In so many Sunday Schools, there is a crisis. It is a shortage of teachers and workers. In these churches, nominating groups are struggling to enlist enough teachers and leaders simply to maintain the classes they already have. And that means that starting new classes (a key to Sunday School growth) seldom happens.
In many of these churches, the nominating groups attempt to enlist the best known individuals commonly based upon familiarity and popularity. All too often, the list of these candidates is exhausted long before the vacancies are filled. Many of these individuals simply respond negatively–some because they are too busy and some because it is not something that fits them. Frequently these nominating groups start too close to the start of the new Sunday School year and end up with much pressure to fill vacancies at the last minute.
The result is the enlistment of persons I refer to as “warm bodies.” These are often well-meaning individuals who want to please people or who are concerned about the situation. They willingly or under pressure step into the gap without any passion, gifts, experience, or (most importantly) call to do so. Seldom do these individuals do more than the minimum required, and seldom do their classes grow.
What can be done to avoid these situations? How can churches avoid enlisting “warm-bodies” as Sunday School teachers? How can we work to enlist God-called leaders? Consider these suggestions:
TRAIN YOUR NOMINATING GROUP. Help them to know how best to discover and enlist God-called teachers and workers. This training should happen at least 4-6 months prior to the new Sunday School year? What should the training include? Prayer, looking through job descriptions, understanding the ideal type of person, how to make an enlistment visit, and more.
PRAY TOGETHER. Those seeking to fill Sunday School leader vacancies should spend time in prayer before beginning the task. I suggest the entire whole first nominating group session be spent in prayer for God’s leadership and the needs of the Sunday School. Pray throughout the process.
CONSIDER THE NEEDS AND VISION OF THE SUNDAY SCHOOL. Who is returning? Where are the gaps? What classes need to be started? What age groups are included? Have the classes with vacancies been growing, plateaued, or declining? Are there any complicating factors in the classes? What is God leading you to do in the year ahead?
CONSIDER THE IDEAL TYPE OF PERSON NEEDED TO FILL THE VACANCIES. Don’t begin by listing people. Begin by considering the ideal balance of gifts, talents, experience, passion, etc. needed to serve in each opening. This will vary by age group, class mix, current class status, and more.
LIST INDIVIDUALS WHO BEST MATCH THE NEEDS. How can this information best be discovered? Many nominating groups have a limited knowledge about all the potential candidates. That is why many familiar or popular individuals are pursued while other less-known candidates with great potential are untapped. The ideal place for ideas would be to call out apprentices who have been trained by currently-serving teachers and leaders. Also you can ask currently-serving teachers and workers to share some other names of potential candidates. Why not ask the pastor or other church staff to name some names? How about asking adult classes to turn in a card or sheet with suggestions? Another means would be to offer a potential teacher and worker training course prior to the nominating group beginning. Then the course leader can offer some great input. Another option would be to ask all eligible candidates to fill out a fairly short interview questionnaire (more about that in a blog post soon). What about looking through adult class rolls for potential candidates?
MAKE ENLISTMENT VISITS ONE PERSON AT A TIME FOR EACH POSITION. Pray. Understand that the Holy Spirit goes in advance of your visit. Following prayer, pursue the individual the group believes is the best candidate. Make an in-home visit. Don’t rush. Share the opportunity, job description, teaching materials, age-group information, and other information that may help the individual make a decision. Ask him/her to pray. Promise to do the same. Ask for a decision with one week. Follow up.
Which of these suggestions is most needed to be emphasized in your discovery and enlistment process for Sunday School teachers and workers in your setting? What steps can you take to implement it? Enlisting “warm-bodies” can result in bad experiences for the teacher, the class, and the Kingdom. Pray. Take proper steps to enlist God-called teachers and leaders.
The Sunday School Leader theme for April is “Enlisting and Training Sunday School Leaders.” Digest what is shared this month. Ask questions. Start a conversation. Care enough to raise expectations through enlistment and training!
Darryl Wilson has served as Director of the Sunday School Department for the Kentucky Baptist Convention since 1997. He served as Minister of Education in five churches in Kentucky and South Carolina. He is the author of The Sunday School Revolutionary!, a blog about life-changing Sunday School and small groups.