I had the privilege of shepherding a Sunday School ministry that grew from 44 to over 2400+ members in a ten year time period. During that time, I learned a lot about the importance of starting new groups.
Remember: for every group that a church begins, the overall attendance rises by 10 people. To grow your Sunday School by 30, start 3 groups plus at least 1 or 2 more to cover “churn,” which is the people who leave the church throughout the year.
Here are six times when starting a new group (or groups) makes sense. I’ve started new groups at all 6 of these occasions.
1) When a group has been together for at least 2 years. It’s really hard for guests to break into classes that have been together for longer than 24 months. Relationships have been formed and life has been shared. When a group approaches its second birthday, it’s time to think “start a new group.”
2) When a group doesn’t see a steady stream of guests. It’s true…groups”cool off” after a time and will often turn inward. They mistakenly come to believe that church exists for them, not the people who don’t yet know Christ. If you can recruit people to leave the group and start a new one, it’s almost a guarantee they will reach more people for Christ and demonstrate an excitement for kingdom growth the mother group hasn’t shown in years.
3) When a group has ceased to grow. When a group no longer adds people to its membership, it’s time to start a new class. The group may have done a good job in the past of reaching new people, but over time the growth may have cooled off. It’s possible that the influx of newer class members has frustrated the charter members of the class and therefore they are resistant to reaching any more new people.
4) When a group fills the meeting space to over 80% of capacity. The 80/20 rule is real. When a group exceeds 80% of its seating capacity, the room is visually full to guests. A group can certainly exceed 80% of its seating capacity (it’s actually pretty fun to have a full room with no empty seats) but any group that exceeds 80% of its seating capacity for very long will almost always drop to an attendance level less than the 80% it once exceeded. People want and need elbow room; adults require 15 square feet of space each.
5) When there is an age span of group members in excess of 10 years. Although the idea of a “multi-gen” class makes sense, in reality it is hard to pull off with excellence. Dr. Ken Hemphill, in his book Revitalizing the Sunday Morning Dinosaur, stated that the “homogeneity principle” is always in effect: people who are similar must be placed together in groups. That means that the maximum age range in any group should not be more than 10 years. If it is, then it’s time to create another group, or groups.
6) When summer ends and fall begins. Most churches experience a boost in Sunday School attendance every fall. It normally begins in August with back-to-school Sunday. People begin settling into routines again after a long summer of rest and relaxation. August/September is a great time to launch groups. If a church averaged 150 people in Sunday School and started one new class in its preschool, children, student, and adult ministries, it should grow by 40 people and in a year be averaging 190 people (new classes tend to add 10 people each). That’s really great growth with a minimum of effort to start new classes. The trick is to be intentional every year and have a game plan to start new classes.
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