Over the past two weekends, I have spent time with pastors and Sunday School leaders of two churches. Each of the Saturdays was spent in a Sunday School evaluation and planning retreat. We looked at progress and stumbling blocks to progress over the previous six months. Some of the goals were accomplished. Others never got off the ground.
In both churches, one of the main reasons that some goals never got off the ground was the lack of understanding or clarity about why the respective goal was important and/or how to pursue the goal. That is true in the Sunday Schools of many churches! Communication is vital. It must be two-way communication. We must check on whether our communication about goals is understood. Do they understand why the goals are important, how it can be accomplished, and what are the first steps?
On the other hand, as I listened to growth spurts, progress, and challenges in the course of the retreats, I realized that the majority of growth for both churches had come from the addition of new Sunday School classes or small groups. One church had a group that had started a couple of months before my first visit. They were meeting in the church kitchen. Since then, they have moved to an available classroom and have doubled from eight to sixteen in attendance. That same church had a Hispanic class that started around the time of my first visit that had grown from eight to 33 (and more) in attendance.
The second church had started a class and a small group for men. The Sunday School class has not been going long but already has three regular attenders. The small group started after my first visit, on the other hand, is no longer small. Attendance at the Saturday, 6:30 AM, men’s small group has grown from 6-8 to now as many as thirty.
Most of the other classes in both churches have fairly similar attendance now as they did six month ago. In both churches, I reminded them of the importance of new classes/groups and of apprenticing new leaders. You cannot care for more sheep with the same number of shepherds and sheep pens.
In that vein, I shared about Ken Hemphill’s book, The Bonsai Theory of Church Growth. Many Sunday Schools stay small because (as Hemphill puts it) they (1) keep the pot (amount of classroom space) small, (2) trim the roots (don’t add more teachers/workers), and pinch off new growth (run off guests and new members). Check out these posts for more information about Hemphill’s book: Is the Size of Your Sunday School POT Keeping You Small, Part 1 and Is the Size of Your Sunday School POT Keeping You Small, Part 2.
When leading your Sunday School, class, or small group to set goals and to take bold steps forward, remember to communicate well. Check on whether your message is being received and understood. And when you communicate and make plans about growth, make sure to include plans for starting new classes/groups and enlisting more leaders. Pray. Support these efforts. Encourage. Coach. Be revolutionary!