Steve Parr: Five things to do when your Sunday School is in a slump

Take the seasons into consideration
Do not think it unusual to occasionally go through seasonal slumps. You may be doing many things correctly and still be affected by the various seasons. Sunday school attendance tends to go through a cycle each year. Churches ordinarily launch new groups, reorganize, and promote children and students around August or September when school is back in session for the children. Attendance tends to surge a bit from the summer months because people are home from summer vacations and the emphasis on the organizational changes and adjustments serve to elevate the Sunday school. A holiday weekend in November followed by two holiday weekends in December will ordinarily bring a seasonal slump. Although you have a couple of great Sundays, the holiday weekends can pull the average attendance for the month down significantly. The attendance tends to bounce back once the holidays are over and as everyone resolves to do better in the new-year. Once the children have their spring breaks and your members begin their summer vacations, the attendance may tend to slump again. What do you do when you encounter these seasonal slumps?

Focus on the things that you can control
Should we cancel the holidays? Certainly not! Holidays are great for celebration, for family gatherings, and for times of respite between the ordinary routines of life. No one should be begrudged for taking time to be with family or to take time away to refresh and relax for a few days. On one hand we have a desire to maximize participation in Bible study and worship, and on the other hand we can appreciate the value of holidays and vacations.

What do you do when the attendance falls off? Remember during those seasons to focus on the things that you have control of. You may not have control of the total number of people that attend on a given Sunday. But, consider the following: Do you have control of whether you participate in or provide training? Do you have control over whether you contact and minister to those on your Sunday school roll in a given week? Do you have control over whether or not you participate in outreach? Identify a new prospect? Invest in a leader? Enroll someone else in your group? The list goes on and on. Be faithful to invest in those things that you do have control over which in turn have an affect on the attendance. You may not see the results on the next Sunday but you will see them in time as members return from their holiday and seasonal journeys. In addition, the slumps can be minimized if you invest in those practices that can make a difference.

Don’t complain to the faithful about the unfaithful
Understanding seasonal patterns can serve to minimize frustration when attendance falls off. People have a variety of ways that they respond to and communicate their disappointments. A word of caution is appropriate at this point. Consider these pubic statements from various Sunday school leaders or pastors:

  • “I wish our members were more committed.”
  • “People would be here if they loved Jesus more!”
  • “I don’t know where everyone is at today.”
  • “Our attendance is horrible today.”

These statements may or may not be true. The problem is that you are complaining to the
wrong people. It is not the fault of the people who are present that there are people who are absent. I once saw a bumper sticker that said “The beatings will continue until morale improves!” You will find that volunteers (and people that attend church do so voluntarily) respond better to being challenged than being criticized. How much more true is this fact when they are being criticized for the absence of others!

Extend a challenge to your leaders and members
Perhaps you are unsure if the slump that you are in is the result of a seasonal affect or perhaps some deeper issue. In any case you should never be shy about challenging your members. Challenge your leaders when attendance is down. Challenge your leaders when attendance is steady. Challenge your leaders when attendance is up. What should you challenge them to do?

  • To be faithful to worship, Bible study, and personal growth.
  • To be faithful to service to the body of Christ.
  • To be a faithful witness to those that do not know Christ.
  • To be faithful to minister to members of the church and community who are hurting.

The body of Christ will be strengthened and attendance will grow strong if the members
are faithful to these tasks. You do not challenge your congregation by beating them up. You challenge them through the teaching and preaching of God’s word. You challenge them through fervent prayer. You challenge them by modeling spiritual growth and application. Challenging your members is a combination of verbalizing, living out the example, and the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the members and the body as a whole.

Ramp up the contacts
What is a contact? It is an intentional communication on behalf of a Sunday school class or a church that takes place during the week to minister to a member, encourage an absentee, or to invite someone to attend. Suppose that a congregation cumulatively makes fifteen contacts during the course of a week. A congregation across town that is approximately the same size makes a concerted effort to make over 200 contacts during the same week. Which congregation’s attendance will be most affected the following Sunday? Contacts are always important but become critical to minimize the affects of seasonal slumps as well as to help in reversing a slump that may be the result of some other issue.


Steve Parr is one of our speakers with the All Star Sunday School team. See