If You Want More People, Make Your Sunday School Better
By Charles L. Allen and Mildred Parker
The one sure way to increase attendance and hold it is to make the Sunday school better. A campaign can increase attendance in the most inadequate Sunday school anywhere, but that increase will be lost very quickly unless the Sunday school itself measures up to expectations.
Establish the Real Purpose of Your Sunday School
A Sunday school which can define why it exists and what it is trying to accomplish is already one step ahead. At first this would seem like a simple thing to do, but that is not the case. Often a church will just drift aimlessly in its Christian Education ministry. A few good things will accidentally happen. Some of the teachers and leaders will have individual understanding which will motivate them. Use of whatever material is available will give some direction, be it right or wrong.
But imagine the power which can be released when a people as a group, in force, come to realize the profound significance of what it really means to be a teaching, nurturing, enabling body of Christ. They know the direction in which they want to move and are more able to set them-selves in that direction.
How do you go about stating your objective?
Each church or denomination usually has an over al If You Want More People, Make statement of purpose for its educational ministry. It gives direction to all curriculum. The United Methodist Church’s statement is as follows
The objective of the church as manifested through its educational ministry is that all persons be aware of and grow in their understanding of God, especially of his redeeming love as revealed in Jesus Christ, and that they respond in faith and love—to the end that they may know who they are and what their human situation means, increasingly identify themselves as sons of God and members of the Christian community, live in the spirit of God in every relationship, fulfill their common discipleship in the world, and abide in the Christian hope. (Foundations of Christian Teaching in United Methodist Churches, Copyright, 1960, 1969, General Board of Education of the United Methodist Church, p. 31.)
The American Baptists state their objective as follows
The objective of the church’s educational ministry is that all persons be aware of God through his self-disclosure, especially his redeeming love as revealed in Jesus Christ, and, enabled by the Holy Spirit, respond in faith and love, that as new persons in Christ they may know who they are and what their human situation means, grow as sons of God rooted in the Christian community, live in obedience to the will of God in every relationship, fulfill their common vocation in the world, and abide in the Christian hope. (Design for Teacher-Learning: Prospectus 11-1970-71, Valley Forge: American Baptist Board of Education and Publication, pp. 4, 5.)
The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church states its general objectives as follows
General Goals. The following goals or objectives are taken from “A Guide to the Sunday School Standard.” ~ They speak of the general or overall goals of Christian teachers.
(a) To lead the pupil to a knowledge of the true God and to faith in Jesus Christ as his only Savior and Lord;
(b) To lead the pupil to an appreciation of his status as a child of God and heir of eternal life;
(c) To lead the pupil into the truths of the Bible so that by a growing knowledge of the Word of God his Christian faith and character are built and developed;
(d) To lead the pupil into an understanding and appreciation of his status as a living member in the body of Christ and to train him to participate in the life and work of the church;
(e) To lead the pupil into an awareness of his Christian responsibilities toward home, community, and nation. (Called To Teach Children: A Guide For Workers in the Church School, Donald Hoeferkamp and Arnold C. Mueller, Concordia Publishing House, Saint Louis, Missouri, 1965, p. 21.)
One year, one local church stated its purpose and annual goals in the following way:
Westminster United Methodist Church seeks to
* Build a community united in its gratitude and commitment to God.
* Dedicate itself to a continuing growth in fellowship, faith, and discipleship.
* Proclaim and demonstrate to others this new life in Christ.
Westminster United Methodist Church will strive to
* Increase involvement of its members and potential members in all of its program ministries and worship opportunities.
* Stress all aspects of evangelism.
* Evaluate, strengthen, develop, and coordinate its educational ministries to children, youth, adults, and families.
* Increase our sense of being a church family.
* Increase our opportunities for individual and group spiritual growth.
* Stress and increase opportunities for our members to be of service to others.
The important thing is for you to identify the purpose for your church and come to terms with it. Accept it and work for it to be accomplished. A workers’ conference or an all-day retreat would be a good way for teachers, officers, and church staff to think through in the deepest way the direction in which they want to go and the purpose they have. We think it is good for a local church to use its denominational statement as a springboard but then make its own statement in the members’ own words.
