Recognizing Danger Levels of Growth
How large is the typical American church? Statistically, the average American church has 87 people attending its Sunday morning worship service. A typical Sunday School runs 24 percent less than the morning service. This means the average Sunday School has about 66 in attendance on a typical Sunday. A study of Southern Baptist churches concluded the average attendance in their Sunday Schools was 64.7, almost 65 in attendance on a typical Sunday. (Most people think the Sunday School is larger but they forget the low attendance on holidays and summer pulls the average down.)
THE CLASS SUNDAY SCHOOL
Sunday Schools First Plateau: 100-150 The first danger level or plateau of Sunday School growth comes when attendance reaches beyond the average and stops growing at 100-150. This type of Sunday School is called the “one-room” Sunday School or the class Sunday School. That is because everything is organized around individual classes, or they meet in the auditorium (one room) for opening exercises or opening worship. Just like a houseplant will outgrow the pot in which it was planted as it grows, so the number of pupils will outgrow the facilities and organizational structure as it grows. If the Sunday School is not reorganized to take care of more pupils, both the plant and Sunday School will become “root bound” and begin to die without growth. A root-bound plant chokes on its own roots.
THE ONE-ROOM SUNDAY SCHOOL
Cradle roll (nursery) Toddlers Preschool Primary (first grade) Primary (second and third grade) Junior Boys Junior Girls Young Teens (Junior High or Middle School) High School College and Career Couples Class Men’s Class Women’s Class Senior Saints (men) Senior Saints (women)
Why do Sunday Schools get “root bound’ at the 100-150 plateau? There are three primary reasons. First, they simply run out of space or classrooms. New classes cannot be started for growth because there is no space. Remember the problem of sociological strangulation? A building is full when it is about 80 percent full. This means buildings which can seat 125-200 people comfortably will get root bound as they approach this first danger level. The second reason for this natural plateau in growth is related to the basic management principle of span and direction. One manager should never have more than 7 people reporting to him. A superintendent cannot give effective direction, nor take responsibility for more than this amount of workers. By the time the class Sunday School has reached 100- 150, the Sunday School superintendent is probably trying to manage 10 to 15 teachers and everyone begins to wonder why so many details are falling between the cracks. A third reason for this danger level of 100 to 150 is that when the average Sunday School reaches this level, the leaders usually cannot think of other new classes to begin. The following 15 classes multiplied by 1 0 represents the upper danger level of Sunday School growth. (This division is not necessarily recommended but usually has evolved in the class or one-room Sunday School.) This danger level is perhaps the most serious simply because it is the one which so many churches face in their present situation. There are steps that can be taken to break the “100” danger level. The Sunday School should probably consider changing its organizational structure to a departmentally organized Sunday School. Also, the church may need to find more room to grow. But the real key to breaking this danger level is to begin new classes.
