Realistic Expectations for Sunday School Growth

Realistic Expectations for Sunday School Growth
Dr. Mark Miller


It’s Football Time in Tennessee! As Tennessee gets ready to play Montana, I began to think about realistic expectations for the season and for churches. Most Tennessee fans have realistic expectations for this season. In 2011, few are dreaming of a National Championship, but all are hoping for a decent bowl game. My Alabama Friends though realistically are thinking about winning a National Championship.

Every pastor and Sunday school director should be dreaming and setting goals. What is a realistic goal and expectation for your Sunday school attendance?

A pastor recently asked me to speak to their Sunday school leaders. During the session, the topic of goals came up. One of the members declared that we should be averaging loo in Sunday school. Now, I love that attitude and applaud this member for dreaming big. The church at this time was averaging 75. Growing from 75 to loo is probable, but was it realistic? I mean Tennessee could win the national championship but is it realistic? Tennessee certainly should plan and play to win every game and if they do, they would certainly be crowned national champions. (Another blog topic?)

For the last five years, a list of the fastest growing Sunday Schools in Tennessee has been compiled. These churches are identified as one of the top 25 fastest growing churches in the small, intermediate, medium or large church category. In 2010, the study was based on three years from 2008-2010 and analyzed growth in attendance, growth in enrollment and total baptisms over a three year span. The churches in the small category grew an average of 25 over a three year period. The churches in the intermediate category grew an average of
36 in a three year period. The churches in the Medium and Large categories grew 37 and 128 over a three year period. (This years Medium category did not grow as much as in previous years)
Based on these numbers, was this church member’s dream of growing from an average of 75 to 100 in one year realistic? Adding 25 was certainly possible and if accomplished, would have almost certainly placed his church as one of the fastest growing Sunday Schools this year, but was it realistic?

My philosophy of Sunday school and church growth was impacted by the late Ron Lewis. In my first church as minister of education in Little Rock Arkansas, he led a Church Growth Conference and served as our church’s consultant. He stated that a church would double every 10 years if they just grew at 7.5% a year. In other words, a church averaging 100 in Sunday school would need to average adding 7-8 new members plus replace its churn. David Francis estimates that the average church loses 20% of its attendance every year to deaths, relocations, transfers, etc. So for a church averaging loco in Sunday school, they would have to discover 20 new attendees simply to maintain plus 7¬8 to begin the process of doubling every 10 years.
Let’s dream big, but set realistic timetables for growth. Unrealistic goals develop unrealistic expectations. Realistic goals and realistic expectations provide energy and motivation. I am sure that one day Tennessee will beat Alabama again and win a national championship, but realistically it probably will not happen this year.

From: web site. October 2011.


The above article, “Realistic Expectations for Sunday School Growth” was written by Dr. Mark Miller. The article was excerpted from

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

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.”