Who are all these people on my roll? Whether you teach 1st and 2nd grades in Sunday School, or youth or adults, most of us probably look at the list of people in our class and wonder who a few of them are. You may even wonder occasionally why the church doesn't just take people who rarely attend off the roll permanently. After all, if they never attend… what's the harm?
Along with starting new groups, enrollment may be one of the least understood aspects of Sunday School. We recently took a look at the 100 most evangelistic churches in Oklahoma. These 100 churches included big and small; rural, suburban, and inner city. 63% of the 100 fastest growing churches surveyed had an average attendance less than 100.We discovered a direct corollary between enrollment, attendance, and baptisms. In fact, over a 5 year period (2001-2005), here are the averages of these growing churches compared to the fastest declining churches over the same period.
100 Fastest Growing 100 Fastest Declining
Enrollment +48% Enrollment -32%
Attendance +44% Attendance -25%
Baptisms +59% Baptisms -34%
Almost any time a church focuses on enrolling people in Sunday School, attendance and baptisms follow along. For most people, attendance makes sense. The more you members you have, the greater your attendance. But baptisms?
A church that is growing through enrollment will eventually run out of church members to enroll, and begin asking lost people in the community to join their Bible study. This is a vital change in attitude. We will discuss this mindset in a later post during our 31 Days of Sunday School, but for now let's understand that some great things start happening in a church when people who do not know Jesus as Savior and Lord are asked to join small group Bible studies. The most important thing that happens is that these people get to study God's Word and participate in ministry and fellowship. Barriers they may have had about the gospel are broken through and many of them will receive Christ.
Those names on the roll of your Sunday School class (my friend Ken Marler calls the roll a "ministry list", I like that) are people who are on a journey to Christ. Even the people who never attend are part of that journey. The question many of us as teachers need to ask ourselves is: Am I helping everyone on my "ministry list" discover Christ as Savior and grow in Lordship?
Here's a simple test that may help. You have a list of names in front of you. Do you see ministering to the people on this list as an obligation or an opportunity? Many people on your ministry list may have stopped attending. Many times, people can tell when the occasional phone call is made from obligation or from true compassion. You have the opportunity to be the person, the teacher, the leader who breaks through into a person's life with the message of hope, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Tip: August is when many churches are preparing for a new Sunday School year. Why not offer every single person on your ministry list (regular attenders and chronic absentees) a chance at a fresh start with God and with your group. Call every person on your ministry list once or twice this month. Don't scold absentees for not attending. You're not the Sunday School nazi! Ask them how they are doing and ask if you can pray for them about a need they may have. I am amazed that when offered compassion, how well people will respond… both to you and ultimately to the gospel.