For many years the International Council of Religious Education had a profound statement which centered around eight key phrases: God, Jesus, Christ like character, a Christian social order, the Church, the Home, a Christian philosophy of life, the Bible. Decide what you want to happen in understanding and experience of these, and you will have a pretty basic statement.
An important thing is that teachers and leaders will know that their job is no superficial one. They will know that their very best will be needed and that it will be given for something worthwhile.
A Recruitment Plan for Securing Teachers and Leaders
In improving the Sunday school, let us keep emphasizing that the most important thing of all is the securing and training of an adequate supply of consecrated, tactful, and loving teachers.
Never say, “We do not have enough teachers within our church.” The minute you say that it will be true. When you acknowledge defeat you are defeated. On the other hand when you say, “There are plenty of persons in our church capable of teaching in our Sunday school,” you have already won the victory. That is true, and when you believe it, you will find them, persuade them, and use them. Any church has within its own fellowship all the teachers, officers, and leaders it needs to build a good Sunday school.
We know of a church to which a man gave an unusually large financial contribution. Someone asked him if he had ever given a contribution before. He replied that he had not. He was asked why he had not given a large contribution before. His answer was, “Nobody ever asked me before.” The same principle applies to getting teachers. Here is the problem: In every church there are many persons whom nobody has ever asked.
Not only does every church have the talent it needs, but that talent must be recruited and trained. Let us follow Jesus’ method for finding new workers. It is a method that never fails!
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.
Look carefully at Jesus’ plan:
First, He made a survey. We read, “. . . when he saw the multitudes . . .” He knew there were people available.
Second, He knew the people were not listed. He saw they were “. . . sheep having no shepherd.” There are those who say there are no prospects for our Sunday school and church or for leaders, but they just have not looked around.
Third, He laid it upon the heart of His own workers that there are needs all around them. In our churches we talk about the need for missions, and many times we are thinking about some far-off land. Jesus saw the people around close by.
Fourth, He emphasized the need for more workers, “. . . but the labourers are few.” Let no one in Sunday school say, “There is nothing for me to do.”
Fifth, Jesus said “pray.” When we begin praying for a larger and more effective Sunday school, something happens to us. There is an old story about a widow who lived in a rural community. She said to her neighbor that she needed some wood. Would he, that night, in his family prayers, pray that the Lord would send her a load of wood? He promised to do so. As that family prayed that night this man petitioned the Lord to send the woman a load of wood. The next morning he got up early and, as he went out, his wife asked where he was going. He said, “I am going to carry that woman some wood.” Oftentimes we are the answer to our own prayers.
Sixth, Jesus did not try to do everything Himself. He had the good judgment to enlist the cooperation of other persons to help Him.
This plan will work in any Sunday school. Right here a caution needs to be lifted up. Oftentimes persons will volunteer for places for which they are not suited. However, a person should never be turned down. There is a place of service for every volunteer. It remains for the leadership of the Sunday school to know where those places are. It is wonderful to say to someone, “Thank you for volunteering for this particular place, but we need you more at this other place, and your service there will mean so much to the Sunday school.”
Let us again emphasize the fact that Jesus said, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” We believe that God calls ministers. We further believe that God calls workers in every area of His kingdom. Every Sunday school should be undergirded with prayer. Let us always remember the words of the Lord, “. . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, sayeth the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
Part of a church’s plan for its Sunday School ministry should include the practical means of finding and enlisting persons to teach and lead. In some churches there is a committee appointed to attend to this. In others, special officers, such as the Sunday-school superintendent and the chairperson of Christian Education are charged with the responsibility. In very large churches the staff persons responsible for Christian Education will assist in the recruiting. Always the minister will be interested and involved.
Basic principles are
1. Know how many teachers, helping teachers, secretaries, and so forth you will need to recruit. Children’s classes and youth classes are completely staffed for them, with the youth usually electing their own officers. In the churches where we have worked, it has been the rule for general officers to be elected by the ruling body of the church, for teachers of adult classes to be commissioned to teach a particular group in concurrence with the desires of the group and the approval of the ruling body. Officers of adult classes are nominated and elected within each group. Make a list of the classes, how many teachers and leaders are required for each, who of the present staff will continue, and, then, how many more are needed, and what they are needed to do. The moment a person says, “I really don’t want to teach, but there’s no one else to do it,” relieve that person.
