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March 25, 2006

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The Use and Abuse of Big Days

John W. Thomason
Sunday School Leadership, October 1982

Some churches try to build Sunday School attendance with a succession of special events and high attendance days. Their promotion and publicity sometimes can make the church sound like a furniture store.

Other churches just drift along, never doing anything big or attention-getting. In some cases persons who live just a few blocks away do not even know that the church is there.

Should a Sunday School conduct high attendance days? If so, how often? When leaders plan a special high attendance day, what should they do to try to build attendance for that day?

Southern Baptist pastors and churches have answered those questions in almost every conceivable way. This article will focus on the advantages and disadvantages having special high attendance days.

Advantages of Big Days

High attendance days can help reach more people. When a church plans a special day, creates excitement, puts out a lot of publicity, does much extra visitation, a talks about the big day in worship services, many times it gets the attention of the community in ways it would not at any other time of the year. Often such an emphasis results in many persons' thinking about Sunday School and worship. The next time individuals feel the need to go to church or when they require the ministry of a church, they will think about the church that had the special emphasis.

In nearly every case, a high attendance day results in getting unenrolled church members to attend Sunday School. For example, one church in a new work area averaged forty to sixty more persons in the worship service than in Sunday School. Slowly, over a period of years, each high attendance Sunday brought a few more of those persons who had been attending only the worship service. A big day or special Sunday School emphasis also will draw in inactive members and get them back in Bible study again.

Another experience that many churches have had with high attendance days is that average Sunday School attendance increases after the event and never decreases to the previous level. Following one high attendance day, a church reported an increase of about twenty in its average attendance for the next year. Members gave credit to the high attendance day emphasis as one thing that showed their people that growth could happen.

Not only does the use of special days help reach more people, it also helps create new enthusiasm among Sunday School workers. Such enthusiasm can have long- range benefits. Built into the very nature of special days is heightened enthusiasm. Greater spirit, a new feeling of vitality, and the sense that the Sunday School is going somewhere often develops.

A successful high attendance day can infuse workers with a new vision of what their Sunday School could be. Often workers can be heard saying, "Just imagine what we could do if we worked like this on a regular basis." Special days also lead workers to make more visits and contacts than they do at other times. The multiplying of contacts definitely benefits the Sunday School. Having big days also puts the Sunday School in touch with many new prospects.

If a high attendance day is a part of a basic, balanced approach to Sunday School work, it can strengthen and infuse new life into all aspects of the Bible teaching program.

Disadvantages of Big Days

One disadvantage of big days is that when a church goes all out for high attendance, it can create a negative rather than a positive image in the community. One way a bad image can be conveyed is when workers or members fall into the trap of saying to prospects, "Why don't you come to Sunday School and help us reach our goal?" They may communicate that the church wants a person for the church's benefit and is not really concerned about him. It is far better to invite persons to attend so that the church can serve them.

Another abuse of big days is that all of the emphasis is given to getting people there and no thought is given to preparing to teach those who attend. Sunday Schools can end up with overcrowded classrooms and harried teachers who lose control of pupils and cannot do an adequate job of Bible teaching.

When you plan for a special high attendance day, prepare thoroughly for the large attendance. Teachers should be ready to teach and at church early that day. If necessary, enlist extra helpers for classes and departments that day. Station greeters on the parking lots and at entrances to assist persons unfamiliar with your facilities. Persons who come that day for the first time need to see what normally happens in Bible study and not get lost in a mob of confusion and chaos.

Another danger of big days, especially their overuse, is the neglect of good, basic, ongoing Sunday School work. If special days succeed in getting people to attend, leaders and workers may become satisfied and neglect planning, ministry, and quality Bible teaching-learning.

Special days can be a part of a well-balanced Bible study program, but only a part. The importance of Bible study demands that good planning be done week by week and not just for special times. A person who attends Sunday School and is not taught God's Word does not receive the nurture he needs for daily living.

The Sunday School must not fail to minister to persons who are regular in attendance. One faithful member summed up his feelings this way, "Before I joined, they treated me as if they were in love with me. But when I

previous, successful attendance campaign can demoralize workers. Rather than doing something about it, workers may say, "I can remember when attendance was three times higher than it is now. What's wrong with us? Why can't we be like we used to be?" What they do not remember is that they achieved that earlier record only one time in the past. Now that goal may seem impossible.

Another danger inherent to big attendance days is that the church can begin to be looked on as a "sideshow" rather than a place where persons can go to meet the Lord and learn his Word. Because of such an image, some people do not take the church seriously. As a consequence, they may not take seriously what the church is preaching and teaching.

The failure to follow up on the dozens or hundreds of prospects discovered is an additional abuse of big days. Prospects are not followed up on by the pastor, outreach leaders, or teachers. So much of what could have been an advantage turns out to be a disadvantage because interest often ends with the big day.

Should your church use high attendance days or special events? I think they have a place in Sunday School work. How often should they be used? I believe they should be tried no more than once or twice a year. Special days do need to be a part of a balanced program of Sunday School work that seeks increased enrollment and better Bible teaching.

When you plan for a big day, give members the proper motivation. Have as your major concern what your church can offer the unreached and not what the unreached can offer your church. Then help Sunday School. Then help Sunday School workers use proper promotional methods.

Big days can be used effectively as one part of a well-balanced Sunday School program. But care must be taken not to abuse them. Big days should not be the entire nor the only emphasis of Sunday School. Use big days to reach more people and to strengthen your entire Bible teaching program.

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Thomas J. Cook, Webmaster
Updated: Saturday, March 25, 2006
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