Mark North took careful aim at the large red target attached to the bright blue dunk tank. Reminiscent of his long ago baseball days, he let the soft ball fly and it smacked the metal plate loudly, dropping the loud-mouthed clown in overalls into the water.
“Yes!” he cried and looked down at his daughter with a grin. She laughed as well. They picked up their prize and moved on to the next booth. Here a middle-age lady was bantering back and forth with several large puppets, keeping the group of children raptly entertained. His daughter sat down to watch and Mark wandered over to the church porch steps where Elder Vernon Baker sat in a lawn chair, Diet Coke firmly in hand, watching the goings-on.
“Quite a block-party you have going here, Elder,” Mark said, looking across the wide parking lot at the many booths and inflatable children’s rides. Hundreds of children and adults enjoyed themselves as a country band sang gospel songs on a flat-bed trailer.
“Yes, the Sunday school department worked hard this year. They hoped to break the attendance record we set last year. It looks like they have done it, too. So far over 400 have attended, not including church members. That’s going to give us a lot of contacts and a real boost to our bus ministry. I think my home Bible study director told me that, so far, 37 people checked the ‘interested in a home Bible study’ box on the registration card. It will take us a while, but we will make a follow-up visit to the address on each card and hopefully get even more.”
“Wow! That’s great!” Pastor North said. “As you know we had our block party in the spring and had about half that number show up. But for our size church, it was all we could handle. We started about eighteen Bible studies and added several dozen kids to our Bus Ministry. Two families are now coming to church regularly and we have already baptized a husband and wife from one of the Bible studies. I think these types of events are great for a church.”
Elder Baker nodded and smiled. Across the parking lot a horn sounded to start the next three-legged race. Both pastors sat watching the fun and games unfold.
Mark broke the silence. “Do you mind if I ask a question, Elder?”
“Not at all.”
“You have a really great Sunday school team at your church. To be honest, I pretty much planned our block-party myself, with only a little help from my Sunday school leader. It was a lot of work. I long for the day that I will have a Sunday school ministry team like yours. What did you do to get your Sunday school department where it is today?”
Sunday School Excellence
Elder Baker thought for a moment before answering. “Mark, as you know, Sunday school is one of the four key evangelism ministries that I recommend every church focus upon. It has been proven to be one of our most successful methods of growth. It provides dozens of opportunities each year for special Sunday events – just like this one – that attracts large numbers of visitors – and as you know, visitors are the key to growth. 100% of your new converts will come from your visitors. Sunday school also provides our best opportunities for church member involvement: teachers, class assistants, secretaries, keyboard players, puppet crews, Super Church team, bus captains and drivers, and so on. So I put a strong emphasis on developing a successful Sunday school. It has taken years, but it’s been worth it. It is by far one of our most successful outreach programs.
“Over the years I have identified twelve things that have helped our Sunday school to grow and mature. I recall them clearly because I have taught them at several Sunday school conferences over the years. You got your notebook, Mark? Good. Write these down:
The first is Sunday morning teacher’s prayer. We ask all our Sunday school staff to come forty-five minutes early for prayer. We meet in the prayer room. I start the meeting promptly with group worship. We take a few prayer requests, and then have a season of about fifteen minutes prayer. I then ask them to stand and worship; I challenge and encourage them, make an announcement or two, and dismiss them to their classes. They are in their rooms about 20 minutes before the start of Sunday school. I can’t tell you how much this has helped. It was tough to get started, but it sets the tone for a spiritual and evangelistic Sunday school hour.
The next is good absentee and visitor follow-up. By its very nature, Sunday school has a lot of turnover. Kids come and go. But that doesn’t mean that we should neglect this vital responsibility. Every child visitor should get a welcome card and a phone call to the parents to express how much we enjoyed the child in class and encouraging their return. The child came for the block-party. They will keep coming if the parents feel it’s important to their child’s spiritual development. The same hold’s true for absentees. Nothing will impress the parents and kids more then being contacted when they miss. The teachers must be motivated to do this weekly.
Teacher Training is also essential. Each year we have an all day Saturday seminar for all our teachers. We cover the basics of good teaching, and also try to introduce new methods and ideas for creative instruction. Teachers can easily fall into ruts. Their classes become boring and dry. It’s my responsibility as Pastor to keep this from happening. Every couple of years I try to bring in a professional for this seminar. They always infuse a fresh excitement into the Sunday school program.
After that I stress regular staff meetings. I meet with the teachers quarterly on an off-church night. We discuss the past quarter’s activities and goals and we plan the next quarter’s activities. If we fell short on attendance or evangelism goals, we try to introduce a plan to strengthen that area. We also solve any problems and answer all questions. Occasionally we offer some additional training as well.
I also encourage the keeping of accurate records. Our Sunday school secretary is careful to record attendance, offerings, visitors, bus rider attendance, and salvation results. We have a large line-graph in the Sunday school office where we record attendance. There is also a line on this graph showing our attendance goal for the year. We also keep a wall chart showing the other record totals. I want to be able to walk in and, at a glance, see if we are trending upwards or downwards. We carry these charts to the quarterly meetings. I feel it’s important that we all stay focused on the goals that God has given us for the year.
At the end of the year we have a Sunday school banquet. Our staff really looks forward to this event each year. Here we really brag on their accomplishments, show a video slide presentation of the year’s activities, including photos of kids that were baptized and teachers that were given awards the previous year. Awards are an important part of this event. We give a plaque for ‘Teacher of the Year’ and ‘Bus Worker of the Year.’ We give out small trophies to each teacher that reached their class attendance goals and evangelism goals – they like showing and displaying these in their classrooms. We give a gold medallion to every teacher that reached our Sunday school ‘Standard of Excellence.’ Then we hand out lots of certificates of appreciation. Everyone leaves with something.”
