The Reverend Mommy left a comment on my last VBS post asking for suggestions for "ramping up Sunday School." Since some of my bloggie pals in cyberspace may also be interested in that topic at this time of year, I thought I would respond with a post instead of through the comment thread. (Apologies to anyone who read this post earlier in the day when I erroneously attributed that comment to St. Cassarole. )
My approach to increasing interest and attendance in Sunday School for all ages has been to focus on development of adult classes. I was influenced in this direction by one of my all-time favorite pastors who always insisted that children follow the adults in Sunday School, not vice versa. So far that has worked for our church.
When I first became DCE here we had two adult Sunday School classes and very low attendance in the children and youth classes. We also had a worship service taking place at the same time as Sunday School. That is a very big NO-NO if you are serious about emphasizing the importance of Sunday School. With some time and lots of talking, the session was persuaded to change the worship schedule so there was a Sunday School period in between the two services.
Once that change was made, I focused first on adding an additional adult class to our offerings. The two original classes were a traditional Bible Study group using Cokesbury materials and a more free-wheeling group that chose different "contemporary Christian" topics for study and discussion. We first added a class that focused on other types of Bible topics: for example, a study of themes in the Bible, or the Ten Commandments, or Revelation vs. the Left Behind version etc. We have added a couple of other classes every year and last year had 7 classes.
As the number of adult classes grew, so did the attendance in the children and youth classes. After a couple of years we no longer had difficulty recruiting Sunday School teachers for these classes and we spent time researching and choosing curriculum that was "user friendly" for the teachers and the kids. We used the Christian Reformed Church's new Walk With Me curriculum last year and are keeping it because it was very well received.
Here are some of the principles that I think you need to keep in mind when creating adult Sunday School classes:
1. There's not enough time in a Sunday School period for an in-depth class. Choose your topics and curriculum accordingly.
2. Most (but not all) people want to show up in Sunday School, have material presented to them in an interesting understandable way, and then get a chance to discuss it. They don't like all-lecture style classes and shy away from classes that require a lot of reading outside the SS hour.
3. There are a lot of video and DVD curriculums available now. Stick to the ones where the video presentation is significantly shorter than the SS period (I recommend 15 to 20 minutes at most) so there is time for the group to respond and comment.
4. Sunday School attendance is sporadic. When someone misses a class they won't come back if they think they will be behind the rest of the group. We always have at least one class that we can promote as having "stand-alone" sessions. In other words, if you missed last week's class you can still come and participate this week.
5. People love to take a class taught by the Pastor. Sometimes I think that the Pastor could get up and recite The Little Engine That Could every Sunday in class and still keep a sizeable, consistent attendance.
6. Some specific suggestions of adult class topics that have been particularly successful here in the last couple of years are:
-- The Old Testament From Scratch and The New Testament From Scratch by Donald Griggs (never overestimate the biblical literacy of the congregation). (Abingdon Press)
-- Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, by Dr. Kevin Leman (Sampson Resources)
-- Listening for God: Contemporary Literature and the Life of Faith, a video series by Paula J. Carlson and Peter S. Hawkins (Augsburg Fortress)
-- Breaking the Code by Bruce Metzger. A video and discussion study of Revelation. (Westminster John Knox Press)
-- Making Room for Life by Randy Frazee (Zondervan)
-- The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey. Video and book by the same name. (Zondervan Publishing House)
Good luck! I'm sure some of you will have some other good suggestions to add via comments, and I look forward to reading and learning from them.