2. Establish length of teaching term. Often a person is willing to teach one year at a time, perhaps repeating over and over, but sometimes needing a year off. We do not believe a person should be coerced into teaching against his or her will. A happy thing to say is, “All the teachers in our church are teaching because they want to!” Say to prospects, “If you don’t want to teach, we will not pressure you to do so. Perhaps you will want to teach later, or let us find something else which will interest you.”
3. Set some qualifications you want in a teacher. One good way to secure this list is to get together some teachers and parents and ask them to name desirable qualifications. They will be more demanding of themselves than you. Such things as personal integrity, ability to communicate, evidence of openness and desire to grow and learn, willingness to follow objectives of the church, and so forth will probably be among the things which are listed. Write your qualifications down for a permanent record. Let your teachers-to-be know they are considered to be worthy of these qualifications and have been selected because of this.
4. Establish a teacher-prospect list or a means of looking within your entire congregation for leadership. One church we know uses a talent card to find out who plays the piano, who has had previous teaching experience, who would be willing to train to teach, and so forth.
Our church has a master file of all church members, listing helpful information about them. The recruiting committee may look here for needed talents.
We often go to the existing rolls of adult classes for emerging leadership. Adult classes should see themselves as preparing members for discipleship.
Another church keeps a family, record card, showing where each person, be it one or seven, is located. At special meetings such as a parents’ meeting or a mid-week study group, the director of Christian Education and others responsible for recruiting are alert to notice persons who have the abilities to fit into a teaching responsibility. This observation is entered on the family card and, at the proper time, that person is invited to teach. Recruiters should constantly be on the alert for new leadership. A word of caution: Do screen carefully. Put the right person in the right place. Be sure they are willing to be part of the team.
Work out some plan for maintaining a teacher-prospect list.
5. The invitation is most crucial! If at all possible, go to the home of the person. The recruiters (who might be the superintendent of Study and the director of Christian Education or some other team) should call for an appointment, saying they have something important they want to talk over with the prospect, but waiting until they get there to actually give the invitation. They should take with them materials which are used in the class and explain how they are used. The recruiters should tell the prospect he or she has been selected, that the position calls for dedication, a lot of study, and much responsibility. They should outline how this position and class fits into the total scheme and share some of the joys which are present. Recruiters must have enthusiasm and zeal, and they must let it show.
Another excellent way to give the invitation is to set up an annual orientation class for prospective teachers. Go through your church membership files and select persons to invite to this. Let the class consist of sessions on the nature and mission of the church, the objective of the church through its educational ministry, the faith we teach, how to use the Bible in study, principles of teaching and learning, the I and thou of communication, and so on.
Ask the pastor or the director of Christian Education or a resource person from your denomination to teach. Use a weekend session, or a series of Sundays during the Sunday-school time. During these sessions, the new per-sons will be getting acquainted with each other; they will be learning valuable information; and leaders will be seeing strengths and needs of the new persons. At the end of the orientation, the new persons will be asked to teach or lead or help in a particular place, or they will be placed on the waiting list until needed.
Tell new persons you will support them with training and be readily available to them for help at all times.
Train and Nurture the Staff
In the training and development of workers and teachers, let us always remember there are two groups with whom we must work. The first group includes the ones who are already working. On-the-job or in-service training is extremely important. Just because a teacher is teaching does not mean he or she does not need additional training. A second group to train is the prospective workers. Even if you do not have a specific place for these workers at the moment, the very training makes them better members of a class and more effective workers in the Sunday school.
Let’s examine some experiences which will be helpful in leadership development:
1. The orientation class is always a good place to begin. Even for persons who are already teaching, it is good to review from time to time.
