Almost 88% of vibrant churches have Sunday School

If you think this is Sunday School, think again!

The words “Sunday School” cause people to react in different ways.  Some people have fond memories of their experiences in Sunday School. They remember a favorite classroom, good friends, a beloved teacher, or asking Jesus to come into their life as Lord and Savior.  Other people may have different impressions about Sunday School.  They associate it with boring lessons, or something that “their parents’ church” does.  In some places, Sunday School has gotten a bad reputation, and that’s too bad.  Sunday School is a significant ministry that teaches God’s Word, assimilates people into the church, shares the gospel, provides foundational discipleship, and mobilizes people for ministry.  And the research proves it!  Have you given up on Sunday School?  Don’t.  Keep reading and learn what’s happening in vibrant churches.

David Francis, Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources, conducted a survey of the 400 vibrant churches that were surveyed for the book, Simple Church.  He was able to gather data on 94% of the vibrant churches (a vibrant church was identified as one that had experienced at least 5% growth for 3 consecutive years).  He discovered that 87.5% of those vibrant churches conducted Sunday School adjacent to the worship service on the Sunday morning schedule.

Simple and complex churches utilize Sunday School as a strategy, but HOW they utilize Sunday School differs greatly.  Simple churches are using Sunday School strategically, but complex churches are simply putting on a program.  David Francis and Eric Geiger identified several characteristics of simple churches that utilize Sunday School strategically.  Click here to go to the article.

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Limiting your group’s age range – good or bad move?

A few weeks ago I led a time of training for a group of adult teachers and class leaders. I made a comment about how much more effective a Sunday School is if it’s organized by age or life-stage grouping where the participants have no more than a decade of difference in their ages. Narrower than 10 years is even better if possible, but there was one lady in the group who seemed to disagree with the idea of assigning an age grouping to a class. “Why not just let ‘whosoever wills’ come to any group?” was her question.

I came across the following quote from Steve Parr of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Here is what Steve, a recognized expert in Sunday School and groups ministry, says about this issue of narrowly defining the class by an age range in his book Sunday School that Really Works:

“You will find it difficult to experience sustained growth if you organize based on those who are attending…The adult Sunday School functions best at reaching and assimilating new people when organized by life stage or more narrow age groupings. Do not be afraid of assigning an age grouping to each adult class. Remember that a class name does not communicate who the class is intended for. Include age targets with class names or name classes by life stage such as Parents of Preschoolers, College, and New Career…Your members may think that it makes sense for everyone to go where they are comfortable. The reality is that a commitment to reach the lost and to connect them to the congregation requires that we organize in a way that assists in reaching and assimilating them” (Sunday School That Really Works, p.106)

That’s almost exactly what I told my sister in Christ at the training event. I could tell that she, and possibly others, struggled to grasp this. But when we think like “missionaries” who are trying to reach the unreached, narrowly defined groups help both us and the unreached person know exactly which group contains people most like them.

Do the following:

  • Examine your church’s group options.
  • Identify groups that have a “multi-generation” approach.
  • Look for groups that have an age range for the members greater than 10 years.
  • Talk with your church staff leader about more narrowly defining your groups and adding new groups where you find “gaps” (if you have no group for single moms, perhaps you should consider starting a group for those people).

6 Ways to Roll Out the Welcome Wagon for your Guests

If your Bible study group is what we call an “open” group, then it is designed to reach new people. In fact, the group leader and the group’s members most likely are on the lookout for new people. If you want to make your guests feel welcome, do the following:

  1. Wear Name Tags – My friend David Francis harps on this, and I have, too. I’ve seen how important those inexpensive stick-on name tags are when guests come to my group’s study. Our group has had three new guest couples attend our Bible study in the past three weeks. Giving them a name tag to fill out and wear is a part of my church’s strategy for assimilating people into life at our church.
  2. Sit in a Circle – If your room is arranged in rows of chairs, consider sitting in a large circle. People are more likely to speak up and participate if they can see each other’s faces.
  3. Introduce Guests to Group Members – Take the initiative and introduce guests to people in your Bible study group. Some folks are pretty shy (both guests and group members), and they need a little push to start talking to one another.
  4. Make Sure your Meeting Place has Extra Chairs – There’s nothing more “neighborly” than having plenty of seating for guests…and if your meeting place is arranged in rows, please don’t make guests sit “up front.”
  5. Call Guests by Name During the Bible Study – wearing name tags will help you do this! Don’t put a guest on the spot, but do affirm any answer they provide. “John, that’s a great insight. Thank you for sharing that with our group.”
  6. Invite the Guest Back! – Don’t let a guest leave your Bible study group without asking them to please join you again the next time your group meets. Don’t assume they’ll come back. Instead, let them know how important they are to you and your group, and that you want them to return.

