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 have shared these three reliable standards:
- Part 1, One of every five classes should have been started within the last two years.
- Part 2, The younger the age group, more classroom space is required per person.
- Part 3, For Sunday School to grow, the worker to attender ratio should be 1:5 or better.
In Part 4, I will share another Sunday School rule of thumb:
For Sunday School to add one person in attendance, two people should be enrolled.
Another way of stating this rule of thumb is that growth tends to be best nurtured where attendance averages 40-60% of enrollment. Enrollment increase leads the way. When enrollment increases by two, attendance will tend to increase by one.
WHY ONLY 50%? Why is there a loss of nearly 50% of those who are enrolled? Think about all the reasons for being absent: sickness, grief, conflict, work, vacation, parents, children, holidays, etc. In addition to these, ease of travel, low commitment, and disposable income makes attendance more irregular.
At the same time, care for those enrolled varies considerably from church to church and class to class. The teacher and class leaders have responsibility for extending the care of the class and of Christ to those who are absent. Yes, the individual has responsibility for his/her attendance pattern and frequency.
ALARM. But when class care is not extended following absence, irregularity tends to increase. When extended care is low, the percentage of the enrollment in attendance will tend to decrease. When it is below 40% an alarm should go off indicating the need for improved care for those who are enrolled: regular attenders and absentees.
On the other hand, when the percentage of enrollment in attendance has increased beyond 60% that tends to indicate the lack of outreach and new enrollment. Or it may indicate that classes are dropping irregular people from enrollment. Keep in mind that removing a person from our enrollment tends to reduce and stop class care ensuring no future attendance. Thus, this percentage threshold should serve as an alarm indicating a need for focus on, prayer for, care for, and invitation to the people group of the class: those not enrolled. And no one should ever be removed from enrollment unless they die, move out of the ministry reach of the church, or join another class.
CHURCH SIZE HAS IMPACT. An additional issue is that the percentage will vary by church size. In smaller churches (under 100 in attendance), the attendance percentage of enrollment will tend to be higher. In smaller churches, 60% is more common. Frequently classes tend to be smaller. An absence is more easily noticed. Sometimes care is a more natural response. And often the teacher can easily do all the care.
On the other hand, in larger church 40% is more common. Frequently classes tend to be larger (somewhat a factor of larger classroom spaces). Absences tend to be more numerous and therefore more challenging to notice and follow up. As a result, teachers cannot do all the care that is needed. They tend need more help in doing so.
SUMMARY. To grow by one person in attendance, two people should be enrolled. But adding people to a class list is not enough. Care is needed. As classes and churches grow, additional help for the teacher is needed (1) to reach out and enroll new people and (2) to extend class care to members and absentees.