There are many factors that contribute to Sunday School growth. I have written in this blog about many of them: prayer, expectations, starting new classes, planning, leadership, involvement, and so many more. Without question, one of the factors that is frequently neglected after the first year of life for a Sunday School class is “closing the back door.” I have written many posts (more than 100) about issues of assimilation and even have listed Assimilation in Categories down the right side menu of the blog.
Many classes grow in the first 12-18 months of life. During that period, these new classes tend to do more inviting and the class usually has not grown so large that it has become difficult to keep up with attenders. But frequently, the class loses passion and work ethic for outreach and inreach before the second anniversary. It is not uncommon for classes to lose more people than they gain beyond two years.
What can a Sunday School class do to maintain its passion? What can a class do to be sticky–attract and keep guests and new members? I was reminded about four factors needed to be a sticky class by an article entitled The Big 4. In Part 1, I will list the first two of four factors listed in the article in all capitals followed by my commentary:
- HIGH EXPECTATIONS. This starts with the pastor, Sunday School director, and teacher. But it also extends to each and every member. It is a vision issue. We sometimes get so busy that we become inward focused, maintaining only the status quo or only giving attention to the “fires that must be put out.” Instead, we must realize that we are conducting Kingdom business. Not all of the sheep we are to care for are already in the sheep pen (John 10:16). But expectations are also attractive for guests and new members. Think through what you expect of class members. How often do you expect them to attend? Do you expect them to read their lesson? Do you expect them to participate in class? Do you expect them to serve in some capacity in the class? The article shared a statement by a former active church member: “Why would I want to be a part of something that expects nothing of me?” Expect a lot. Encourage and support. Hold members positively accountable.
- SMALL GROUPS. Some classes grow beyond twenty attenders and start having back-door problems. They continue to attract new people, but at the same time they lose new and longer-term members. But whether large or small, a Sunday School class can make itself “small” in its attention to all its members. The article states, “The key issue, according to our research, is that the small group is an open group, meaning it has no predetermined termination date, and anyone can enter the group at any point.” According to research by Dr. Thom Rainer (now president of LifeWay Christian Resources), those who get connected in a Sunday School class or small group are more than six times as likely to still be connected in five years as those who are not active in a class or group.