There are several key variables that impact the ability of the Sunday School to grow. Prayer and God’s leadership should not be forgotten or assumed. Beyond prayer and God’s leadership, leadership, goals, new units, space, unity, leader enlistment and development, assimilation, and outreach are important. (Sounds like fodder for a future blog entry!) In addition to these is the issue of enrollment.
Like Steve Parr and Tim Smith of the Georgia Baptist Convention, I believe that enrollment must be properly defined and applied in order to help the Sunday School to grow. Unfortunately, far too many churches lack any plan about enrollment. No one teaches about enrollment. No communication about enrollment happens. Every class does what is right in their own eyes. There are seldom any goals. No one is encouraging enrollment.
In a paper entitled 101 Tips for Sunday School Leaders, Parr and Smith offer eleven tips about Sunday School enrollment. The first six of their tips are listed below in all capitals followed by my commentary:
1. AN INCORRECT DEFINITION AND APPLICATION OF ENROLLMENT (see 2 and 3) CAN BECOME A BARRIER TO SUNDAY SCHOOL GROWTH. Set up a policy and procedure for enrollment. Communicate it. Train current and all future teachers about it. Also, remember that people like to be invited. Let them decide by asking them to enroll rather than you deciding for them. Drop persons only for reasons allowed in the policy.
2. WRONG DEFINITION: ENROLLMENT IS A LIST OF PEOPLE THAT ATTEND THE CLASS. No. No. No. Enrollment is ministry list. It is a list of persons we pray for, fellowship with, and minister to. Some of them actually attend, and we hope others will to, but attendance does not determine whether they are on our list.
3. WRONG APPLICATION: ATTEND THREE TIMES IN A ROW TO BE ENROLLED. IF A PERSON MISSES THREE TIMES THEY ARE DROPPED. No. No. No. Ask people if they want to enroll. Ask if they want to be added to the prayer, fellowship, and ministry list of the class. If they say yes, love them into attending regularly; and if they don’t attend regularly, love them anyway. Attendance or lack thereof is not the determining factor for enrollment. Our desire to care for them is the reason to enroll and the reason not to remove them.
4. EFFECTIVE SUNDAY SCHOOLS PRACTICE OPEN ENROLLMENT: ANYONE CAN BE ENROLLED ANYWHERE AT ANY TIME AS LONG AS THEY AGREE. This means that a person can join in class, in church, or in the community. They can join on Sunday, through the week, or on Saturday. I know a pastor who enrolled people in Sunday School every week when he visited homes. If he was unsuccessful in enrolling them before Wednesday, he would not go home from church on Wednesday night until he was successful in enrolling at least one person by phone.
5. RIGHT DEFINITION: ENROLLMENT IS A LIST OF PEOPLE THAT WE COMMIT TO MINISTER TO. What if your class enrolled people whenever they agreed? What if their care group leaders contacted class members (including these newly enrolled persons) every week because they cared? What if they invited them to the monthly fellowship, asked for prayer requests, prayed together by phone, and talked about the lesson for the upcoming Sunday? What if the class was responsive to these newly enrolled persons needs during crises? Many of these newly enrolled persons will begin to attend, and even if they don’t, you will have the privilege to minister to them.
6. RIGHT APPLICATION: NO ONE IS REMOVED UNLESS THEY DIE, MOVE AWAY FROM THE AREA, JOIN AN OTHER CHURCH, OR REQUEST TO BE REMOVED. THEY ARE REMOVED WHEN THEY CAN NO LONGER BE MINISTERED TO. If we are focused on ministry rather than attendance, our intent changes significantly. We really don’t want people to drop out of the class. We are concerned for their welfare. When they die, move away from the area, or join another church, they move to someone else’s care. We continue to pray for and remain sensitive to the needs of those who remain in our area but ask to be removed. Sometimes, we can even assist those who move to locate a good church in their new area.
In Part 2, I will address the final five tips that Parr and Smith offered in their paper. In the meantime, begin considering how you could put into place an enrollment policy and procedure in your Sunday School. Who should you talk with first? What would be your first step? How would you communicate the information? Be revolutionary!