Yesterday I posted some information that comes from a book I highly recommend every pastor reads, What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church by Gary McIntosh and Charles Arn. In that article I focused on some of their findings about visitor retention and how to close the back door of your church. Today, I want to look at some recommendations they have about a church's education program.
Many churches report declining Sunday school attendance figures, and this decline has been occurring for several years. Some smaller churches have nearly abandoned their education programs while others continue to limp alone with only a handful of faithful people attending each week. This problem is not limited to smaller churches. One denominational leaders told me a few years ago that some of their fastest growing churches were seeing their Sunday school attendance decline at almost the same rate as their church was growing. He was very concerned about what this meant for church leadership in the future.
The authors begin this section of the book by stating that one of every five adult education classes should have been started within the last two years. Why? Because new classes grow. The tendency in churches with declining Sunday school programs is to merge their classes. Merged classes usually inhibit growth while creating new classes encourages growth.
Many years ago before beginning my pastoral ministry we became members of a church. The young adult Sunday school class had about 40 people attending, most of them had been in the class for many years. As new members in the church it was very difficult for us to feel comfortable in that class. We didn't have the relationships the others in the class had with one another.
A year or so went by and our pastor asked me to help him start a new young adult class. We didn't ask anyone to leave the existing class although people could if they chose to. Anyone in that age range who came into the church would automatically be directed to our new class. Because it was a new class, new people felt much more comfortable coming there, and it soon grew.
The problem in many smaller churches is that it can be difficult to find a qualified teacher for its existing classes much less for a new class. However, this problem can be overcome by a church being intentional about planning to add classes and identifying persons to train to teach them. Train your teachers and leaders first and then begin to add new classes.
In the book the authors recommend that both short-term and long-term classes be offered to adults. The long-term classes would be a more traditional approach and gives people an opportunity to forge long-lasting relationships. The short-term classes may only meet for a quarter or an even shorter period of time and focus on a specific topic that is of interest to the class. At the end of the time period the class can be asked if they would like to continue meeting and study another topic. If they agree you can offer another short-term class with perhaps a different teaching leading it.
The short-term classes have some advantages. It can be a safe place for people who are not used to attending Sunday school classes. They are not making a long-term commitment and there are other new people in the class. It may be easier to get teachers who only have to commit for a short-term. This can appeal to a lot of people with the busy lifestyles many have today. It also provides an opportunity for persons to study subjects that meet their needs at that time in their life. This is especially true when the class has input into the subject matter that will be studied.
Again, the authors of this book provide a lot of practical information to help a church improve its education program. If you grow your education program you will grow both your people and your church.