Starting New Classes

September 15th, 2011
Image © Old Shoe Woman | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

It can be very difficult to start a new Sunday school class in many churches. Unless the Sunday school is bursting at the seams, most folks in the church do not see the need to start a new class; after all, there is plenty of room in the current classes for new people. But it is not necessarily that easy. Growing Sunday Schools do not wait until all the classes are "full." Indeed, it is the case that Sunday schools that are consistently growing are always starting new classes.

To be sure, existing classes can and do grow, but there will always be a certain percentage of visitors and existing members who will not join an established class. I can tell you from personal experience, that starting a new class, if it is done correctly, will increase the number of Sunday school attendees.

Why start a new class? Tim Smith gives eight reasons:

  1. New classes often produce spiritual growth.
  2. New classes provide additional opportunities for service and blessing.
  3. New classes often produce numerical growth.
  4. New classes create a sense of excitement and accomplishment.
  5. New classes enlarge the organizational base and provide choices.
  6. New classes can help in meeting the felt needs of individuals.
  7. New classes are more "user friendly" to prospects and new members.
  8. New classes provide an opportunity for chronic absentees to make a fresh start.

A new class should not be started in a haphazard way. If you fail to plan adequately for the new class, it will likely fall flat on it's face and all the naysayers will come out of the woodwork to say, "I told you so."

Let me offer some things that I have found helpful in starting a new class:

  1. Find a perceived need in the church and/or surrounding community as the framework for subject matter. Perhaps there are young parents who could benefit from a class that deals with subjects that are germane to the challenges they face in life. Perhaps a current issues class will be of interest to those who like to reflect upon current events from a Christian perspective. Perhaps others want a good old-fashioned Bible study. Whatever the subject, it is vitally important that the foundation of the class is theologically biblical. This is Sunday school. Anyone who wants to discuss current events apart from the gospel can strike up a conversation with someone at Panera Bread. One doesn't need the church for that. If the focus of the class is on the joys and challenges of raising children, center the discussion on Christian perspectives. If you simply want techniques and how-to's, Dr. Phil is more than sufficient. Christians believe that Jesus is Lord and that his lordship speaks to every aspect of our existence. Every Sunday school class should incorporate Christian foundations and perspectives.
  2. Make a list of persons not currently in Sunday school who might be interested in the new class and give them a personal invitation to a meeting (during Sunday school), where you can discuss this new opportunity that you would like for them to be a part of. Get their feedback during the meeting. Those in attendance may begin to shape the character of the class before it has even started. Thus they may already have a sense of ownership as they leave that "promotional" meeting.
  3. Enlist a good and competent teacher or teachers. It is imperative that this is in place before the class begins. If you begin a class not knowing who will be teaching from week to week, the class will fizzle away and die.
  4. Make sure you resource the class with good curriculum. Do not leave them on their own to find things and and figure it out for themselves. The class needs to have the freedom to take their class in the direction they believe is helpful, but they need to know that they will be supported, not only with words of affirmation, but with what they need to have a worthwhile class.
  5. Encourage the members of this new class to invite people they know from outside the church who may benefit from the class. The perfect time to get new people into a small group is when the group is new. Even after the class has started, leaders should be on the lookout for others they can invite. This window of opportunity will not stay open for too long. Take advantage of it while you can.
  6. Don't forget to publicize the significance of this new opportunity to the congregation. You might pick up some folks who did not receive a personal invitation. In addition, you will generate excitement over something that is happening anew.
  7. Last, but definitely not least, bathe this new adventure in education in prayer. Pray for the class, pray for those who lead, and pray for the church as it embraces a new group.

Allan R. Bevere is a United Methodist pastor in Akron, OH. He blogs at AllanBevere.com.

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