The Sunday School should be
organized on the basis of future potential, not current actuality, since one of
its important purposes is outreach to all prospects and ministry to all
members, not just those in attendance. Thus the enrollment of the Sunday School should be
used as the basis for organizing rather than average attendance. Organizing on the basis
of attendance will not provide a structure for growth.
Organization starts with a
plan for grouping and grading pupils into classes representing similar
developmental needs and abilities, life needs, and interests. The method most
widely used is to grade by age or school grade. This basic approach will serve well
to provide a comprehensive structure; as the organization grows, it may be supplemented by
units based on marital status, family status, or other specialized focus. This page
will focus on age/school grade grouping.
The limiting factor in the
size of a teaching unit may be the available space. Adult and youth classes require
10 square feet for each pupil; preschool and children's departments require 25 square feet
for each pupil (ideally, preschoolers should have 35 square feet per child, but this is an
ideal seldom achievable). The other factor is the rule that only 80% of capacity is
realizable on an ongoing basis; you may be able to achieve greater attendance for short
periods, but it will soon return to the 80% level. Your Sunday School cannot grow
beyond its available space. (See
To organize your preschool
division, take the following steps:
- Determine the capacity of
each available room (room size in square feet divided by 25 square feet per pupil times
- Consider the number of
pupils enrolled in each age group
- Using the organization work sheet, note the number of departments and
Each children's and
preschool department will have a department director (like a lead teacher)
responsible for the overall work of the department, as well as one or more teachers
who are responsible to the department director for specific teaching, outreach, and
For safety reasons, always
plan to have at least two adults in each preschool department. Younger preschoolers
will need to be organized developmentally, with a department for bed babies, another for
those beginning to crawl, and another for toddlers. Twos and threes will ideally
have their own department. Fours, fives, and preschool sixes have similar developmental
The same three basic steps
apply for youth organizations as listed above for children and preschoolers. In this
age group, however, a classroom setting is more appropriate for the teaching session.
The department director is responsible for a joint teaching session with all
classes meeting together for music, drama, etc., to set the stage for the lesson.
The teachers meet with their assigned classes for the majority of the Sunday
session. The department leadership works as a team for accomplishing outreach,
ministry, and fellowship.
(See also article I Believe in Adult Departments by Lucien
Coleman, plus How to Start New Adult Sunday
School Classes by Ron Pratt)
The adult organization is
the most difficult to administer, due to the reluctance of many adults to go beyond their
comfort zone to support a structure which is ideal for outreach and ministry. The
willingness of adults to try new classes is a direct measure of their Great Commission
mindset--their commitment to putting the needs of unreached persons ahead of their own
desires. See Adult Sunday School Promotion
for a discussion of one approach to
this problem, and How to Start New Adult Sunday
School Classes for an excellent description of an effective
process for starting new units.
It is true that adults can learn
and worship in large groups. However, for the best outreach, ministry,
fellowship, accountability, and assimilation to occur, small
groups are essential. The maximum size for an adult class is an enrollment of 25 pupils.
This will result in an average attendance of around 12, an ideal size from a group
The other dynamic is that new
units grow faster. A new class is at the formative stage of leadership roles and
relationships, and is much easier to accommodate new members. In addition, the class has no
history, which has many positive aspects in avoiding old resentments, preconceptions,
and prejudices among the members.
Most churches are finding
that coeducational classes are doing the best job of reaching people. [Note that it is
generally best to avoid the title "couples' class", which seems to place some
stigma on one member of a married couple whose partner does not attend the class for some
reason.) There is still a place for single-sex classes for those individuals who feel more
comfortable in that setting.
It is relatively simple to design
an ideal adult organization. The technique is simply to list all adults in the
Sunday School in age order, then to start at age 18, count 25 names, and draw a line to
indicate a class, and proceed until all are assigned to a class. Some adjustments will be
necessary: a married couple must be assigned to the same class (typically that appropriate
for the younger spouse), and a class should not break across a single age group (so the
dividing line should be drawn at the nearest age break). Actually, a Sunday School
organization which expects growth should start the year with an enrollment target of 18 in
each adult class to allow space for growth during the year.
The difficult task is to implement
the organization. I have come to the conclusion that adults will not promote
to the next age group, so it is best to reorganize the entire organization each
year--especially in a growing congregation. This will be quite difficult the first two or
three times it is carried out, but will soon become a tradition (albeit an unpopular one).
It is well worth the effort, though, as it will result in a supple and vigorous Sunday
School poised in an ideal growth situation, and will help focus the members on outreach,
evangelism, and assimilation of new members, helping to avoid inwardly focused,
Consider these steps in
implementing a new adult organization:
- Lay a foundation of prayer
and seek the Lord's guidance. Involve others of your leadership team and your personal
support group in the spiritual foundation.
- Develop the ideal
organization with prayerful consideration of your pupils' and prospects' best interests.
- Ask your pastor to consider
preaching on the importance of outreach and evangelism through the Sunday School. The
visible support of your pastor throughout this process is essential.
- Consider a Bible study or
other course of study on the principles of outreach and the purpose of the Sunday School
for your Sunday School leadership, or the entire church.
- Interpret the new
organization in the light of your vision for your Sunday School to the Sunday School
leadership team and key church leaders.
- Send a letter to each family
enrolled in Sunday School explaining the reasons for the new organization and requesting
their prayerful support. Emphasize the priority for outreach--for
Whether you realize it or
not, you have a Sunday School council. This is simply a group of Sunday School
leaders who provide strategic leadership for the organization, forming a mutual support
network to discuss, evaluate, plan, and carry out the work of the Sunday School. In
the very smallest situation, the pastor and Sunday School Director can form the Sunday
School Council. In a somewhat larger church, the Sunday School director and other
general officers are joined by the Sunday School teachers. As the church grows, the
department directors or age division directors (the top of the Sunday School organization)
form the Sunday School council. In any case, the Sunday School director needs a
group to serve as a sounding board, representing diversity in viewpoint and approach, to
provide the most effective leadership. Try to enlist individuals these leadership
positions who have mature spiritual character, a real vision of God's plan for the church
and Sunday School, and a real heart for Sunday School work.