I agree with the ministry adage that we tend to enlist our own problems. That is true for our Sunday School work as well church as a whole. Prayerful and purposeful enlistment is essential for effective Sunday School.
Recently I conducted a survey of Kentucky churches to identify differences between growing and declining Sunday Schools. I shared results of that survey beginning with Initial Reflections on Sunday School Survey Results, Part 1 . For the last few weeks, I have been doing a series of blog posts following up my final post of that series entitled Further Reflections on Sunday School Survey Results.
In the survey, I asked 56 questions of pastors and Sunday School directors. One of the questions was the following (followed by percentages of responses):
When a Sunday School teachers/worker takes a break, new classes are started, or enlistment time comes, we… (Struggle to fill positions in younger age groups, Struggle to fill positions in nearly every age group, Enlist some God-called teachers and workers every year a few “warm bodies,” Prayerfully and personally enlist all the God-called teachers and workers which are needed every year)
Question 27 (shortened responses) Growing vs. Declining
- Struggle in young age groups 11.5% 13.2%
- Struggle in nearly every group 30.3% 34.5%
- Enlist some God-called teachers & warm bodies 17.2% 16.2%
- Enlist all God-called teachers needed every year 36.9% 32.0%
These statistics show a slight tendency in growing Sunday Schools to enlist better. I can imagine that enlisting more God-called teachers would naturally lead to greater results in attendance and disciple-making.
Too often, I hear stories of rushed enlistment. The nominating committee or leader waits until the eleventh hour to approach someone. Frequently it is a hallway conversation at church. The task is oversimplified and undersold. What I mean is that no expectations are communicated for fear the person will refuse. The pressure is high on the recruiter and the person being enlisted. The decision is usually expected immediately, on the spot.
This is wrong, wrong, wrong. The best way to enlist is to begin early and to do so prayerfully. I recommend starting at least three months ahead of the need to be filled. Also, I have regularly communicated that the best way to start a nominating process is to spend the entire first meeting in prayer. Pray for the church and the mission that God has given her. Pray for the people God has called together as His body to carry out that mission. Pray for the gifts, experiences, and personalities that God uses in service and leadership as a congregation. Pray for the opportunities for ministry represented by the positions that need to be enlisted. Pray for each ministry position and the person God desires to use to fill it. Ask for His leadership in seeking the right person for the right place.
After starting early with an extended time of prayer, then move to listing the positions. Then considering the responsibilities, what are the individual gifts, experiences, and personalities which best connect with the need? Pursue one person at a time for each position. Don’t say “no” for anyone if you feel God has placed them on your heart and mind.
Then enlist in person with job description in hand and plenty of time for conversation. Give the person a few days to pray and respond. But don’t drag it out. I always assume the Holy Spirit has been at work, and if the person has prayed, the decision should be able to be given in a short time. In my experience, if the person keeps putting off a decision, I can predict the answer will be negative. If the answer is “no,” do not try to guilt the person into changing his/her mind. Move on to the next person.
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