I received an email from a friend asking what I thought about Sunday School that ran more than 90% of worship attendance. His email made it obvious he recognized some negatives. And he expressed support of worship attendance closer to 30% higher. On the other hand, I know a pastor and minister of education who regularly teased each other when worship and Sunday School attendance were close. It was like a friendly competition.
Partly due to not knowing all of my friend’s situation, it took me a while to consider the issue honestly and to craft a response. Below is only a slight variation of what my reply included:
When Sunday School is 90% or more of worship, it can mean several things:
- POSITIVE: you are doing an excellent job of inviting (and enrolling) worship attenders (members and guests) to existing classes
- POSITIVE: you have regularly started classes and connected unenrolled worship attenders
- POSITIVE: the pastor regularly affirms the value of Sunday School from the pulpit and encourages involvement in them for discipleship growth
- NEUTRAL: off-site classes (such as nursing homes) are counted in Sunday School numbers making the percentage higher
- NEGATIVE: you are in an interim (without a pastor) and unconnected worship attenders are straying (Sunday School numbers remained steady while worship attendance declined)
- NEGATIVE: your church as a whole is not doing a good job of inviting people to church (since most people today tend to attend worship first)
- NEGATIVE: Sunday School attenders are skipping worship
- NEGATIVE: family are coming for one hour, with parents dropping off children for Sunday School while they attend worship
Obviously, any combination of the above can be in play as well. As far as a recommended attendance gap, my preference is none. I want everyone in a group. My fear with numbers as high as 30% is that they will exceed the ability of the Sunday School organization to invite, enroll, and launch classes in a timely fashion. That often results in worship attenders developing the habit of not getting in a class.
Let me say that some small group churches (like Saddleback) have been successful in achieving 110-130% of worship attendance in small groups. They have done so by constantly starting new groups and inviting people from their community to the home groups. This is possible for Sunday School as well, but it will take a mindset change on our part.
What would you add to these thoughts? What other issues should be considered? What experiences have you had? Press Comments below and share with others. Ask great questions. Make great decisions. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!