It is August and for many churches it is the beginning of a new Sunday School for many. Teachers are looking at the people who rarely or seldom attend their class and wondering why they can't just take these people off their ministry list. Good question. I'm going to list some reasons why they need to stay on the class roll, and also give you a couple of ideas to help.
First, I tell people that we only remove people from our Sunday School roll in Oklahoma for one of four reasons:
- They pass away. Respectfully speaking, if someone passes away it is all right to remove them from the roll.
- The person joins another church.
- The enrollee makes a request to be removed from the roll.
- Finally, if they move to Texas it is automatic removal. No triplicate form required!
Okay, I was kidding about the Texas thing, but if a person has relocated it is okay to take them off your ministry list.
What is not okay, however, is purging your roll. Purging is not the same thing as cleaning your roll. Cleaning your roll means you have personally contacted (or no longer have contact information) a person on your roll and have found that they meet one of the four criteria above. By the way, cleaning does not have to be an arduous task, if your class maintains a consistent, organized system to minister to everyone on your ministry list. If you don't maintain such a list, well…
Purging is different. Purging is indiscriminately removing people from your class roll against their will with no effort to contact them. As an education minister, I have seen attendance sheets from classes with names that have been highlighted. Someone in the class has written the word "drop" by the name. Nope, sorry… not going to happen. Enrollment is one of the most misunderstood concepts of Sunday School, so let me give my thoughts about why every class should safeguard their ministry list (roll).
First, I know of very few people who were put on the roll indiscriminately. The church clerk was not bored one day and pulled out the phone book and started entering names. At some point, the person behind the name on your roll asked to join your Sunday School. No one forced them to join, they did it themselves.
Second, I have found that most people who do not attend Sunday School anymore do so because of some unmet needs. Perhaps they had a medical crisis, or lost a job, and no one from the class contacted them so they quit coming. I find that the vast majority of people who quit attending our groups do so because the class did not organize itself to minister to them.
Third, and this is what I believe is the most compelling reason: for the most part, the people we want to drop (purge) from our roll are the very people who need it the most. I am unaware of a person being dropped from the roll who attends every week with Bible in hand. No, the people we routinely want to remove are the lost people, the carnal Christians, the lonely, the social misfits; in other words, the people who need it most!
My last reason in this post against purging people from our rolls is, well it's mechanical and I'm kind of embarrassed to mention it. It is numbers. From a purely pragmatic reason, purging your roll will decrease your church's attendance. That means fewer people studying God's Word, fewer people in community, and fewer people in worship. It means, and this is important, fewer lost people in a Christian community where they can interact with God's Word, ask questions, and learn through observation. A class will always purge a lost person from their roll before they purge a deacon. (Yes, I expect some comments here.) Purging means fewer wayward Christians who have the opportunity to be encouraged toward repentance and restoration.
So what do you do? Here are my suggestions: Contact every absentee as soon as possible and encourage them. Let them know you care. Ask if you can pray for them. We have an excellent resource at the BGCO called "Contact Countdown", which is aimed at the individual class to help you minister to chronic absentees.
Organize your group for ministry. Many of our people became absentees due to a perceived lack of personal concern. Commit your group to remedy this situation.
Face it, your group may be too big. Large classes seem to encourage absenteeism and low commitment. Smaller classes tend to foster action. As a leader, do you really have the time to minister to 40-50 people a week?
Your insights about enrollment are welcome and appreciated. Leave a comment below.