New groups are desperately needed. In Part 1 of this three-part series, I shared three major challenges I see with which Sunday School has the potential for addressing: maintenance focus, poor span of care, and leadership shortage. In Part 1, I addressed the first challenge, maintenance focus. In Part 2, I focused on the challenge of poor span of care. In Part 3, I will focus on the leadership shortage.
- How did we get here? For years pastors and Sunday School directors expected teachers to surround themselves with other workers to get the important tasks of Sunday School done. Adult and youth teachers were expected to enlist (1) a secretary to keep attendance records; (2) an outreach leader to help the class pray for and reach out to their people group; (3) member care leaders to help the class pray for, contact, and meet the needs of members; (4) greeters to lead the class to welcome and register guests; (5) and an apprentice teacher to enlarge the teaching team and prepare for a new class start.
- Class benefits missing. When the teacher was surrounded by these workers, the span of care was improved. Classes cared for members and reached out to new people. As a result, many classes grew. Leaders were trained on the job. Disciples were enlisted, trained, mobilized, and grew. But with fewer of these leaders, classes began to decline. They turned inward and only focused on members. Eventually they turned attention totally to those who showed up on Sunday mornings only.
- Class crisis. When pastors and directors got busy and stopped expecting teachers to surround themselves with other workers, they set in motion a major crisis with far-reaching consequences. Without expectations, the teachers who were busy did not fill vacant class positions. When the positions were vacated, the span of care began to suffer and attendance began to stop growing, plateau, and start to decline. The teacher tried initially to cover missing responsibilities but soon recognized it was beyond his/her ability. Member care and outreach were a struggle without champions to lead the class to carry them out.
- Church leadership shortage crisis. What busy pastors and directors failed to see is that Sunday School had been training up church leaders for years. In the safe environment of Sunday School, men and women had been trying out leadership roles in the class. They were learning how to work with a smaller group. They were trying out organizational efforts, people skills, ministry efforts, Bible knowledge, conflict resolution, outreach and inviting, member ministry, fellowship and project planning, and so much more. So when the church nominating team began to seek leaders to fill church leadership roles, they looked in adult classes and found capable leaders with many of the skills that were needed.
- Today’s crisis. Fast forward to today. Teachers have not been expected to surround themselves with workers. As a result, no one is being trained in the class. When the church nominating team seeks leaders, they look in the class and find only busy teachers. Thus, a leadership vacuum has been created. Churches are struggling to find deacons, preschool workers, Sunday School teachers, committee/team members, and many more needed leaders. As a result, needed work is not able to be done. Classes are being combined. Care is being reduced. Outreach has nearly ceased. Great Commission focus and work is screeching to a halt.
Sunday School has answers. Current classes need to surround the teachers with workers to care for more people. And more classes are needed in which more workers will enable the church to care for more people. Both are needed. When we do these two things, we address the maintenance focus and turn it into a growth (Great Commission) focus. We improve the poor span of care. And we help the church avoid a leadership implosion.
New groups are desperately needed. Where does this shift begin? Pray. Gather your Sunday School team and do some evaluation and planning. And raise your expectations for teachers to surround themselves with workers and for new classes to be added. Make disciples. Mobilize leaders. Start classes. Be revolutionary!