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4 Sunday School ‘do overs’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–I have been involved in Sunday School work for a long time. Recently I had the incredible privilege of speaking at First Baptist Church in Lakewood, Wash., where I was baptized more than 30 years ago, where I made a commitment to vocational ministry, and where I was first enlisted to teach Sunday School.

I have grown in my love for Sunday School since Barbara Finch — who added to my joy by coming to hear me preach –- enlisted a newlywed, 21-year-old Airman First Class a long way from his Texas home to teach kindergarten.

I’ve made some mistakes as a Sunday School leader since then. If I had a few “do overs,” these are a few of the areas I think I would try to do better.

1. Enlist every leader face-to-face. I admit to taking a few shortcuts in leader enlistment. Well, at least they seemed like shortcuts at the time. Making announcements pleading for volunteers. Sending letters with response cards. Calling potential workers on the phone. If I could do it over again, every leader would be enlisted face-to-face. The importance of the job demands it. And more people say “yes!”

2. Re-enlist every leader personally and annually. I admit to taking some Sunday School leaders for granted, assuming they would continue indefinitely, or being afraid they’d quit if I asked. But the reality is that few quit when personally re-enlisted, and the process gave them new energy. It was important for them to know I still wanted them to serve.

Our retention rate sky-rocketed when we implemented this process in the preschool division. Generally only a phone call is required. My conversations usually went like this: “I appreciate the work you’ve done this year. Can I count on you for next year, or would you like to do something different?” Note that the option did not include quitting outright, but just talking about a different role.

3. Dance with who wants to dance. OK, maybe that’s a poor choice of words for a predominantly Baptist audience. I admit, however, especially as a younger leader, spending way too much physical, emotional and spiritual energy fretting over the classes and leaders who didn’t want to move forward. If I could do it over, I would concentrate my efforts on those leaders and classes that wanted to grow, wanted to reproduce, wanted to be about the Great Commission. And I would be nice to those that didn’t. I wouldn’t assign them any prospects or new members, but I certainly wouldn’t be mad at them.

4. Focus on starting new groups. I admit I have sometimes proclaimed this principle far more passionately than I have practiced it. Yet starting new units is the irreducible law of church growth. The Kingdom advances when we start new preaching points, new missions, new churches, new Sunday School classes, new small groups, new ministry teams, etc. A church can expect to pick up about 10 people in average attendance somewhere in the Sunday School for every new class it starts, assuming the existing classes are covering their membership churn, which most do. It takes a team of leaders and a space to meet, of course. With those things in place, however, it is uncanny how this formula works. Want to grow 50 in attendance? Start five new classes!

Hope you can learn from my mistakes. What would you do over?
David Francis serves as director of Sunday School for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Readers with questions about Sunday School growth, strategy or other topics relating to Sunday School may submit questions to Francis at www.lifeway.com/factsandtrends. In January, Facts & Trends Online will publish the Q&A with Francis.

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  • David Francis