Learning from mistakes made as a Sunday school teacher

I had the incredible privilege of speaking at First Baptist Church, Lakewood, Washington, where I was baptized over 30 years ago. It's also where I made a commitment to vocational ministry, and where I was first enlisted to teach Sunday school. I have grown in my love for Sunday school since Barbara Finch enlisted a newlywed, 21-year-old Airman First Class far from his Texas home to teach kindergarten.

I've made some mistakes as a Sunday school leader. If I had a few "do overs," these are four areas in which I would try to do better:

1. Enlist every leader face-to-face. I admit to taking a few shortcuts in leader enlistment. Well, at least they seemed like shortcuts at the time. Making announcements; pleading for volunteers; sending letters with response cards; calling potential workers on the phone. If I could do it over again, every leader would be enlisted face-to-face. The importance of the job demands it - and more people say "yes!"

2. Re-enlist every leader personally and annually. I admit to taking some Sunday school leaders for granted, assuming they would continue indefinitely or being afraid they'd quit if I asked. But the reality is few quit when personally re-enlisted, and the process gave them new energy. After we implemented this process in the preschool division our retention rate skyrocketed. Generally only a phone call is required. My conversations usually went like this: "I appreciate the work you've done this year. Can I count on you for next year, or would you like to do something different?" Note that the option did not include quitting outright, just taking a different role!

3. Dance with who wants to dance. Okay, maybe that's a poor choice of words for a predominantly Baptist audience! I admit, however - especially as a younger leader - spending too much physical, emotional, and spiritual energy fretting over the classes and leaders who didn't want to move forward. If I could do it over, I would concentrate my efforts on those leaders and classes that wanted to grow, reproduce, and be about the Great Commission. And I would be nice to those that didn't. I wouldn't assign them any prospects or new members; but I wouldn't be mad at them!

4. Focus on starting new groups. I admit that I have sometimes proclaimed this principle far more passionately than I have practiced it. The Kingdom advances when we start new preaching points, new missions, new churches, new Sunday school classes, new small groups, and new ministry teams. This is the irreducible law of church growth. A church can expect to gain about 10 people in average Sunday school attendance for every new class it starts, assuming the existing classes are covering their membership churn. It takes a team of leaders and a space to meet, of course. Those things in place, however, it is uncanny how this formula works. Does your adult ministry want to gain 50 in attendance? Start five new classes!

Hope you can learn from my mistakes. What would you do over?

David Francis is LifeWay's director of Sunday School. His latest book is Transformational Class: Transformational Church Goes to Sunday School. David has previously served as Minister of Education at First Baptist Church, Garland, Texas.

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