All of us know that Sunday School attendance can go down a little in the cold-weather months. Steve Parr is a Sunday School expert from the state of Georgia. Brother Parr offers some great advice from his book, Sunday School that Really Responds. Here are five suggestions for responding to those seasons of slump in attendance:
1. 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. 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. 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?
2. 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 shamed for taking time to be with family or to take time away to refresh and relax. Remember during those seasons to focus on the things that you have control of. 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? Do you have control over whether you participate in outreach? Be faithful to invest in those things that you do have control over which in turn influence the attendance.
3. Don't complain to the faithful about the unfaithful. Understanding seasonal patterns can serve to minimize frustration when attendance falls off. Consider these public 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 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 who attend church do so voluntarily) respond better to being challenged than being criticized.
4. 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 them to be faithful to worship, Bible study, and personal growth. Challenge them to be faithful to service to the body of Christ, to be a faithful witness to those that do not know Christ, and 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.
5. 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. Contacts are always important, but they become critical to minimize the effects of seasonal slumps.
Dave Frasure is CABA's Disciple-making Catalyst and pastors First Baptist, So. Lebanon.