In Part 1, I listed six impacts of the pandemic as we rebuild Sunday School. There I addressed and shared solutions for the first impact: attenders dropped out and care reduced. Then in Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4,, I addressed the decline of outreach, planning having stopped and goals declined, along with training having stopped.
In Part 5, I will focus on the impact of and solutions for teachers who quit and are burning out. Over the last ten months, I have talked with many pastors and directors. They have been unanimous is telling me that they have had teachers quit. These teachers were not just taking time off, they were permanently stepping down. They told me that they had lost between 5 and 67% of their teachers. Wow! The average seems to be somewhere around 25%.
Many were older and had been talking about retiring from teaching for years, and during the pandemic was when they chose. Others had been thinking about it for some time due to health or busyness, and the pandemic pause for teaching made the decision for them.
It is difficult to rebuild when you lose any teachers, but it is even more difficult when you lose 25%. To rebuild, Sunday School needs to add teachers, workers, and classes. All of these efforts require more teachers–not fewer. When we lose teachers, we lose care-givers who are needed to care for 5 people (1:5 ratio). A shortage of caregivers will tend to result in people dropping out, new people not invited, and attendance decline.
Teachers Are Burning Out
On top of losing teachers, I have been hearing since the Spring about an increase in teachers who are burning out. Some of these are beginning to step down as well. Why are they burning out? There are many reasons, but I have seen two major ones: (1) life is more complicated and everything takes longer and (2) assistance from group members has declined.
Group members jumped in to help with caregiving in a big way in the early months of COVID. But as the months dragged on, willingness to help the group and teacher declined until now the teacher is often the only caregiver for the group. As a result, teachers have become tired and overwhelmed. If we are not careful right now, we will add even more teacher losses to our already high numbers.
Solutions to Rebuild Sunday School
If we had been doing a better job of developing, apprenticing, and training leaders, we would have been better prepared for this moment in our churches. The harvest is white. Workers are needed. Praying to the Lord of the harvest must be our first and continual step. Are you praying for workers?
Open your eyes. Observe those around you that God has sent and is sending. What is God doing in their lives? If He has sent them, pray for the worker and ask the worker to help you (informally) on a small task or two. Observe and debrief the experiences. When you have prayed, observed, and had God affirm the worker, formally ask the worker to join you in carrying out group ministry. Share how you have seen God at work in his/her life, and ask him/her to pray. Affirm and commit to pray as well. Then follow up expectantly.
Commit to encourage and coach them as you minister together. When your apprentice has a good grasp of the responsibility of outreach or member care (for example), then ask him or her to pray for and enlist an apprentice (like you did with him/her). Keep the leadership pipeline flowing.
And don’t forget to provide encouragement for your existing teachers and workers. Regularly encourage individual group members to step up to help the group and the leaders. Celebrate Teacher Appreciation by asking group members to share testimonies (and gifts) of appreciation. Right now, the encouragement may be even more valued than the gifts.
Train the workers in your groups that are leading in the caregiving efforts (especially the outreach and member care leaders). Share practical ways to enlist group member help as well as to provide care. Make them aware of how important their efforts are for the group, preventing group dropouts, and for preventing teachers from burning out.
Fix It Now or the Dam May Burst
Begin work on teacher/worker enlistment and care now. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, this problem is not going away. In fact, it will grow larger and become unmanageable if it is ignored too long. Pray, observe, and enlist new leaders. Encourage and assist your current leaders. Make disciples. Develop leaders. Be revolutionary!