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Retain members, avoid leader burnout: goals for Sunday School organization

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–“Trying to organize a Sunday School can be like trying to organize a group of firefighters,” Belinda Jolley said. “If you wait too long, the house will burn down.”

Jolley, associate director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s Sunday School department, led a conference on mobilizing for ministry during the July 26-28 National Sunday School Leadership week at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.

Sunday Schools should be organized in such a way that members and prospects don’t slip through the cracks and leaders don’t get burned out, Jolley said.

Thus, she said, Sunday Schools should:

— Organize small ministry groups. “Large groups easily get out of hand,” Jolley said. Teachers can’t maintain contact with a group that is too big, and they quickly grow discouraged.

“Care groups should contain five to seven people. That way, it’s very feasible for the leader of the group to make a personal contact with each person without feeling overwhelmed.”

— Organize by gender. More and more churches are using mentoring and accountability groups, which can become awkward if there are mixed genders, Jolley noted. “Sharing is different when it is woman to woman or man to man,” she said. “Separating men and women also protects the reputations of the [group] leader and the church.”

— Include members-in-service. “Many members-in-service [members of your Sunday School class who teach another class] are never contacted by their class,” Jolley said. “If they stop teaching and haven’t had any contact with their class for years, it is very likely they will just stop coming to Sunday School at all.” Because of this, Jolley recommended that members-in-service be placed in care groups and contacted as frequently as other members.

— Contact members weekly. “Every member of your care group should be contacted in some form or fashion each week,” Jolley said. That weekly contact may take place at church, but Jolley recommended that leaders not take for granted members who are there every week.

It’s so important to express your appreciation to those who are always there,” she said. “Make personal visits to them. You can learn a lot about a person by visiting them in their homes instead of just seeing them at Sunday School every week.”

— Participate in mission projects. Because Sunday School often runs the risk of being inward-focused, Jolley recommended that groups seek out opportunities outside of church in their community.

“These mission projects can be a natural outgrowth of your Bible study,” Jolley said. “Timing is critical, and it is important to strike while the iron is hot.”

— Make short but frequent contacts. While weekly contacts can seem daunting for a leader, Jolley recommended these visits be very brief.

“You as a leader don’t have a lot of time to make extended visits, and the members of your class probably have things to do as well besides entertaining you,” Jolley said. “Sometimes even something as quick as a ‘Buggy Bumper’ contact is great. You bump into somebody at the grocery store, talk for a few moments, and you have made your visit.”

— Know what to say. “You don’t have to have an entire speech planned for your visits, but you should at least know what you’re going to talk about,” Jolley said. “It’s awkward for both of you if you’re just standing around staring at the ceiling. Know ahead some questions and topics you want to discuss with the person you’re visiting.”

— Conduct a high contact Sunday. Many churches have high attendance Sundays, but Jolley encouraged setting goals for contacts as well. “We know if we have a weekend fellowship where we’ve made a lot of contacts we’re going to have more people at Sunday School. Make sure you contact everyone, not just chronic absentees. Also be sure to follow up on prospects.”

The National Sunday School Leadership event at Ridgecrest is sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information about this and other conferences, go to www.lifeway.com.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at https://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TAPPING THE TALENT.

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  • Brandy Campbell