DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)–You’ve done everything right. Your FAITH teams have visited your prospects and your inactive members. You’ve enrolled them in Sunday school. You have the classes ready for them. But they don’t come. What do you do? Where did you go wrong?
First, give up the guilt, said Mike Priest, Sunday school FAITH consultant at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Speaking at the National FAITH Institute, Jan. 10-13 at First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., Priest gave conference participants the “Sunday School Declaration of Independence:” “We are not responsible for getting them to attend. We are only responsible for ministering to them!”
FAITH is a strategy combining evangelism and Sunday school. It originated at First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, and has been introduced to Southern Baptists by LifeWay. FAITH additionally is endorsed by the SBC’s North American Mission Board.
“We have the responsibility of ministering to [prospects] whether they ever come or not. The responsibility for getting enrollees to attend is God’s,” Priest said.
“God said in Matthew 16:18 that he would build his church on this rock. In Ephesians 6:12, we’re told it is a work only he can do.”
Comparing Sunday school work to a war, Priest said Satan is the enemy and a war is going on between God and Satan for the souls of people. There is also a battle being fought between Christians and Satan, with Satan telling Christians that the work is too hard or not important. Another battle is being conducted between the new enrollees and Satan.
Satan knows statistically that 50 percent of non-Christians who enroll in Sunday school will accept Christ, Priest said. “That’s the last thing Satan wants to see happen.
“We look at the people we’ve enrolled and can come up with a lot of excuses why we might be reluctant to welcome new enrollees to our classes,” Priest said. He listed several:
— They are different. “If you look around, not everyone in your class is just alike anyway,” Priest said.
— We don’t know them. “If they don’t get into the group, you never will get to know them.”
— We have a wonderful Sunday school class. We’ve been together for years and we all trust each other with our struggles and secrets. Someone new would break that fellowship. “It will take you out of your comfort zone, but new people are not a threat.”
— Our class isn’t designed to let people in at just any time. We’re studying a book for 12 weeks. If someone comes in during week three, they won’t have a book, won’t know what we’ve been studying and will have a hard time catching up. “Keep Sunday school a place where people can come in and get started any day.”
— It takes a lot of work to get new enrollees settled into the class. “Sunday school expert Arthur Flake said in Mississippi in the 1920s that Sunday school demanded a lot of hard work. It still does.”
— We can’t (or won’t) minister to the people already in our class. There’s no way we can take on new ministry challenges. “Yes, you can, but it will take more work and organization.”
— Sunday school is just for Bible study. “This may be the biggest detriment to the church not understanding the purpose of Sunday school as being the outreach and ministry arm of the church.”
— We can’t ask that much of our teachers. “We need to raise the bar for teachers. We tend to set the bar too low. They will rise to meet expectations.”
— We really just don’t care. “This is the worst case — when the people don’t care whether anyone new gets plugged in or not.”
New enrollees have their own set of excuses for not getting involved in Sunday school, Priest said. They include:
— They don’t know anyone. “So get to know them,” Priest counseled. “Make sure everyone is greeted and has someone to sit with.”
— They are afraid of what they might have to do. “When you visit and invite them to Sunday school, assure them that they won’t be called on to read or pray or anything else.”
— They have misconceptions about church. “Two great lies Satan tells are, one, he tells the enrollees that the church doesn’t really want them to come and, two, he tells the church the new enrollees don’t really want to be there.”
— They don’t have anything to wear. “Tell them they can wear whatever they have. It’s OK.”
— They don’t own a Bible. “Go back on a second visit and deliver a Sunday school book and a Bible to them.”
— They don’t have a crisis in their lives, so they don’t see the need for church. “Let them know the best time to start is when there isn’t a crisis. That way, when a crisis does come, they’ll be better prepared to handle it.”
— They like to sleep late on Sunday. “Who doesn’t? But they get up on the other days of the week.”
— They have to work on Sunday. “This problem is coming up more and more often. Churches may need to address that by starting new Sunday schools at nontraditional times.”
— They never really intended to come. “Sadly, some people will agree to let you sign them up just to get you out of their house.”
— They don’t have the support of their spouse. “If only one spouse wants to attend, it will be difficult for the one who does to follow through on the commitment.”
— They see church or Sunday school as optional. “Some people don’t see it as a priority and don’t have the commitment to follow through.”
These problems and excuses are not insurmountable, Priest said. “You’ve got to be excited about new people and want them to be saved.
“Your people need to be constantly educated about the initial and ongoing purpose of Sunday school as the ministry and evangelistic arm of the church,” he said.
“Follow-up is the solution to every excuse or problem,” Priest said. “Never let them get through the cracks.” Have the church office send a letter inviting them to church. Have the teacher of the Sunday school class contact them with a call or a visit. Have the FAITH team group leader visit them.
“Give the [Sunday school] teacher an accountability call to make sure contact has been made. Invite the new people to bridge-building events, such as socials and dinners. Have a continual ministry through service,” Priest said.
“Somewhere in the follow-up period, your new enrollee needs to be reminded of these things,” Priest said. “You are invited regardless of your religious affiliation, your knowledge of the Bible or your involvement in another Bible study.” In addition, “remind them that in order to enroll in Sunday school, you do not need to be a Baptist, to join the church, to read the Bible, pray aloud in class or obligate yourself in any way.”
“FAITH visits should be 60 percent evangelism visits and 40 percent ministry visits,” Priest said. “People tend to gravitate toward ministry visits because these visits are to people they know. It’s only natural.”
Concluding, Priest told the group two things are vital with any visit. “You’ve got to have prayer. We’re fighting a spiritual battle in our churches and our best weapon is prayer. It also takes time. Strongholds don’t develop overnight. They don’t fall overnight. Allow God time to work.”