else, and too many large groups have settled for “information transfer” instead of spiritual transformation of group members. They wrongly assume that if people learn enough, they’ll act like disciples.
  • Dr. Thom Rainer’s research has demonstrated that unless people develop significant relationships within their first year at a church, 80%+ will no longer be involved by year five
    • Larger groups are places where people can hide. It’s difficult to “stick” in a large group because you simply are not missed like you are in a smaller group.

Reason 17: The attendance patterns and habits of church members are changing

  • Gone are the days when people choose to attend 3 out of 4 Sundays.
  • Today, some of our more committed adults attend about 50% of the time.

Reason 18: Sunday School is not being funded and resourced well

  • Follow the money trail and you’ll find that most churches have under-budgeted their education ministries.
  • If you hear a church leader say, “Curriculum is too expensive” or “We can’t afford to have a training event,” there’s a great chance it simply means they didn’t properly budget for the basic needs of the Sunday School. Because of our mandate to “Go and make disciples,” budgeting for the needs of the Sunday School becomes paramount.
  • If you don’t budget for home repairs, in a few years your house will be in disrepair. It’s the same in Sunday School – you must budget and resource the organization or it will suffer from neglect in time.

Reason 19: The church’s facilities need updating

  • It takes an action plan and a sufficient budget to continually improve and/or maintain classrooms, replace furniture, add electronics, etc.
  • Guests will typically give you just one chance to impress; if you make a poor first impression, you can say goodbye to the average family.

Reason 20: Groups are not enrolling people

  • Attendance and enrollment are tied together; attendance is almost always 50% of enrollment.
  • To increase attendance, increase enrollment. We’ve stopped inviting people to belong to our groups. We’ve stopped enrolling them “any place, any time.” Some churches even have a silly rule like, “We can’t enroll someone unless they come 3 times.”

Reason 21: We no longer set growth goals

  • Few churches today could say they plan to grow X% during the next Sunday School year.
    • Kids, student, and adult teachers are not held accountable for growing their groups
  • If a church of 200 wanted to grow 10%, it would need to raise average attendance by 20 people (meaning it would have to enroll 40 new people); Adult groups should enroll 20 people in this scenario; student, kid, and preschool groups must enroll 20 more between them. But who is setting goals and holding people accountable for this??

Reason 22: Lead and lag measures are not used

  • We have forgotten that certain things precede growth.
    • We may have to visit or call 100 people to get 10 people to join a Bible study group (calls are lead measures, attendance is a lag measure)
    • We forget that to grow, we must first cover our churn (20%)
      • A Sunday School of 200 will lose 40 people over the course of a year and must enroll 80 people to replace the 40 it will lose (enrolling 80 is a lead measure, 40 persons in attendance is a lag measure)

Reason 23: We are not visiting people in the home

  • We have convinced ourselves that in-home visitation is not effective and is an old-fashioned practice from days gone by.
  • While times have changed, in-home visits can be done quickly and non-intrusively.
  • The sooner we contact people who have visited, the more likely they are to return.

Reason 24: Sunday School is hard work

  • You must continually “feed the machine” – it is tiring work.
  • The great news is this: “Sunday School works IF you work Sunday School.”

Reason 25: Sunday School is thankless work

  • Staff leaders like to be recognized for their work and contributions, and Sunday School work isn’t “sexy” – so they find other ways to receive recognition.

How many of these and yesterday’s reasons for a decline in Sunday School apply to your church? Of the ones mentioned in these two posts, which ones can you act on?

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