Around the country, Sunday School classes range from small group (under 15 attenders) to midsize group (15-60 attenders) with a few rare groups being ABFs (60+ attenders). Since so many churches are small, averaging under 100, most classes are small groups. This weekend, I had the privilege to be a part of the faculty for the 2008 ABF (Adult Bible Fellowship) Conference in Mason, Ohio. This year’s theme was “Think Midsize.” The focus was on midsize groups averaging between 15 and 60 attenders each week.
There were three general sessions and 37 different conferences offered during four breakout time slots. I was asked to lead three conferences: Top Ten Actions to Grow Your ABF Ministry, Moving Sunday School Classes Toward Being Communities, and Outreach and Other Ideas to Build Your ABF. My target was midsize groups as well as ABFs. People from twenty-two states and many different denominations were present. I had a great time sharing my passion and experience about Sunday School and learning from those who attended as well.
As I have reflected on my conferences, I have realized anew how very important it is for Sunday School leaders to do two things: (1) personally care (feeling and action) about members, absentees, and guests/prospects and (2) to lead the class to do the same. I know it is a tired cliché, but it is true: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” You have to show it for them to know it. Allow me quickly to paint three pictures that show how important it is:
- GUESTS. Are they just projects? Or do you really care? Do you really want to get to know them better? Are you willing to invest time and energy to do so? Or do you give up quickly when they don’t return to class? Are you only interested in filling your seats. Would you be willing to spend time at the hospital with guests who only attended once or twice? Are you willing to invite them to your home or out to eat in order to have a relaxing time to get to know one another? We cannot assume that guests will find their way into the maze of already established relationships in our classes. How we respond makes a difference in whether prospects become guests (attenders) and whether guests return again or become members. When guests do not return or join, it is impossible for a class to grow. As leaders, what are you personally doing to “care for” guests? And what are you doing to lead the class to show guests they care–really care?
- ABSENTEES. People who are not actively cared for, drop out. Sometimes it starts innocently enough. They were sick one Sunday, tired the next, and had to travel the third. Now, they are in the habit of NOT coming. When we don’t check on them immediately (after the first time they are absent), we miss opportunities to show how much we care. Whose responsibility is it to follow up? Are you organized to notice and to make contact? Are you persistent? We tend to give up far too quickly. Call and pray with absentees. Ask for prayer requests. Invite them to the upcoming class fellowship or project. Invite them over for a meal. Tell them about last Sunday’s lesson (without trying to “guilt” them into coming next week). Love on them! You cannot grow your class when people are going out the back door faster than they are coming in the front door.
- MEMBERS. Care is not only important for guests and absentees, even regulars need care. Are you organized to give care during times of stress and need? Do you give them the attention they need on an ongoing basis to help them grow to be the disciples and leaders needed in the harvest? Mentoring, nurturing, and training all benefit from emotional and active care. What are you doing to keep them connected with each other? What are you doing to help them to discover affinities as they fellowship with and learn from each other? Have you found them all places of service within the group to give them purpose and connection with a smaller network of relationships?
Teachers and leaders, whether it happens in your group is up to you. If you don’t model care, it is less likely to happen. If you don’t lead the class to pursue care, they won’t. Care can make an eternal difference in the lives of people without Jesus. Put flesh on the love of Christ with members, absentees, and guests. Have care. Do care. Lead your class to care. Be revolutionary!