Steve Parr: My Sunday School is dying
God is absolutely going to have to do a work in the life of your church and your Sunday school. If your situation seems to be hopeless then you are in good hands because God specializes in the impossible. He is going to work through the body of Christ. He is going to work through human instruments. Though He could have declared the Hebrews free from Egyptian bondage you will recall that he raised up a leader, Moses, to show the people the way and to be His spokesman. Perhaps you are the one that He is calling to lead your congregation from the bondage of a dying Sunday school. However, my experience and anything you read about Sunday school leadership will tell you that the Pastor plays a vital role. He must step up and provide the “hands on” leadership or intentionally partner with a passionate leader to turn the Sunday school around. Who will it be? Who will step up and lead?
A decision and a declaration has to be made
The key leaders must make an immediate decision to do whatever it takes to get the Sunday school to where it needs to be. Do not think that this is a minor point. Doing whatever it takes will mean sacrifice and will require commitment of time, flexibility, and a tenacious attitude. God has a way of stretching us when we make commitments and that can actually be painful. Do you know why? Your decision will require and result in changes. Ouch! However, if you do not change you are placing your Sunday school in hospice and waiting on the inevitable. Do not let this happen on your watch! The key leaders, including the pastor, must make a public declaration that Sunday school is too critical to the health of the congregation to continue with the downward trend. The pastor and key leaders must declare that they are personally committed to make the necessary adjustments of time, priorities, and practices and call on the remaining members to do likewise.
You better get to praying
Resurrecting the Sunday school is not a human endeavor. Leadership is provided by human instruments but it is Jesus who is “the resurrection and the life.” Do not rely on your giftedness or your leadership skills. Allow God to use them but call upon Him to work through you and commit to give Him the glory. Moses was not a mighty man. Moses was a mighty man of God. God worked through him to do miraculous things. Call the congregation to prayer. You could enlist twelve people for an hour each or go with twenty-four. Begin or conclude with a gathering of all members. Another alternative would be to take seven nights in a row to gather for an hour. The praying should never cease but you would do well to call the congregation to prayer in a dramatic and an intentional way.
Call in a specialist
You may need an expert. That is what often happens when someone is transported to an emergency room. Once an initial diagnosis is completed by a generalist, a specialist is called upon to address the specific problem. The problem has been identified in your case. Call in someone who has experience and expertise in this particular area. It may be someone from your denomination or perhaps a leader from a church that has a thriving Sunday school. “What is it going to cost?” you may ask. Imagine a family member standing beside an ambulance and asking the paramedics that question as they work on a dying patient. The more important issue is what the cost will be of failing to address the decline. Who can you call upon for assistance?
Re-establish and re-focus on the correct purpose
The purpose of Sunday school is to study the Bible. Really? If that is the case then why is your Sunday school dying? Bible study is central and it is essential to the health of the Sunday school ministry. But, surprisingly, it is not the purpose. Every Sunday school would thrive if that were the case. A healthy Sunday school is focused on engaging the congregation in fulfilling the Great Commission. Jesus spoke with the apostles and told them: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even o the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV) A healthy Sunday school ministry focuses on the lost being reached, lives being changed, and leaders being sent. When a congregation intentionally focuses on these aims the result is health and growth. If any of these are neglected the result is struggle and eventual decline. People do move and people do eventually die, therefore, failure to reach the lost will result in decline and death of a Sunday school. The lost will not be reached if the focus is not on lives being changed. Lives are changed as God’s people study and live out His word. Living it out will lead to sending and releasing leaders to serve wherever needed to accomplish Kingdom tasks. What is the purpose of your Sunday school? Have you lost focus? The time has come to re-establish and re-focus on the correct purpose. You will not see a change until you adjust the way you view the purpose of the Sunday school.
Steve Parr is part of the All Star Sunday School team and author of the new book: Sunday School that really responds.