10 Ways to Get People Involved in your Bible Study Group

Assimilation. Involvement. Connection. That’s the name of the game when it comes to group ministry. disciplemaking-isDr. Thom Rainer has discovered that unless people get connected, make friends, and find something meaningful to do, they’ll drop out by the end of their first year at a rate of about 80%. Eighty percent!

I recently read the book Disciplemaking Is… by Earley and Dempsey. The authors recommend 10 ways to help people get involved in a Bible study group, and as a group leader myself, I like their thinking. Because Mondays on the blog are about passing along a book excerpt, here in their own words are Early and Dempsey:

The Christian leader must be committed…to spending time with other brothers and sisters and sharing life together. Further, the Christian leader also seeks to involve as many people as possible in the functions of the group. We seek to share the load and the responsibilities (see Exodus 18) of leading God’s people. Here are some different ways to involve people in the life of the group:

  1. Leading the icebreaker portion of the group.
  2. Leading the group’s prayer time.
  3. Recording and keeping track of the group’s prayer requests and sending email updates.
  4. Sending cards and letters to absentees.
  5. Planning the group’s refreshment schedule.
  6. Planning the group’s fun activities.
  7. Planning the group’s outreach efforts and activities.
  8. Hosting the group.
  9. Leading the group discussion.
  10. Praying about starting a new group in the future.

One of the greatest benefits of this type of involvement in the group is that as they serve, people will begin to discover their spiritual gift(s) in a natural way. In addition, as we share out lives together, we also become aware that God has brought us together, not just to have fun and fellowship, but to labor in the harvest fields.

As you look at this list, what possibilities do you see to involve people in the life of your Bible study group? Let go of some of the tasks you’re doing yourself, get others involved, and watch God transform your group.

Following Up on First-Time Guests, part 1

My family and I spent the better part of last year searching for a new church home after moving to the Nashville area.  I was dismayed by the lack of follow-up when we visited churches.  Only a scarce few churches even bothered to contact us.  We filled out visitor cards in every worship service and class we attended, but follow-up with our family was almost non-existent.  Here are the first of six principles for following up on first-time guests (I’ll share three with you today, and three more next week).

Principle #1 – You can be too aggressive in your follow-up

  • Attenders at your church are on a “blind date” with your church – they don’t know what to expect and are often very anxious (if you’ve ever been on a blind date, you know what I’m talking about).
  • Don’t ask them to “marry” your church too fast – that will ruin the “courtship”
  • According to the book Membership Matters, the average family takes almost 18 months to join a church, so give people some space, but not too much space!  Make sure they know you are thankful for their visit and that you’d like them to consider joining your church

Principle #2 – Contact by church members is better than contact by church staff

  • A survey indicates that the impact of a home visit is reduced by approximately 50% when made by a church staff member rather than people from a Sunday School class!
  • Guests will assume that contact from staff is a part of their job description, but they really appreciate a call, e-mail, or home visit by one of their peers who is excited about the church (5 Handles for Getting A Grip on Your Sunday School, p. 10)

Principle #3 – The faster you make a visit, the more likely it is for a guest to connect with your church

  • A survey in the book 5 Handles for Getting a Grip on your Sunday School  demonstrated that:
    • If visited in the home within 36 hours, first-time guests return 85% of the time
    • If visited in the home within 72 hours, first-time guests return 60% of the time
    • If visited in the home 7 days after the initial visit, only 15% of first-time guests return the next week
  • Making a home visit may seem like a lot of trouble, a time-waster, and something from a by-gone era, but it can still be an effective way to reach people for Sunday School and church membership.

Next week I’ll share the final three principles in following up on first-time guests.  If you have some tips you’d like to share, write back and post them for all to see.  Thanks for following my blog!

