What Makes a Sunday School Grow?

What Makes a Sunday School Grow?
By Josh Hunt

I asked more than a thousand Sunday school and small group leaders 13 questions designed to help us understand what makes groups grow.


Things That Don’t Matter Much

I asked how teachers spent their time-on people inside the class or outside. I would have predicted that spending more time on people outside the class was a significant predictor of whether the class was growing. Turns out, I was wrong. In general, teachers who spend more time on people outside the class than people inside the class were only 4 percent less likely to be growing their class.

Also unimportant was the level at which groups embrace the vision of growing and dividing. This was a real shocker to me. There was almost no difference (2 percent) in the likelihood of growth between groups that wanted to grow and groups that rejected the idea.

Also, unimportant to growth was organization. Teachers who reported high organizational ability were only 7 percent more likely to be growing than those who reported low organizational skill.


Things That Matter A Little

What is more important, time spent on the group or time spent on the lesson? The results show the need for balance. Spending time with students is a predictor of the growth of a class. However, teachers who spend more time with students than they do on the lesson are only 34 percent more likely to be growing than those who spend more time on the lesson than they spend with their students.

I have a guess as to why this is true. People who spend more time on the lesson are more likely to be better teachers. People like to hear good teaching. You can grow a class on either strong teaching skills or strong people skills.

The purpose of the group is also important to growth. Groups that saw their purpose as more about reaching to outsiders than growing spiritually were 53 percent more likely to be growing than those who saw their purpose primarily about growing spiritually.

Truth is, you can’t grow close to God without caring about what he cares about-the lost. A group that is on mission with God in growing and reaching is not only more effective growing and reaching; they are also more effective at getting people closer to God.

Teaching ability is another important growth factor. Teachers that are self-described as 4 or 5 star teachers, on a 1 to 5 scale, are 68 percent more likely to report they are growing than those who are self-described as 1 or 2 star teachers.

Groups that visit one another also tend to grow. Regular participation in visitation was a strong positive predictor of growth. Teachers who regularly participate in visitation are 78 percent more likely to be growing compared with those who never or almost never participate.


Things That Matter Most

Your church groups are twice as likely (or more) to grow by practicing the following:

1.) Fellowship
I asked church group leaders how many informal get-togethers they have in a year. Groups that have nine or more fellowships a year are twice as likely (104 percent) to be growing compared with groups that have one fellowship a quarter or less. Double the number of parties; double the chance of growing.

2.) Involve more leaders
Groups that have lots of people involved in ministry are more than twice as likely to grow as those with small teams. People who have a leadership team of three or more are 115 percent more likely to report that they are growing than those with only one or two leaders.

3.) People skills
Teachers with good people skills were two-and-a-halftimes (147 percent) more likely to be growing than those with bad people skills. People skills matter more than participation in visitation, how many parties you have or don’t have, how you spend your time, what your purpose is, or how many people you have on your team helping you ..

What are good people skills? Well, if you want to get along well with people, it helps to like them-really like them. Not pretend to like them. Not act like you like them. Really like them. Think kind thoughts about them. Think kindly of them. Cultivate a heart that loves them.

Tone also matters. Proverbs 15:1 says that a soft answer turns away wrath. Notice it doesn’t say a right answer. It says a soft answer. Simple as it sounds, most of us would get along with people better if we just used a softer tone.

The opposite is also true. A loud, harsh, rude, shrill, ugly tone is going to bring bad results, even if you are thinking kind thoughts. The tone of your voice has just about as much to do with the quality of your relationships as any other single factor. If you would get along well with others, cultivate the habit of using a kind, gracious tone.
Boundaries must be respected as well. We need to ask; not assume. We need to invite; not order. We need to offer; not demand. We need to respect the fact that other people are other people. They are not extensions of us.

Love covers a multitude of sin. If you are constantly being nice and courteous and thoughtful and complementary, and then you do something that irritates me, I can deal with it. But, if you are constantly being rude or short or insensitive, maybe I can’t deal with it. Constantly lavish people with kind, thoughtful words and deeds. When you do this, you build up a credit so that when you do mess up, people can deal with it.

If people skills are as important to growth as our survey reveals, we ought to spend a good deal of time cultivating better people skills. We ought to make a lifelong habit of getting better at dealing with people. Teacher training ought to be largely about developing better people skills.


This article “What Makes a Sunday School Grow?” by Josh Hunt is excerpted from Church Central Newsletter, September 3, 2008.