By Alan R. Wilson
In characterizing most American churches of the time, it used to be said that a church’s Sunday School attendance was half of its morning worship attendance. I never was sure how scientifically accurate “half” was, but that estimate seemed to be in the ballpark. Today I tell people that the numbers are probably worse and that Sunday School ministry is seriously declining across America. But does it have to be that way?
A big fan of Sunday School for all ages, I believe it has great value, because it provides
- Bible study and learning at each age level,
- intimate class settings in which students can get to know each other well,
- opportunities to ask questions and participate in discussions,
- motivation to pray for each other, and
- a comprehensive approach to learning while studying the Old and New Testaments, Biblical topics, and doctrine.
This is not an exhaustive list of the benefits of Sunday School, but these advantages are good to consider. Sunday School works and can be an effective and growing program in your church—strengthening learning, fellowship, and attendance.
If your Sunday School attendance is declining or flatlining, consider taking the following five practical, corrective actions to see attendance increase.
Get Your Church’s Bulk Mailing List
Many years ago I was asked to start a Sunday School class for young adults. The pastor gave me a classroom, chairs, and a chalkboard. The only thing missing was the learners. So I asked myself, Where do I find young adults to attend this new class?
I asked the church secretary for our church’s bulk mailing list, which included a long list of names. Carefully I noted who might fit into my class’s age group. Then one by one I contacted couples and singles and invited them to the new class. Many were not attending a Sunday School class but desired to be with others their age. They just needed to be asked.
It didn’t take long before we had a nice size class. The students had been right within reach, but I still had to find them. In building your own class, look especially for the occasional attenders on the fringe of your church’s ministry.
Connect the Dots
To help make Sunday School a priority, a church needs to promote Sunday School in other ministries of that church. Make sure your women’s Bible studies, men’s Bible studies, Vacation Bible School, youth ministry, and morning worship service occasionally promote Sunday School.
If church leaders think Sunday School is important, this attitude will rub off on others, moving the whole congregation to value Sunday School.
Challenge Your Students
Challenge your students to invite others. This might seem simplistic, but think this one through. All teachers—of children, youth, and adults—should talk to their classes about inviting others their age to attend. Let your class know that you want it to grow. Students should know that their relatives, friends, schoolmates, coworkers, and neighbors are all welcome to attend their class.
When students bring friends, teachers need to be well schooled in proper follow-up of these guests. Your church might consider gifting visitors a Bible, pen, and gospel tract or a welcome bag containing age-appropriate information about your church.
Advertise What You’re Teaching
How aggressive you get with advertising your Sunday School is up to you. In advertising what you’re teaching, identify subjects covered or books of the Bible taught. Give your teaching a catchy title that will grab the attention of potential students.
Consider placing a full-page ad in a local paper. While some papers are free to readers, the advertisement will cost you.
However, today many people looking for a church will seek one out online. So advertise your Sunday School—with its catchy titles—not only in the bulletin but also on your church’s website or social media venue.
Plan a Throwback to the Good Ole Days
Teachers used to plan events for their Sunday School classes, but today most Sunday Schools have strayed from this approach. I’m not talking about an annual Sunday School picnic. I’m referring to individual classes occasionally holding events outside of class.
It’s always easier to invite friends to a Sunday School class’s fun activity rather than a Sunday School class itself. By holding events, teachers can get to know students better and can reach new students. Planning events takes extra dedication from teachers, but the potential growth is worth the effort.
My hope is that churches see the great value of Sunday School and see its effectiveness in teaching and reaching students. Remember the challenge in the book of Hebrews: “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24–25).
Alan R. Wilson is the U.S. field coordinator for Regular Baptist Press.