Sunday, August 01, 2010

What I Learned In Sunday School Today: Building Attendance in Your Children' s Ministry

I had two students in my Junior Church class today. One was a regular attender, a very active, bright young man nearing eleven years old. The other was a middle aged woman with a middle age spread and middle aged gray hair peeking through the deceptive blond tresses - in other words, me.

My teaching partner and I decided to coast awhile before starting our next round of curriculum so that kids can get vacations and summer fun out of the way before school begins. When kids are settling into a routine, we'll start our new curriculum, "Growth Signs," a study of the Fruit of the Spirit, published by the Salvation Army (Click on Other Products on the right side of the webpage).

Meanwhile, I decided to piggy back on the lessons learned from VBS where we used Gospel Light's Son Quest Rainforest material. With my eleven year old student, I could go deeper into the meaning behind one of the parables. My in-depth approach showed me I had some math catch-up to do..

The seed the sower spread fell on four different types of soil. Three out of the four soils showed immediate results but only one out of the four demonstrated any long term effect. According to Jesus' explanation of the parable, as Christian teachers who sow the seed of God's word in the hearts of the children we teach, we're going to have only a twenty-five percent return on our investment. That is both discouraging and reassuring. Discouraging because, as I look at the students who come, I realize that only one in four will carry the Gospel message forward. Reassuring, because if I have a low return, I am not alone. Jesus warned his followers that not everyone will listen to us. In fact, only a third of those will actually replicate themselves. Only one in seven students will turn around and lead someone else to Christ.

My math was wrong. Think of a cantaloupe. One cantaloupe seed - if everything goes well, might produce three or four cantaloupe. It might produce only one cantaloupe. But think of what is inside that one cantaloupe. Seeds!! Lots of seeds. Maybe thirty seeds, maybe sixty, maybe one hundred seeds. And if that one seed produces more than one cantaloupe, there are seeds in each of those cantaloupes too.

If I lead one child to Christ who becomes an active, solid, faithful Christian who dedicates his or her life to winning others to Jesus, through that one child, more people will come to know the Lord than if all the children in my class became Christians but didn't pass on the message. My results aren't 25%! They are thirty-fold, sixty-fold, one hundred-fold. That means 3000%, 6000% or 10,0000%. No wonder Paul said that God is the one responsible for the growth of the seed (1 Corinthians 3:6). Think of it this way. If I have a class of twelve students and three of the twelve become strong Christians (one in four), then one of the three brings 30 people to Christ, another brings 60 to Christ and another brings 100, that means my teaching has produced not twelve Christians but 193 Christians!

Are you following me? We may never see the results of our teaching, not until the judgment at the end of time when God reveals the ripple effect of our commitment, of how many people have come to saving faith in Christ through our influence.

So how will that impact our teaching to children?

First, we won't get discouraged with that one faithful child. Instead of giving up and letting the child sit in Big Church or play in the nursery, we'll pour our heart and soul into that one child because this one child who has faithfully come to church could be The One who will ultimately lead 30, 60 or 100 others to Christ.

Second, we won't aim for numbers. We will especially avoid the temptation to water down or sugar coat our teaching just so that we can increase our attendance. We'll be willing to go deep, to teach the solid truths of Scripture, to be lovingly confrontational if that's what we need to do, knowing from the Scripture, that there will be some initial falling away as people shy away from persecution or are lured by the world's distractions. After all, Jesus' attendance figures went way down in John 6:66. But a few faithful men stayed to listen and ended up turning the world upside down for the Kingdom (John 6:68).

Third, we will look for the fertile soil. We won't waste our time trying to lure those who aren't interested. We'll put our energy into teaching those who will listen. This is tough for small churches. We so want to beg and plead backsliders to please come back. The message I get from Scripture is let them go, don't take it personally, move on to someone else.

Finally, instead of sweating over measurements of success, we'll pray, then leave the results up to God. We'll keep being faithful, no matter what, because we know we will never know the full extent of our influence.

Keep planting seeds. Don't dawdle, watching and waiting for growth. Instead, keep planting. Move on and keep planting the Word of God in the fertile hearts of the children God gives you.


Brenna said...

That is correct. Success in ministry is not numbers in attendance. Whether we have 1-2 children in class or 100-200 in class, teach to the best of our ability and communicate the message of Christ. They are in attendance for a reason. We may not know why at this point but they are learning for future times.

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Tammy Jones said...

Great article Karen! So very encouraging. I especially love the part about "begging the backslider to come back." It's true that in a small church we do seem do just that. Thanks for your insight.

Mary Kate (Sunday School Teacher) said...

What an amazing outlook. Most would assume that low attendance is their fault and that they are somehow, unwittingly failing the Lord. But when you explained Jesus' explanation of the parable and connected it to your revelation I saw how your words reveal a truth. We need to work with what we have and as long as we're happy with our message, then we know the Lord will be too.