Steve Parr: Our teachers won't come to training

A lack of commitment on the part of your teachers can certainly be frustrating. However, you need to begin by taking an honest look at what is being offered. Is the training that is being provided worthy of their time? The triage questions can serve as a good starting point for your evaluation but you will need to focus on a qualitative analysis at this point. Consider where you are and take immediate steps to improve in the following areas:

  1. Look at the schedule. Is there a better time to provide training?
  2. Look at the content. Are you helping your teachers grow in their skills?
  3. Look at the format. Are you providing inspiration as well as instruction?
  4. Look at the delivery. Is the right person leading the training?
  5. Look at the priority. Are there competing activities interfering with the training?
  6. Look at the logistics. Are you providing childcare during the training?
  7. Look at the promotion: Do your leaders know the topic and the time well in advance?

Evaluation is painful because you may begin to recognize that the lack of commitment is connected to the lack of quality training that has been provided. The good news is that it does not require finances to make significant improvement, but it does require significant attention from a key leader to invest in quality improvement. Quality improvements will not resolve the problem entirely but can enhance the degree of participation.

Survey your leaders

You can conduct much of the evaluation yourself and you will likely know the answers to most of the questions. However, do not assume that you know what your leaders are thinking. Seek to discover what their needs are and what adjustments might enhance their commitment to participation. A survey can take the form of  personal interviews with a few key leaders, a focus group that you gather for discussion and planning, or a written survey completed by every teacher. The key is to hear the heart of your teachers and respond to their needs. Remember this key point when surveying leaders: The question is not whether training should be provided but how to provide training that enhances the skills of the teachers and motivates them to participate. Discuss or ask about timing, topics, quality, standards, options, and ideas for improvement. A survey will be of no value without a commitment to implement. Determine which ideas are applicable and map out a plan to incorporate the best ideas.

Get a quick victory

Perhaps few if any leaders have participated in your training in recent months. You may have failed to offer any training recently because of declining participation. Determine to provide a quality experience and it can serve to motivate your leaders. Begin by choosing a time with minimum if any conflicts. I once offered a breakfast or lunch option on a Sunday for a church that was struggling with participation. The church had no other activities going on prior to or following services on this particular Sunday. The teachers were invited to attend a meeting over breakfast or lunch on the designated Sunday. They were able to select one of the two options and the same training was provided at both meals. The equipping opportunity was first introduced several weeks in advance. In addition to a public announcement and promotion in written church materials, each teacher received a personal letter of invitation and a phone contact.

The letter stated that they would get a call about two weeks in advance to determine if he or she would attend the breakfast or the lunch. Notice, the letter did not ask “if he or she would attend” but “which of the two options” he or she would take advantage of. The calls were made and on the Sunday of the training every teacher was present. This took place in a church where I was told that “our teachers will not go to training.” We had a great time of equipping and the attendance added to the enthusiasm. I was new in this church and we got a quick victory. Without a lot of comment I will add that much attention was also given to the content and the presentation for this training. The effort would have been wasted if it had flopped because of poor presentation. An appreciation banquet, a Sunday morning worship experience that incorporates equipping, or a church hosted seminar with a prominent Sunday school speaker can likewise serve as ways to get a quick victory.

Train the trainable

All leaders should be expected to participate in training. Do all within your power to provide quality and to promote participation. However, the ultimate criteria for whether or not training is provided should not be based on participation but rather on responsibility. Study Ephesians 4:11-12 and you will discover that church leaders have a biblical responsibility to train the congregation in providing ministry. The implication for the congregation is a willingness to receive or participate in the equipping opportunities. In addition, the research that I have conducted over the years has consistently shown that training is the number one determining factor in whether a church does or does not have a healthy and growing Sunday school ministry. I want every teacher to participate and I want the attendance to be strong. However, I have a responsibility to do my part whether a large number of leaders attend training or whether they do not. I provide training because it is my responsibility, not because of the number of people that show up. That being said, I still do all I can to maximize participation.
What if only a few teachers are participating? What if you can only get one or two teachers to go to that training offered by your denomination, association, or parachurch group in a neighboring community or in a retreat setting? Remember that you should not penalize those who participate because others are not participating. Provide the training. Go to the training. Train the trainable and have a great time doing it. Perhaps their experience will not only have a positive affect on their ministry but on other leaders as they hear about the experiences of those who participate.



Steve Parr is part of the All Star Sunday School team and author of the new book: Sunday School that really responds.