HOW TO BREAK THE 100-150 BARRIER
1. Begin new classes.
2. Add additional administrators.
3. Find additional space for new classrooms (perhaps off campus).
4. Consider going to a split-level Sunday School.
5. Change large classes taught by one teacher into a teamteaching situation with several teachers.
6. Organize large classes or team-taught classes into a department.
7. Appoint one teacher as a departmental superintendent to supervise/coordinate the other teachers.
HOW TO BEGIN A NEW CLASS
STEP 32: Recruit a Teacher The first step in beginning a new class is to find and recruit a teacher. Remember, you are looking for more than a person with teaching skills. You are looking for someone to lead the class. A spirit-filled Sunday School teacher can revitalize a class and ultimately a church. Whenever God did something significant in Scripture, He began first by calling out a person who would be the instrument by which He would accomplish His purpose. When He chose to create a race, He began with Adam. When He later had to destroy that race for its sin, He found Noah through whom He could preserve that which was worth saving. When He wanted a witness to the Gentile nations, there was an Abraham. When Israel was to be delivered from the land of Egypt, God found a Moses. As Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, a general named Joshua was charged with the responsibility of conquest. Later there would be other judges, kings, and prophets whom God would raise up as He prepared to do new things in Israel. In the New Testament, the pattern remained the same. There was a John “sent by God” to be the forerunner to the Messiah. Jesus chose to devote the majority of His ministry in investing His life into the lives of the Twelve who carried His message to the world. On the Day of Pentecost, there was a preacher named Peter. Before the Sanhedrin, there was Stephen. In Samaria, there was Philip. In other cities there would be Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, men of God sent by God to do the work of God. In the history of the church since then, God has apparently not changed His strategy. In Germany, God’s man was Luther. In France, it was Calvin. There was Zwingli in the Swiss Canton of Zurich, Knox in the Highlands of Scotland, Simons in the lowlands of Holland, and men with names like Hus, Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Wesley in the Isle of England. Their times and cultures, and to some extent even their theologies, were different, but each was God’s man in God’s place doing God’s work at God’s time. There is no reason today to suspect God has changed this strategy which has worked so well for so long. One of the most difficult tasks in leadership is recruiting teachers. First, don’t try to talk people into teaching who don’t have the spiritual gift of teaching. Begin by emphasizing that every person has a gift and should be using his gift for service. Second, give a spiritual gift inventory to help people discover their gift. Then recruit those with the spiritual gift of teaching for the task.
RECRUIT TEACHERS 1 Magnify the office. 2 Challenge them to be shepherds of people, rather than dispensers of facts. 3 Challenge them with the role model of other successful teachers. 4 Recruit based on spiritual gifts. 5 Go personally to prospective teachers. 6 Give them a written job description (what I am to do) and goals (what I am to accomplish). 7 Promise them training and supervision. 8 Ask them to pray about the challenge.
Get Seed Members The second step in beginning a new class is to get some seed members to help the new teacher get the class started. Some times seed members come from dividing a class. Do not divide a class too often because this tends to discourage members who rebuild their class only to be divided again. It is difficult to begin a new class with just a teacher. When the teacher goes into an empty room, he can become discouraged and quit. However, if he has a core of people to help him build the class, he is less likely to get discouraged.
Find a Room The biggest problem for some churches in beginning a new class is finding a room for the class. This problem is not insurmountable, even if you are already using the pastor’s study and several halls and Sunday School buses in the parking lot. More and more Sunday School classes are meeting off campus than ever before. Classes are meeting in homes, schools, restaurants, and many other nontraditional settings. Don Crane, pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Richmond Virginia, began meeting with 2 single adults in a booth in a restaurant for Sunday morning breakfast and Bible study. They grew into 35 single adults meeting in a side room of the restaurant. Finding room for a new class does not always mean a new building program.
Expand the Organization To begin new classes, leaders need to get others in the church to accept their existence. Expansion begins by accepting the goal and contribution of new classes and supporting them. If the new class is an open class, then other teachers may view it as a threat either to take away members or be in competition to recruit Potential members.
SUGGESTIONS FOR FINDING NEW MEMBERS
FOR THE NEW CLASS
1. Gather a prospect list of F.R.A.N.s from seed members.
2. Write a newsletter giving information on the new class (goals, location, officers, first lesson series, names of seed members).
3. Appoint an outreach leader to be responsible for leading the class to contact prospects.
4. Announcements in the church should feature the outreach potential of the class, not just its teaching potential. As a result, members may have prospects for the new class, or they may want to join the class.
Next, expand by appointing class officers for the new class to help in reaching others with the Gospel. Finally, the ushers, secretaries, and other administrators in the Sunday School will need to know of the existence of the new class and how it fits into the scheme of things.
Go After People Ultimately, beginning a new class will involve going out after new people. As noted earlier, there is only one way to build a church. That way is through reaching new members. Within that one way, there are many strategies and steps.
The above article, “Recognizing Danger Levels of Growth” was written by Elmer Towns. The article was excerpted from 154 Steps to Revitalize Your Sunday School by Elmer Towns. Liberty Press. January 2017.
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.”