Returning to Traditional Laws of Sunday School Growth

Returning to Traditional Laws of Sunday School Growth
Elmer Towns


Building a church or Sunday School is not the same as attracting a crowd. Some churches are similar to a Gospel concert or a Bible conference. These churches attract a crowd by their music or their speaker. But a New Testament church is more than an assembly of people who gather on Sunday morning. A church is like an army that must be recruited, trained, deployed, and led into battle. During the early ’70s there were many large churches that attracted a crowd primarily by bus ministry or through advertisement. Many of these churches are a shell of their former size some 10 years later. Why? Because they never got their converts into Sunday School classes where they were taught the Word of God. They never trained their laymen for ministry. They were not New Testament churches in the full meaning of the word. One of the trends in Sunday School today is expressed in the statement, “The Sunday School that has been the steeple of the church must become the foundation.” The steeple is the attracting symbol of the church.

The previously strong evangelistic arm of Sunday School which in the past attracted people to the church through campaigns, busing, etc., must be replaced by a strong teaching arm of the truth. Then the Sunday School has a foundation to reach out to the lost and keep them when it reaches them. Developing a strategy to build a church is similar to developing a strategy to build a pyramid. To lift attendance high, you must broaden the base. Like any pyramid, the higher the pyramid, the broader the base. If Sunday School has become the foundation of the church, the church will grow only as that base is broadened. Growing churches today are returning to the traditional laws of Sunday School growth and implementing these principles into their ministry.

The traditional laws of Sunday School growth were developed by an unlikely preacher who astounded his fellow pastors by building a large church. This young minister began his ministry by building an east Texas church from an average of approximately 50 or 60 to over 1,000 in attendance. People questioned how he did it, especially in light of the fact it was common knowledge he was not a great pulpiteer. It was assumed great churches were built through great preaching. Because of his success in church building, the pastor was invited to address a convention for pastors. He challenged his fellow pastors to build Sunday Schools as the foundation for building churches. He said, “if you build your Sunday Schools, they will build your churches. ” Rather than preach a traditional sermon, he shared with them the laws of Sunday School growth that had helped him build his church. He challenged them with a motto, “From 52 to 1 by 52.” In 1927, the Southern Baptist Convention was the fifty-second largest denomination in America. He urged them to a 25-year plan of action that would make them the largest denomination by 1952. Though the motto was never formally adopted, the Southern Baptist Convention took the message to heart and used the laws of Sunday School growth to build great churches and Sunday Schools.

The Law of the Teacher

The first of these laws declared there must be 1 Sunday School worker/teacher for every 10 pupils. (Authorities are not agreed whether this means only the teacher, or all support staff,) This percentage of 1 to 10 did not have to apply to every class but reflected an overall Sunday School average. Younger children need more workers, hence their classes are usually smaller with I worker for every 4 or 5 pupils. Fewer workers are necessary in adult classes, hence they can become larger with 12 or 15 pupils in a class. Still, the key is laborers. When Jesus went through the towns and villages, He saw the multitudes and was moved with compassion for them. Then Jesus urged His disciples, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38, KJV). Sunday School growth begins with the law of the teacher. To increase your Sunday School by 50 in the next few months, begin with a recruitment campaign to enlist 5 new teachers.

The Law of the Class

A second law of Sunday School growth is the law of teaching units. This law stated there should be one teaching center for every 10 pupils. This does not mean one classroom because in some rooms there are three or more teaching centers, especially among the smaller children’s departments that use the activity teaching centers. Again, the law of teaching units is a general statement that applies to the total Sunday School. Some adult classes will have 15 or 25 pupils, while children’s classes will have 4 or 5 pupils.

Organize Classes into Departments

As your Sunday School grows, organize classes into departments averaging about 40 pupils. Again, every department will not have 40 pupils, as this is a Sunday-School-wide average. Adult departments are larger and children’s departments are smaller. This is an important law, which explains one of the danger levels or plateaus of Sunday School growth.

The Law of Administration

Administration of a growing Sunday School is imperative. As the Sunday School grows in numbers, administrators must be added to give supervision for efficiency and continual outreach. This fourth law recommends that administrators represent 5 percent of the total attendance. The administrators are the grease and the oil that keep the Sunday School machinery lubricated. Since the church is both an organism and organization, the Sunday School must have organization to keep the spiritual outreach from breaking down. What is organization? It is putting the right person in the right place, to do the right thing in the right way, with the right tools, at the right time, for the right purpose.

Duties of The Sunday School Superintendent

To provide counsel and guidance to his teachers as they plan class events. 2 To enthusiastically promote the total Sunday School program and special promotions. 3 To coordinate the various activities of different classes and departments. 4 To provide leadership and direction to the Sunday School. 5 To recruit and train teachers and workers for the Sunday School. 6 To shepherd his flock, those teachers and workers who are under his authority.

The Law of the Classroom

There must be educational space for growth. This law of Sunday School growth was implied earlier with the problem of sociological strangulation. Growing Sunday Schools must have classrooms if they continue to grow. But Christian educators differ in their conclusions as to how much room there must be for Sunday School growth. The traditional laws call for 10 square feet per pupil. Those who conduct an activity-centered Sunday School, however, must have 25 square feet per pupil. Your space and building will to some degree dictate your approach to Sunday School teaching.

The Law of Organized Outreach

The Sunday School must be organized for growth. Since teaching is meeting needs, the Sunday School should be divided by ages to gather the common needs of the pupils into a unit for effective teaching. This is also referred to by Christian educators as grading the Sunday School. Grading recognizes certain natural sociological groups, which will aid the teacher in teaching his class and become the basis for adding new classes. The chart on pages 44-45 is a typical organizational structure for the Sunday School. Depending on local conditions, the suggested age and/or grade groupings might be altered slightly.


The above article, “Returning to Traditional Laws of Sunday School 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.”