Have you ever found yourself looking at the roster for the senior high Sunday school class and wondering, “Where has everyone gone?” If your youth have acquired a case of “Itchy-feet Syndrome,” in which they walk out of class one day rarely to return, it’s time to seek a cure.
Perform a Sunday School Check-up
If we truly believe “Sunday school is for life,” then we must actively seek out those who have gone missing. But finding out the reasons for their disappearance will require a good bit of work—and might even result in some uncomfortable diagnoses. Here are a few things you can do to start learning the many reasons why youth are no longer coming.
1. If we want to find out where people have been, we can start by having a casual conversation with them. Sometimes the teacher is the best one to do this, since he or she probably has established rapport with the youth. Other times, a youth leader or Christian education director might be the better one to make the contact. This is especially true if you’ve picked up vibes that youth are not coming because they don’t like the teacher.
2. Hold a parent chat session. Gather the parents of inactive youth for dessert and coffee, and talk with them about what their family life is like on Sunday mornings. Are the youth busy with other activities? Are they simply refusing to come? Are there concerns about the classes? Gather as much information as possible from them and listen carefully to their hopes for their children’s spiritual development.
3. Make an appointment to talk one-on-one with the teachers. Ask the teachers for their honest feedback about how the class is going and what they’ve heard from the youth. Are they feeling as if they can’t relate to the youth? Do they want more training? Do they have issues with the curriculum? Are they burned out and ready for a change?
4. Do a careful examination of the curriculum. Does it connect with youth? What messages does it communicate about God, the Bible, Jesus, and the Christian life? Could the teachers enhance the curriculum with outside sources or other activities?
Write a Prescription
With your teachers, education commission, pastor, and other essential representatives, decide on a course of action. Here are seven ideas to get you started.
1. Find other ways for youth to be involved. On any given Sunday in my congregation, some youth are helping in the nursery, teaching a class, talking with a confirmation mentor, staffing a fund-raising table for the youth mission trip, practicing with the choir, or attending a short-term study designed for adults. What other options for involvement and growth are available in your church?
2. Use e-mail. For youth who can’t be there on Sunday but are interested in the material, send a summary of what was discussed. Follow-up to answer questions.
3. Start a “Saturday school” or a “Thursday school” class. Offer the same class on a day convenient for other youth.
4. Try a youth-led, small-group format.
5. Offer more than one type of class. Don’t be afraid to use different forms of media. A class that utilizes computers, movies, and music will appeal to some youth.
6. Offer more classes for adults, especially classes that appeal to the parents of your teenagers. If the parents participate, the youth are more likely to be present.
7. Invest some time training a group of volunteers who will regularly reach out to inactive youth.
At the same time, make certain your classrooms—and your youth—are friendly and welcoming.
Chart Your Progress
Set attendance goals for the coming semester. For example, your goal might be to reduce by ten percent the number of youth who don’t attend. Or, if your youth come sporadically, it might be to increase participation to an average of three times per month. Monitor class attendance carefully, but also listen to the youth and teachers to see how things are progressing as you implement your plans. Inform the congregation of your goals and progress, so they know that this is a congregational priority.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore the symptoms. Our youth are too valuable a resource to just let them fall through the cracks. We wouldn’t settle for an exercise plan that worked only half of our muscles. Don’t let your congregation settle for a fifty percent attendance rate when it comes to youth. Aim for a healthy program!