2. Have a mid-week (or a time best suited to your church) series several times a year. Let these include studies on a selected book of the Bible, the art of communication, comparative religions, theology, history of thy., church, and so on. If your church is too small to set up a series by itself, go in with one or more other churches. Secure the most capable leaders available. Enlist the aid of your pastor. This kind of training gives teachers great support! They teach with better understanding. Open the classes to other interested persons. (You’ll find new people this way, too!)
3. Have regular workers’ conferences. Depending on your situation, these may meet weekly, monthly, every other month, or quarterly. If this is the launching pad for other kinds of meetings and activities, such as calling or reviewing next Sunday’s lesson, they will probably be weekly. If these are special occasions, quarterly is probably often enough. Remember this is not the only thing you’re doing, and you don’t want to drain people, but be helpful to them.
Some things to do at workers’ conferences are: have an inspirational speaker and celebrate together the joy of being a teacher or leader; find out about community needs; learn about stages of development in people and the religious significance of these; share techniques for improving attendance in classes; do some how-to conferences. These may range from “How to Use Audiovisual Equipment,” to “How to Plan a Unit and Session,” or “How to Use Role Playing, Dramatization, Choral Speaking, and Creative Writing,” and so forth. The list is endless and should be in keeping with your needs and goals. Involvement of the teacher or leader in the experience is always good. Experiencing, along with hearing, is important.
4. In one of the most successful Sunday schools which we have studied, we find that every Monday all the officers and teachers of the Sunday school meet together for lunch. The few who cannot make it for Monday lunch meet together for a snack supper on Wednesday evening. They tell us that coming together as workers, talking, planning, praying, thinking, studying as a team has done more to increase the attendance, the spirit, and effectiveness of their Sunday school than anything they have ever tried. A church service can almost be a one-person affair. It can center around the preacher, but not so with the Sunday school; it is a team effort. In meeting together, gradually the weak links are discovered and either strengthened or replaced.
5. Workshops or seminars may be held for workers with a particular age group; these special meetings may concern specific things such as how to lecture, the use of curriculum resources, how to set up a room for a teaching or learning session, or the art of storytelling and its value. The list is endless.
6. Christian workers’ schools—with certified leaders se-cured through your denomination headquarters—dealing with such things as how to teach kindergarten children, or how to teach youth or adults, can teach the characteristics of the age group, goals of learning for the age group, skills which will be helpful in communicating, using the re-sources, using the Bible in teaching, and so forth.
7. The laboratory school not only talks about the topics Christian workers’ schools deal with, but provides experiences with the age group: Kindergarten teachers would actually plan a session, practice-teach, observe teaching, and be evaluated, as well as help to evaluate the teaching of others. A certified teacher who has prepared to do this is best. Contact your denomination headquarters. Re-member, churches may group together for such enterprises.
8. Supervision by counseling teachers or other designated persons is a good training method.
9. Regular teacher meetings, to talk together about lesson materials, plan sessions, find out about additional re-sources, to discuss who the pupils are and what their needs sons, and other officers need regular meetings, too, to’ are, are imperative. Secretaries, membership chairpersons, and other officers need regular meetings, too, to check on record keeping, system of outreach, their pro-gram of evangelism, and so on. They need to understand the importance of their positions in sustaining a caring, nurturing ministry among their particular group, as well as leading them to care for others.
10. A recognition time for teachers and leaders is a nurturing act. It also teaches the church as a whole that Christian Education is a part of the church’s ministry. We re-commend an annual commissioning service in one of the regular worship services, with the teachers and leaders coming to the altar of the church for a time of dedication. Give the congregation an opportunity to pledge support through prayers and presence.
A climate for wanting to grow, as persons, in the Christian faith, for having a zeal for continuing education, for feeling the desire to reach out and share with others—all this takes time, but it comes. You plant the seed. God will give the growth.
For You to Do
1. Write your objective for your church. Involve many persons in doing it. Use your denominational statement as a springboard.
2. Formulate a plan for finding and securing teachers and leaders.
3. Design an ongoing plan for teacher/leadership development and nurture.
4. Implement your plans.
This article “If You Want More People, Make Your Sunday School Better” written by Charles L. Allen and Mildred Parker is excerpted from the book How to Increase Your Sunday School Attendance.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”