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Last Updated October 14, 1999

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We Don't Need a New Class

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This article by Mildred Wade was published in the July, 1983 edition of Sunday School Leadership magazine. Copyright 1983 by the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

An amoeba is the simplest life form, a single cell. The amoeba has no distinct parts such as head, legs, eyes, mouth; its entire body of protoplasm, the living substance of which all animals are made, is equal. Without the nucleus (the central portion of the cell), the amoeba could not feed, grow, or reproduce. When the amoeba has grown to a certain size, it reproduces itself by dividing in two. Each half is able to feed, grow, and divide, to continue the process.

A strong correlation exists between an amoeba and a Sunday School class. A Sunday School class is a single unit with the express purpose of teaching and helping members apply God's message; as such, it has no special "parts," as all members are equal. Without the nucleus (God's Word), the class could not feed its members, grow, or desire to reproduce its influence. Like the amoeba, when the Sunday School unit has grown to a certain size, it should reproduce itself for a more widespread effect. When it divides in two, the process of growth continues.

A lack of understanding of the need and benefits for beginning new classes is the major cause of members being resistant or opposed.

Several excuses usually are mentioned by these persons who oppose starting new classes or departments: (1) "But we have never been separated in Sunday School; we all grew up together." (2) "We have always had only one class for this age group." (3) "We only need a larger room (or more teachers)." (4) "We will never have another teacher like the one we have now." (5) "We cannot continue our good Bible discussions if people whom we do not know are in the class." (6) "Ours is such a caring class that everyone will suffer if any changes are made." (7) "Our present location is the best room in the building, and we do not want to give it up." (8) "It is nonsense to think the little ones of different age groups do better by themselves; the older ones help the younger ones." (9) "A class with so few members will not grow because . . . (at that age members have lost interest in Sunday School, the parents won't bring them, too many are away at college, they all go to the lake on Sundays or stay up late on Saturdays or most of them don't drive and we don't have a van to pick them up).

With no exception, all of the above excuses should take a back seat to an understanding of how the purpose of the Sunday School is accomplished: through growth, which is the means of providing more benefits for more people.

It is a known fact, and attested to by the records of many Southern Baptist churches, that attendance often peaks or declines when a class or department reaches its maximum enrollment ceiling (see the "Basic" series' and the chart that follows for recommendations). Most classrooms are not large enough to allow more people to attend without being overcrowded. Sometimes members and leaders unwittingly become complacent when "enough" people are in class each Sunday. Or it could be that people resist changes, or the additional efforts changes require, to the extent that increases or declines in numbers are ignored.

Yet, growth in numbers is needed in Sunday School. And growth seldom is seen in classes and departments that exceed the recommended maximum enrollment ceilings (including workers) listed below

Age Group Enrollment Ceiling
Birth to one-year-olds
Toddlers
Twos
Threes, fours, and fives
Children’s departments
Youth classes
Youth departments
Adult classes
Adult departments

12
12
15
20
30
10-15
40-60
25
125 

(These figures would be less if classroom space is unusually small. However, they should never be larger.)

When enrollment ceilings are reached, there usually is no increase in member participation, involvement, and growth. The same members continue to be involved, and the same members remain uninvolved. Classes or departments with smaller enrollments are able to encourage less involved members to become more active a step that generates growth.

Attendance increases as enrollment mounts. Classes will have only a portion of the enrollment present on any given Sunday. Consequently, attendance will fluctuate according to enrollment. Many Sunday School classes fluctuate between 40 and 50 percent in average attendance. Increased enrollment results in higher attendance, usually in about the same percentage the Sunday School already maintains between those present and those absent.

Adults resist change more than any other age group; yet, when the need for change has been demonstrated and a viable plan presented, adults may accept change more readily and work toward making it succeed.

Examples sometimes speak louder than statistics. Here are the successful results of starting two Adult classes that one church had.

Two classes had an approximate enrollment of forty each. One class was averaging about eighteen in attendance; the other, only a few more people. Amid protests, the women ages fifty-seven and fifty-eight (the top age spans of one class) were combined with women ages fifty-nine and sixty (the lower ages of another class) to form a new class with twenty-one enrolled, including the teacher. This step was not taken at the beginning of a new Sunday School year, but in February.

The first Sunday the new class met, twelve attended. Six months later two new members had been enrolled, and the average attendance was sixteen.

In another Adult class, Bev Daniels taught the women ages thirty-one through thirty-three. About twenty-six were enrolled and the average attendance was twenty. Ann Thurston, a member of the class, felt led by God to teach a class in her own age group. Ann, Bev, and the minister of education discussed the situation. Their solution was to start a new class from among the current members. Their plan, when presented at a social, met with opposition from the members.

Bev and Ann explained to the members that two classes formed out of one class that had reached its recommended ceiling enrollment would facilitate growth. They explained that Ann should be given the opportunity to follow God's leading to teach a class. And they explained that the good fellowship among the members would continue as the combined classes met socially once a month.

Each class was given thirteen members. In spite of members' reluctance to form a new class, no one stayed away from her designated class. In fact, women who had not been attending Sunday School began coming-some in each class. At this writing, each class has an enrollment of twenty with an average attendance of twenty. (Average attendance figures include visitors.)

For many adults, change is uncomfortable. We like the comfort of a familiar easy chair, hair style, restaurant, and even friends in a Sunday School class. Familiarity gives birth to habit, and habits are not discarded easily. Yet, every habit that is formed was once a new, first-time encounter.

A habit worth forming is this: consider and make changes. Inspect, evaluate, and pray about changes. With a thoroughly open mind, ask yourself whether the merits of the change outweigh the discomfort of the unfamiliar. If they do, adopt the changes; they may soon become good habits.

Mrs. Wade is director of teaching improvement and training, Immanuel Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky.

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Updated: Thursday, October 14, 1999