In Part 1, I mentioned that there are many reasons for a decline in attendance in Sunday School in some churches and denominations. Last time I shared the first seven of Keith Drury’s Fourteen Reasons Why the Sunday School Has Declined (in the 1980s and 1990s). Again, while I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, these reasons give us a perspective from which to evaluate our Sunday School efforts.
In this entry, I will share the last seven of his fourteen reasons in all capitals followed by my commentary:
- UPWARD DRIFT. Keith mentions the socioeconomic phenomenon that most evangelicals are moving up the economic ladder, and the higher they get, the less likely they are to attend Sunday School. Could we be placing our hope in things rather than in Jesus? Could we be investing our time working for that which is earthly? Could we feel like the little bit of Jesus we have is enough to get us into heaven? Response: communicate the importance of discipleship through Sunday School for adults.
- TEMPORARY DROPPING OF SUNDAY SCHOOL. This is a growing occurrence in Kentucky churches. They cancel Sunday School on special days, like the Sunday closest to Christmas. Or they cancel Sunday School for two Sundays closest to Christmas and New Years. Or they cancel Sunday School on Easter in order to have two worship services. Other denominations frequently cancel Sunday School for the summer and sometimes for three or four weeks around Christmas. Cancelling Sunday School for one or more weeks can (1) cause the loss of potential relationships through lack of follow up and small group interaction and (2) allow attenders to form habits of non-attendance. Response: avoid temporarily cancelling Sunday School or keep weeks off to an absolute minimum.
- PERMANENT DROPPING OF SUNDAY SCHOOL. Some churches decide to try to accomplish what the Sunday School can do in other ways. So they start small groups or some other process; then when the effort struggles, they abandon the new idea but don’t go back to Sunday School. In some small churches, good teachers die, move, or quit; no one new steps forward, and Sunday School closes for lack of leadership. Response: raise expectations and give Sunday School the priority it deserves and allow it to accomplish what it can.
- LOSS OF THE ‘BIG DAY.’ There are so many events and a church can only do well so many big things. As a result, many churches have stopped offering a high attendance campaign, emphasis, or Sunday. This impacts attendance in many ways. For instance, if a church averaging 100 each week in Sunday School reached a goal of 150 on high attendance Sunday, their average attendance for the year would increase by 1 person just because of one day. But the contacts and special efforts have lingering impacts that are often as important or more important than the increase. High attendance can help a class realize its need to reach out to community people in their age group. Excitement and testimony about Sunday School can be lacking in a church without a big day. Response: add a Sunday School high attendance day, emphasis, or month to one of your scheduled events like Revival, Easter, etc.; pray, promote, and follow up.
- COLLAPSE OF BUS MINISTRIES. Bus ministries were intentional efforts to lead the church to impact their communities. People of all ages, especially children, were picked up and brought to church. Families were touched and ministry was extended. But since the 1970s and 1980s, few bus ministries remain. Seldom has anything arisen to take its place. The church frequently has turned inward. A church that does not reach out will not likely avoid decline. Response: mobilize classes to take responsibility for reaching out and impacting those in the community in the age assignment of the class; challenge adult and youth classes to provide ministry and outreach projects for the community at least quarterly.
- GENERAL LACK OF ATTENTION. What happens to an indoor plant that is ignored? Without attention, without water, a plant will wither and die. How many marriages would survive lack of attention? Sunday School without leadership and intentional nurturing will struggle to survive or will die. Lack of quality, intentional preschool and children’s ministry will impact the entire church. Training and leader development have been ignored. Even facilities have often been neglected. Response: raise expectations; develop leaders; pray for Sunday School; focus significant time and energy and watch the returns on the investment.
- WEAK TEACHING. Warm bodies are enlisted instead of God-called people. We are afraid to share our expectations because they might say no. Training is not provided. We allow poor teaching to perpetuate. Today, as Keith stated, people expect to experience excellence when they invest their time in an experience. When they experience poor teaching, it is difficult to get them to return even to another class because of the previous experience. Response: enlist and train God-called people who understand expectations; continue to raise expectations and work to give God our best.
As I said in Part 1, I think we need to be honest with ourselves. Could any of these seven reasons for decline be true in your church? What step(s) can you take to address the situation? Look over all fourteen reasons for decline. Don’t forget to cover all that you do with prayer! Take a step to grow this week, and make a difference through your Sunday School. Be revolutionary!