There are several contributing causes for Sunday School decline. For a great new resource outlining several of those causes, check out George Yates’ book, Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church. Here is what George says about decline from his website:
- Churches do not intentionally walk away from their purpose (first love). Decline is certainly not in the motives or objectives of any church.
- It is imperative that church and ministry leaders take an objective evaluation of the reality of all aspects and facts of their ministry setting.
- Leaders of a declining organization must come to the realization that the organization is in decline and know there is hope.
- There are principles and steps to reverse the trends of decline. First, there must be a “want to” attitude among the leaders first, and the members of the organization.
- This book identifies five phases of decline and provides eight principle areas any church or organization can address to avoid or reverse decline of the organization.
I simply want to point out one significant unintentional contributing cause for Sunday School decline: worker reduction. When a church starts Sunday School, few workers are needed to care for few people. There is a natural focus on reaching out to new people. But as a young church grows, frequently the span of care provided by teachers and workers can stretch toward ineffectiveness in providing contact and ministry with members and prospects.
Without regular doses of leadership and training, teachers can become focused on the major repeated responsibility of their role: teaching. They may fail to remember other important class actions and the benefit of class leaders. They will likely fail to enlist (or fill vacancies for) class leaders: outreach leaders, care group leaders, greeters, fellowship leaders, prayer leaders, and more. In the absence of these individuals leading the class to focus on respective responsibilities, the teacher becomes responsible for the missing role and work. Because life is busy and effective class work takes work in many directions, the teacher without class leader assistance will tend to neglect everything but teaching.
As a result of class worker attrition, members are not cared for, guests are not followed up, and ministry projects and fellowships are not planned. Without care, follow up, and plans, the class will struggle to maintain attendance. Decline eventually is inevitable.
As a side note, the lack of adult class leaders contributes toward fewer people in the church who are willing to step up to serve in some capacity in the church’s ministry. Fewer people are willing to serve in key roles as committee/team members, Deacons, church greeters, missions and discipleship leaders, preschool and children’s ministry leaders, and in other capacities. This can make church ministry, growth, and progress difficult.
Not only is the growth and ministry of the adult class at stake, but the church is impacted by the lack of leadership development through enlisting, training, and mobilizing adult class leaders. Enlist and train class leaders intentionally. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!