87.5% of Vibrant Churches are Using Sunday School

The words “Sunday School” cause people to react in different ways.  Some people have fond memories of their experiences in Sunday School – a favorite classroom, a beloved teacher, a lesson that really made an impact on them.  Other people may have different ideas about Sunday School.  They may associate it with boring lessons, or something that “their parents’ church” does.  Sunday School has gotten a bad reputation in some circles, and that’s too bad, because Sunday School is the most powerful ministry for teaching God’s Word, assimilating people into the church, and for mobilizing people for ministry.  And the research proves it!  Have you given up on Sunday School?  Don’t.  Keep reading and learn what’s happening in vibrant churches.

David Francis, Director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources, conducted a survey of the 400 vibrant churches that were surveyed for the book, Simple Church.  He was able to gather data on 94% of the vibrant churches (a vibrant church was identified as one that had experienced at least 5% growth for 3 consecutive years).  He discovered that 87.5% of those vibrant churches conducted Sunday School adjacent to the worship service on the Sunday morning schedule.

Simple and complex churches utilize Sunday School as a strategy, but HOW they utilize Sunday School differs greatly.  Simple churches are using Sunday School strategically, but complex churches are simply putting on a program.  David Francis identified several characteristics of simple churches that utilize Sunday School strategically.  To read the full article, click here to go to the article!

The research doesn’t lie!  Almost 9 out of 10 vibrant churches have continued to discover the power of Sunday School to teach God’s Word to people of all ages, and to see those people becoming transformed followers of Christ.  Read David’s article above and share it with your church staff.

Local church has a “two strikes” in assimilating me into its Sunday School

Being on the lookout for a new church home has been quite an experience for me and my family.  I served on church staffs in Texas for almost 18 years as Minister of Education, and I was looking forward to being on the non-staff side of church for a change.  My wife and I thought we’d quickly find a new church home and get started serving in some capacity, but the hunt is proving harder than we thought.  Take my experience at a local church today, for example.

This was our third visit (her first, actually, since she and my son just moved from Texas to Tennessee).  We visited the same church I’d first attended about six weeks ago.  This was the same church where the student pastor walked me to a Sunday School class for parents of youth and introduced me as “fresh meat” to the adult learners (no kidding, and yes, he was serious).  It was on that first visit that the teacher told us he’d had a busy weekend of graduation celebrations (late May/early June) and we’d just “wing it” and study a chapter from Proverbs.  No curriculum…no prior studying on the teacher’s part.  Yikes.

We were hopeful that today would be a different experience for us.  We enjoyed the pastor’s sermon, and were excited to try the same adult Sunday School class I’d visited weeks ago to give it a second chance.  Who knows, maybe that first visit was just an anomaly.

Alas, it was not a new experience, but quite de ja vu.  The classroom was overcrowded…again.  No room for guests…people being forced to sit on the front row…and the crowd of 25-30 talked among themselves again prior to class while ignoring my wife and I.  Thank goodness for the one couple on the front row who turned around and said hello to us.   If not for that, no one, not even the teacher, made us feel remotely welcome.   As for the lesson, we covered only three verses….three….and did not follow any lesson plan, but rather the teacher’s rambling about topics that were so loosely tied together we could barely make sense of it.  Needless to say, after these experiences in Sunday School, we decided that this church is probably not the one for us to attend.  I just don’t have the patience to give them a third chance…surely there is a church out there that would like to add a solid family to their membership!  Assimilate us!  How can you attend a church, make the effort to go to a Sunday School class, and be ignored by a teacher and his class members?  Did I mention that we didn’t even talk about prayer requests?!

How many times is this scenario repeated throughout our country on Sunday mornings?  Churches may think they are friendly, but what they may not know is that people like us are looking for friends.  It certainly wouldn’t take much effort for a church in my community to impress us and convince us we are valuable to them.  Now, I know it’s not all about us…I get that…but what about people who have no staff experience like I do?  What about those families that are  hurting and in need of prayer?  Confused and in need of answers?  Lonely and in need of friends?

Sunday School is the right place to have effective assimilation practices, so next time I’ll share why Sunday School is the best place to assimilate people, and then I’ll share tips on things a class and church can do to help people get assimilated.  More next time.