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March 25, 2006

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This article by Thomas J. Cook was published in the Spring, 1997 edition of Growing Churches magazine under the title "Gold Medal Growth Campaign: Sunday School Olympics." Copyright 1997 by the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sunday School Olympics

(Sunday School Growth Campaign)

"I’ve been in thus church since 1984, and we’ve never had over 100 adults in Sunday School" the pastor of Maize Road Baptist Church told me on the telephone, his excitement evident in his voice. "Today we had 103 adults. That’s a gold medal for us…whether or not we beat any of the other churches."

This exciting event did not occur during a standard spring or fall high attendance Sunday, but in the middle of August

--during what many churches call the "summer slump." For six churches in Columbus, Ohio, the summer of 1996 was different, bringing a time of excitement, growth, outreach, and laying a great foundation for the normal fall growth season.

Northside Baptist Church, for instance, had an average Sunday School attendance of 70 in August of 1995. When Pastor Joe Tatsak led his church to participate in the Sunday School Olympics, he decided to use the competition as a foundation for his dream of revival. The excitement of the August event, fueled by the work of the Sunday School team, helped the church to experience a 54% increase over the previous August, with an average attendance of 122. Northside reported several people joining the church each Sunday during August, with nine professions of faith.

The event that made a difference was our Sunday School Olympics, a month-long challenge which found six churches competing for gold, silver, and bronze medals as they worked to involve more people in Bible study during August. The churches ranged in size from Northside,, with its average of 70, to the Jersey Baptist Church, running dual Sunday Schools with a typical attendance of 600.

Every Church a Winner

The results were uniformly positive, with each of the churches experiencing an increase in their August Sunday School attendance over their June base. On the average, the six churches realized a 17% increase overall, which represented a total of 233 additional people involved in Bible study each week during August. At Jersey, the number of Sunday School visitors averaged 67 during August, compared to 30 on a typical Sunday, indicating the success of the campaign at encouraging outreach to prospects.

Attendance Increase--In August

Why a Sunday School attendance campaign in the middle of the summer? At Jersey Baptist, we had learned that we would experience a typical summer slump if we didn’t plan to avoid it. We have held some type of August campaign every year for the past several years, always with good results. The past few years, we decided to add some excitement to the campaign by involving another church. We tried such themes as the blue and gray (Civil War), a family feud (Hatfields and McCoys), baseball, and the fifties. When the summer Olympics provided a perfect theme, our pastor suggested that we try to involve several other churches in our campaign.

Friendly Competition

We invited several churches to an organizational meeting and provided background information. We shared the types of activities we had used in the past at Jersey and what our results had been. We made it clear that each church was free to promote its campaign in any way it chose. Five churches decided to join us in our competition: Lane Avenue, Whitehall, Parsons, Maize Road, and Northside. We assigned team colors to each church and began making plans for the event.

Wanting to keep the scoring simple, we chose to establish a base attendance for each church by taking the average attendance during the month of June for each age division. We planned to award three medals in each age division for the three highest percentage increases over the June base.

Each church was assigned a sister church to aid with publicity by staging a skit or other creative announcement prior to the start of the Olympics. We arranged with a local vendor to provide tee shirts with our Sunday School Olympics logo with a list of the participating churches on the back. Each church could order shirts in its team colors. We set up a page on our World Wide Web site to publish the scores each Sunday after the results were called or Faxed in.

At Jersey, we typically feature one age division each Sunday during the campaign, recognizing and honoring our teachers and planning a special after-church activity for the pupils. The first Sunday we recognized our adult teachers and followed the morning service with an all-church fellowship with games, refreshments, and music as our Olympics Opening Ceremonies, complete with lighting of the torch. On their respective Sundays, our youth went canoeing, our children had a swimming party, and our Preschoolers held a picnic with their families.

Parsons Baptist Church, earning the bronze medal in the overall competition, stirred up enthusiasm by creative promotion. The Sunday School Director came up with a different entrance each Sunday. One involved his preparing to parachute from the balcony in preparation for the Olympic competition, until the Minister of Education reminded him that parachuting was not an Olympic event.

Shared Celebration

The only time when all the churches met together was during the closing ceremonies of our Summer Sunday School Olympics. Our Sunday evening services were combined at Whitehall Baptist Church, where we shared the final presentation of Olympic medals, announced the overall winners, and held a celebrative worship service.

Team members from each church wore Olympic T-shirts in their church's color. Several shared the banners they had created for the event. The evening closed with an old-fashioned ice-cream social and a great time of fellowship, as we celebrated what God had done in each of our churches during the summer.

Success Factors

While each church planned activities to fit its own situation, some basic factors contributed to the success of the campaign. Here is a list, with examples of how we applied them at Jersey Baptist:

bullet A foundation of prayer and purpose founded in God’s word. We were careful to keep the focus on outreach and ministry, while having fun with the competition. Our by-line was "contact every member and prospect with a friendly invitation to attend—let them know we care about them." As we exhorted our own members to make contacts and attend each Sunday, we also rejoiced with our sister churches as they experienced outstanding growth.
bullet Worker involvement. While our Sunday School Council planned the campaign, we enlisted teachers to prepare flags for each age division, plan and conduct the weekly activities, and to lead their classes to contact absent members and prospects. We chose a class each week in each age group to receive the "most valuable player" award.
bullet Communication. Each Sunday School member received a postcard each week containing a scoring summary and a reminder to join the team for the next Sunday’s competition.
bullet Giving permission for contacts. We have found that our people will invite their friends to attend Sunday School, but only when there is a special reason to attend. The August campaign provides a good "excuse" for a contact.
bullet An atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm. With the skit provided by a competing church; the pep talks by our pastor and "Mr. Olympics" (played each week by Associate Pastor Jeff Hiett); the weekly worship service features including a parade of flags to the Olympic theme and recognition of our teachers; the scoreboard in our Narthex; and about half of our members wearing the Olympics tee shirt in our team colors, our Jersey membership was definitely aware something special was happening and interested to learn the week’s scoring.

Other Columbus area churches are already inquiring about our August event for 1997. We most likely won’t use the Summer Olympics theme again until 2000, but you can be sure we will join with sister churches in 1997 to fight the summer slump.

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