David Francis is the new Director of Sunday School for Lifeway Christian Resources. This position has not existed for several years. It was previously held by Harry Piland.
I had a long conversation with David last week, along with Gary Hauk (Publishing) and Craig Kendall (Director of the new www.mybiblestudy.com --opening soon!)
David provided a partial answer to a question that occupies much of my thinking. I am absolutely convinced that groups can double every two years or less. I am absolutely convinced that the party-driven strategy I teach will work. I am absolutely convinced that if groups do double every two years or less, it will result in phenomenal growth.
Here is the $64 question: why isn't it happening already? Why doesn't it happen routinely? And what can churches do on a church wide basis to facilitate this happening?
I have done a good deal of thinking on this and have produced three works that help to answer this question, but I am still looking for more answers. Because I am not in a local church, I don't have the advantage of having a "lab" to experiment. Thus, I am always looking for proven, tested ideas that really work in real churches. David gave me another great idea that has been tested on the anvil of experience.
The works I have produced thus far that address this issues are:
When David was on Staff at First Baptist Garland, TX, they employed a church-wide party night nearly every month. They asked every group to plan a party. They created a "party" kind of atmosphere (videos, games, popcorn, play in the gym. Childcare was provided at the church. It occurs to me it would be a great idea to work with the youth ministry to do parties the same night in a church-wide, unified effort. A unified flyer was sent out to the whole church listing each class and where and when their party would be. In addition to just getting the information out, this system provided a built-in public accountability. If you didn't do a fellowship, everyone would know it.
This idea works well under step 4 of my 8 step plan to help groups double. The acrostic GASOLINE is a play on the old ad, "Put a TIGER in your tank. If you want to develop TIGERs, you need to do eight things:
Give them a dream
Nothing happens until first a dream. If you are going to see groups double, you are going to have to dream it into existence. Jesus said it will be done for you according to your faith. God chooses faith as the conduit through which he flows his power. Not righteousness. Not niceness. Faith. People who believe great things in God will see great things from God. Dream great dreams. Make no small plans. "The great need of the hour is for people who believe that God is God and he can fulfill every promise He ever made." (Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators.)
Dreams placed on a calendar are called goals. Every church needs one. Does your church have one? Could I wake up one of your teachers in the middle of the night and say, "What is your church's goal?" Could they tell me? Someone has said, "Success is all about goal setting; the rest is just commentary." Paul spoke often about goals in such language as, "I press toward the mark."
In addition to having a dream, you need to communicate the dream. Communicate it over and over and over.
Ask them to help
I am a full-time Sunday School trainer and I want to say that I think training is overrated. Recruiting is under-rated. Who you recruit is far more important than how you train them. Training is important, we will get to that next, but recruiting is even more important. Training can move a 5 to a 7 or a 7 to a 9. It will never move a 3 to a 10. Only God can create talent. If you recruit the right people, growing a Sunday School starts to look easy. Get the wrong people, and you can't train enough to fix the problem. We don't have time to get into it here, but on the video, I outline specific qualities that we are looking for in people that can double groups.
Show them how
Assuming we have the right people on the team, training can help. I believe in pastor-led, semester-by-semester training. The pastor does not actually have to lead the training; he needs to lead by example. This is a group of leaders. The pastor can assign out the actual teaching to the teachers. Let the teachers take turns teaching. The pastor needs to say to the teachers, "I love teaching. I love preaching. I love learning about teaching and preaching. I am looking forward to going through Disciplemaking Teachers. Come with me, let's learn together how be better communicators."
I would do this on a semester by semester basis. Signing up for weekly workers meetings for the rest our your life does not sound as interesting as committing to a one semester class. From the viewpoint of the staff, it is an ongoing class, but, from the viewpoint of the teacher, it is a semester by semester class.
Organize the overall affairs of the church
Do you know what really keeps churches from growing? Minutia. Details. Life. A thousand different things. It doesn't take much to distract people from focusing on the task of doubling. The staff's job is to manage the overall affairs of the church so that things run smoothly and nothing distracts from the task of doubling groups. Your job is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Love them silly
Groups do best in a context where they feel they are thoroughally loved. If we are frustrated that they are not doubling and begin to get frustrated with them, a bad cycle is likely to follow. People don't respond well because they don't feel loved. When they don't respond well, they don't do well. Sometimes, the staff will get more frustrated with them and the cycle continues.
Doubling churches find a way to love their teachers and make them feel thoroughally loved. They call, keep up with, listen to, provide chalk for, organize teacher appreciation banquets, and spend money on teachers.
Incubate new groups
The iron law of Sunday School says you grow a Sunday School by doubling the number of groups, not by doubling the size of each group. The size of each group stays more or less constant. Doubling is not about going from 10 to 20; it is about going from one group to two.
Notice what is working
The greatest management principle in the world is this: whatever gets rewarded gets done. We need to have some system of keeping score. We need some way of publicly displaying which classes are doubling. The scoreboard turns an informal pick-up game into a rigorous, sweaty competition.
Catch them doing something right, then get a big spotlight on those people. The Bible says, "Honor those who work hard among you."
Exemplify what you want to see happen
Speed of the leader; speed of the team. We would never expect Sunday School leaders to do visitation unless the pastor and staff do. We should never expect Sunday School teachers to do a party driven strategy unless the pastor and staff do so.
The leader must embody the vision. Not just talk about it. The leader must do it. The leader must have people into his home. "Get in the habit of inviting guests home for dinner," the scripture says.
What ideas do you have? What obstacles do you see in making the double your class plan work? I would love to hear from you. If you have ideas for making the double your class strategy work, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org