David Francis, head of Sunday School for Lifeway, weighs in on party-driven Sunday School growth

I only teach two things:

  • You can double your class in two years or less. It only takes 40% growth, or an average class going from 10 to 14 in a year to double in two years or less. Yet, the results are amazing. A group that doubles every eighteen months can reach a thousand people in ten years. That is a fact of simple math. Fact is, there is a world-wide movement of God by which this is happening.
  • davidfrancis-498x254Parties are one of the best ways I know to grow a class. Here is the formula: invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month.

I saw it happen again last week. We had a dinner and a movie at our house last Friday night. It was great. Pot-luck dinner at 7:00, movie to follow. Curious thing, we didn’t have any new people show up at the party, but we had our all time high attendance on Sunday. I have seen it happen more times than I can count. So has David Francis.

David Francis, leader of Sunday School for Lifeway endorses the party driven approach. Here is an excerpt from his excellent (and FREE!) guide to Sunday School growth called the I-6 Plan. For details and a link to the full pdf file, as well as an excellent online learning piece, see:

www.lifeway.com/sundayschool

 

Parties: The Mark of an Inviting Class
by David Francis
used by permission

Did you mean to say fellowships or socials?  No, I mean parties!  There may not be a better tactic for creating opportunities for invitation than department or class or group parties.  Parties should be scheduled regularly.  It requires discipline and a committed leader who will take the responsibility for planning such events, typically called the Activities Leader, Fellowship Leader, or Connect Leader. I’ve never heard one of these leaders referred to as a Party Planner, but that is the essence of the job. And it is a very important role in a group serious about creating a culture of invitation.

In a church I served as Minister with Adults, we asked Sunday School groups to plan 10 parties a year, one per month except in June—when Vacation Bible School Family Night was the major Friday night event—and November—because of Thanksgiving. Christmas parties were scheduled early in December—and were some of the biggest events of our church year.  Departments and classes that included parents had their parties on the third Friday, with childcare provided for a small fee at the church. Because all the kids were there together, they had something planned for them as well, and they liked Party Night as much as their parents. We mailed out only one large postcard which listed the theme and location of each department’s party, and contact information. The card was mailed to every adult on the roll, every prospect, and every associate member serving in preschool, children, and youth classes. Most often, parties included the entire department. Sometimes, each class had its own party. Twice a year, groups could opt to use the night as a “Parents Night Out,” with couples or smaller groups enjoying a more intimate dinner or other activity. This provided a great opportunity to invite a prospective couple to get to know them better or have a spiritual conversation in a relaxed atmosphere. Most of the time, the parties were the typical fare of food, fun, and fellowship—with the food usually providing the theme.  A favorite menu that made its way among our groups (who often stole the good ideas of other groups they saw on the card!) was Mexican Stack Up. People signed up for the various ingredients: chips, ground beef, beans, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, onions, sour cream, cheese—even pecans and coconut.  Guests were asked to bring something such as a 2-liter soft drink or a bag of tortilla chips, so they could feel a part of the gathering. When the weather was nice, outdoor activities might be included.

The Party Night principle can apply to other special events as well. If your church is taking a group to a ballgame, use the event to invite a FRAN in a non-threatening environment. Most unbelievers not only need to hear the gospel of Christ, but they also need to see that Christ followers are real people. Becoming a Christian is almost always the result of socialization as well as evangelization.

 

Have you tried it? Why not follow the scriptures that say:

  • Get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner. Romans 12:13 [Living]
  • Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9 [NIV]

Follow the example of Levi, who

  • held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. Luke 5:29 [NIV]

And do what Jesus said, don’t invite just your friends:

  • Then he told the man who had invited him, “When you invite people for lunch or dinner, don’t invite only your friends. Luke 14:12a [GW]

You might “get into the habit” by doing what I heard of one class doing recently. They have a party planning party once a year. Once a year they have a party to plan out the calendar for the whole year. There is an idea.

Here is another idea. Have a class vision day once a quarter. Once a quarter, on the day that you get your new quarterly, have a vision day. Re-cast the vision for the class. Talk about what three fellowship you are going to have for the next three months. Talk about who will invite every member. Talk about who will invite every prospect. Talk about who will host the parties, who will plan the parties, and who will help clean up after the party. Get organized. Get everyone involved. Evaluate your progress from last month. Re-cast the vision.

If we will love people in common, ordinary pedestrian ways, their heart will warm up to a message about a God who loves them. If we will be their friend, their heart warms to a message about, “what a friend we have in Jesus.” It is not enough to tell them about a God who loves them, we must love them. Love at its best is often pedestrian, earthy, Diet Coke and table games, and pot-luck dinners and bowling pins and somehow in the mix of all that stuff, people feel loved. Community must precede content.

 

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