Rules of thumb are not laws but are standards which have proven reliable. There are several rules of thumb that apply to Sunday School. During this series, I will share these reliable standards one at a time. In Part 1, we will examine a rule of thumb from page 108 of the McIntosh and Arn book, What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church: One of every five [Sunday School] classes should have been started within the last two years.
In Part 2, I will share a second Sunday School rule of thumb:
The younger the age group, more classroom space is required per person.
At first glance, this rule of thumb seems to make no sense. Younger ages are smaller, so they should need less space, right? No! Instead of thinking of the size of the bodies, think in terms of activity level for each age. Preschoolers are constantly moving. Children are busy, Teens move around some. Adults hardly move at all.
The ideal classroom space, however, allows for all ages to move into different arrangements in order to use a variety of teaching methods to address the unique learning styles of each person. So we should never think either (1) what is the minimum size room we can provide or (2) how many bodies can we cram into a room. Doing either of these greatly limits method choices for leading the group to encounter God in Bible study.
One other rule of thumb comes into play here:
When a classroom nears 80% of capacity, growth will slow or stop.
That means, even if the room is large enough for ten adults, when attendance reaches 7 or 8, growth of the class will tend to level off or stop. There are exceptions, but they are not the norm. So let’s look at the recommended square footage differences by age group:
- Preschoolers (ages 0-5): 35 square foot per preschooler and worker
- Children (grades 1-6): 25 square foot per child and worker
- Teens (grades 7-12): 15 square foot per teen and worker
- Adults (ages 18+): 12 square foot per adult and worker.
The space requirements for preschoolers looks extravagant, but they really are not. Baby beds, diaper changing stations, and other necessary equipment and furnishings take a lot of space. And as the preschooler becomes a toddler, they tend to explore every inch of the space. Older preschoolers are active and will move from one learning station to another and seldom are able to sit still for more than a few short moments. In my experience of helping churches, too frequently the preschool space is major short supply. This slows and limits growth potential.
So calculate your classroom space for the age group(s) using the space. Does the space fit your attendance, or is it too small? Keep in mind the 80% capacity rule.
Make the best of your space. Move age groups strategically into the space you have in order to enhance the Sunday School experience and to encourage growth. Plan ahead. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!