Mark held up his hand. “Hold on, Elder. You’re getting ahead of me. I can’t write that fast!” Brother Baker paused as Mark continued to write, and then looked up. “Now, what’s this ‘Standard of Excellence’ you mentioned? I’ve not heard of that before.”
“That was my next point – we use ‘Aim For Excellence’ to motivate our teachers. Aim for Excellence is a simple program that allows the teachers to give themselves points each week for faithfulness in the basics of good teaching. They earn points for attending teacher’s prayer, being on time to their class, doing absentee and visitor follow-up, praying for their students, having their lesson prepared, and cleaning their classrooms. These points add up to 100. If they fail in one area, they earn fewer points. We then set a basic ‘Standard of Excellence’ point level. Each month, the teachers that reach this level of points are recognized in the bulletin, with power-point announcements, and over the pulpit. The teachers that fall short, they are not punished, but neither are they recognized. So it’s 100% positive motivation. Teachers can also earn extra points for reaching class attendance goals. It’s been a great way to motive our teachers and they love the positive recognition.”
Sunday School Growth
Mark was nodding his head. “That is so cool! I love it. Okay, we are on point seven. You have five more?”
“Yes. These first seven are focused upon Sunday school excellence. The final five all deal with Sunday school growth.
You need to set some good Sunday school goals each year. You should have an attendance goal. This number should be broken down into quarterly goals and even monthly goals. If your Sunday school attendance is not growing, your church membership is most likely not growing either. We also set attendance goals for each individual Sunday school class. If the classes reach their goals, the Sunday school as a whole will reach their goal also. Each bus and van has an attendance goal. As you know, we have five buses and two vans that run every Sunday bringing kids from all over the city.
We plan a number of attendance promotions each year. This block party each summer is one of them. We also have a big Easter drama, a Pentecost Sunday Tent Revival, Friend Day in the fall, and our Christmas program. These are our five big ones. But we also do smaller promotions every few weeks: Hotdog Sunday, Snow cone Sunday, Clown Sunday, Candy Rains, Lucky Bucks, and so on. This helps our bus ministry and the church kids love it too. We are determined to have the most exciting Sunday school in town.
We also have a Monthly Holy Ghost Sunday. Each month we have a massive ‘Super Church’ where the emphasis is on the altar call. If we are going to bring children on our buses whose parents don’t attend, we had better provide opportunities for those kids to receive the Holy Ghost and to be baptized. The normal Sunday school hour doesn’t really provide enough time for this. So we devote one Sunday a month to Super Church. We have kids receive the Holy Ghost almost every time we do it. We then visit the parents and ask permission for the child to be baptized. Often this results in setting up a home Bible study in the home.
Next we utilize the concepts of “Parentreach” in our bus and van ministry. I hear pastors complain that bus ministry is a waste of money – I beg to differ. It’s one of our most successful outreach tools. We regularly win both children and parents. But you have to be proactive in your approach. Bus and van ministry requires weekly visitation to the homes. Every week we stress to our bus workers: ‘You are not visiting the homes to see little Joey. If you do, fine – give him a piece of candy and encourage him to be ready on time. But the reason you are knocking on that door is to talk to Mr. or Mrs. Smith. We find out – by quizzing the kids – what the parents enjoy. Jobs, hobbies, sports – you name it. That’s what we talk about. People love talking about their passions. Get on the right subject and they will talk for hours. So we talk. We build relationships and friendships. We get to know them. Then, once we have won a friend, we try to win a soul. We invite them to church, to revivals, to special Sunday school programs. We ask for home Bible studies, we visit them in the hospital, we pray for special needs. This takes time; but it’s worth it. Every year we win several families from our bus and van ministry.
The last is Children’s Crusades and Youth Camps. Every year I bring in a good Children’s evangelist and we have a kid’s revival. We do this during the summer. We run the buses every night of the crusade. We push for the parents to come. We give out some really great prizes if the kids can get mom and dad to come out. Every year we have dozens of kids get the Holy Ghost and parents too! My church really looks forward to it, because these children’s evangelists are crazy-funny. We have a blast! Then every spring we take up several offerings to give scholarships for selected bus kids to attend Youth Camp. They almost always come back with the Holy Ghost. This past month we sent 23 kids to youth camp from our bus / van ministry. Sixteen received the Holy Ghost. How great is that?
The elder pastor paused and sighed, then took out his handkerchief to wipe his eyes. Mark had not noticed that tears were trickling down the old gentleman’s cheeks. With a tremble in his voice, the old pastor continued. “Mark, I love these kids, and I think kids are God’s greatest passion too. Jesus said, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 19:14). You hear me well: God will pour out revival upon any church that makes a special effort to see children saved.”
Watching the old man weep, Mark felt a lump rise in his throat as well. The two pastors sat for a long time, looking out over the parking lot at the children engaged in good, clean fun. Over on the flatbed trailer, the singing stopped and a voice called everyone to come gather around for something special.
“Come, my friend,” Elder Baker said as he stood to his feet. “My youth leader is getting ready to preach. We have the portable baptismal tank set up. Let’s go have church!”
Mark nodded. He stood with a renewed conviction in his heart. When he got back home, his Sunday school department was fixing to have revival too.
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