I’m frequently asked what should be done to launch small groups in churches where there is an existing adult Sunday school program. Is it an issue? Yes. Does it complicate the project? Only slightly. Is there a solution? Absolutely!
Here is my prescription:
First, you’ll need to gather some important information. Three questions will provide a more accurate understanding of the situation. Here they are:
- What is your average adult worship service attendance? Note, be sure you’re arriving at your adult attendance.
- What was your Easter adult worship service attendance? This is an important number because Easter (and perhaps Christmas Eve) is the weekend when everyone shows up. Although first time guests make up some percentage of Easter attendance, the real reason it is your high attendance day is that everyone comes on one Sunday. That’s an important number to note because it forces you to think about the real number who need to be connected. FYI…my friend Brett refers to this number as your sheepfold.
- What is your average attendance in your adult Sunday School?
Why these three questions? They should give you an idea about the percentage of your adults that are NOT connected to an adult Sunday School class.
Here’s the equation: Avg Adult SS Attendance / Easter Adult Attendance = % of Adults Connected. Important note: Easter Adult Attendance – Avg Adult SS Attendance / Easter Adult Attendance = % of Unconnected Adults (See Luke 15:1-7 for more information)
Next, survey your adult Sunday school department or class leadership to find out a very specific detail. Here is the question: Who was the last person who became a regular attendee in your class who didn’t come straight from another Sunday school class somewhere else? Why ask this question? Adults who are not currently giving you 2 1/2 to 3 hours on Sunday are very unlikely to begin. I’ve been asking this question for the last 4 years and have yet to discover a single person who began attending a Sunday school class once they were already an adult. At the same time, across the country there is increasing evidence that a neighbor is much more likely to walk across the street to come to a group meeting in your home than to walk into an unknown lobby in an auditorium.
Recognize that in order to engage the unconnected members and attendees in your congregation you will need to try a new thing. Two important quotes illustrate this point:
“Your ministry is perfectly designed to give you the results you are currently getting.” Andy Stanley (If you’re only engaging 50% of your adults right now…more of the same will not get the unconnected into the game.)
“The significant problems we face won’t be solved by the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Albert Einstein (Moving to a new place will require doing new things.)
Is this a pain-free prescription? No. However, if you believe that life-on-life is where life-change happens…reluctance to help the unconnected for fear of upsetting the status quo is irresponsible.
Want more specific help? Take a look at my four part series: How to Build a Small Group Ministry in a Church with a Sunday School Culture.