Reaching The Sunday School Dropout
By Rodney L. Pry, P.S.S.S.A. Executive Director
It’s something that every Sunday school has seen at one time or another. A new family moves to the area and begins attending our Sunday school, but after several weeks they don’t come back. Why?
There is no magic formula to solve the problem of Sunday school dropouts, but there are some things that we can and should do to ensure that the regular members of our Sunday school are aware of the needs of new members and, through that awareness, make a special effort to welcome and accept new members into their midst.
Here are a few things we should all keep in mind:
We all need friends. Get to know the new members who come to your Sunday school. Find out as much as you can about them…their likes, dislikes, family, friends, abilities, where they work, etc. Getting to know a person is basic to building a friendship with that person. Remember, we all need friends and for a person to really feel that they are a part of an organization such as a Sunday school, they must feel that they have friends, people who care about them and appreciate them, within that group.
Involve the new members in planning. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to get to know the abilities and talents of new members coming to your Sunday school. Once you are aware of these talents and abilities, what will you do with the information? The wise Sunday school leader will try to make use of all resources available to him or her. That means using the new members as best you can. But, beware. Don’t overload the new members. Start them off slowly. The new members should feel that they are important, but if you dump too much on them too quickly, you may end up scaring them away.
Keep good Sunday school records. If a new member who has been coming to your Sunday school doesn’t show up for two or three weeks, what do you do? First, you must be aware that the new member has missed several weeks. To do that, you need to keep good class or Sunday school records. If a person, especially a new member, misses more than two weeks in a row, the secretary or other person in charge of records needs to make the teacher aware. The teacher or other representative should then make a special effort to contact the absent person to let them know that they are missed and to find out if there is anything the class can do, such as provide transportation to Sunday school.
Build a complete family ministry. Does your Sunday school have classes available to each of the new member’s family members? If not, they may take their family to a Sunday school that does. Sunday school should be “a family affair.” That means that we need to be sure that our Sunday school is ministering to every member of the family. Even though one or two of the members of a new family may be very happy with their classes in your church, if you are not fully meeting the needs of the entire family, you could end up losing the new members.
Teach with each family member in mind. Having classes for each member of every family is a start, but it is also important to be sure that each Sunday school class is fully meeting the needs of each of their members. Of primary concern should be the fact that the Bible is being taught. Every person, at every age level, should be hearing about God and His Will for each of our lives, including our Lord’s desire that every person come to a saving knowledge of Himself as Lord and Savior. Furthermore, each Sunday school class should also be helping its members to learn how to apply God’s Word to their day-to-day lives. For example, young adults need to be learning how to apply Christian teachings to the young families they are starting, etc.
Sunday schools need to be understanding and forgiving. I recently heard of a family that started going to a new Sunday school and church because of some personal marital problems they were having. They were trying to “Start over” in a new church with a new group of friends. However, the rumors about the couple soon followed them to the new church and the members of that church soon became as cold toward them as the people at their old Sunday school. As Christians, we are called to be loving and forgiving to all persons. The Sunday school often offers us many opportunities to show God’s love to others.
Getting people to drop back into Sunday school isn’t easy. It’s much easier to be sure that you keep those new members by working to build a friendly, caring Sunday school where everyone will feel welcome and an important part of “the family of God.”
And one more reminder, don’t neglect applying these six reminders to your regular members, too. They need friendship and love just as much as the new members who come to your Sunday school.
Sunday school dropouts connote failure! No one likes to accept responsibility for failure. Therefore, loss of students is usually blamed on circumstances or a situation beyond our control. However, we need to honestly and objectively take a look at the real causes of Sunday school dropouts, how we can prevent them and what we can do to reach those who have already dropped out.
First, what are some of the causes for students who were once a part of our fellowship to no longer attend? The following is submitted as only a partial list of reasons:
Moving to a new location miles from the church
Dissatisfaction with the organizational structure of the Sunday school
Lack of interest due to poor teaching
No feeling of “belonging”
Loss of transportation
The above list is far from all-inclusive. There may be many other factors involved and there are certainly many varying degrees and facets of those causes listed. If we are willing to search out and understand the reasons for loss in our Sunday school, we have taken the first positive steps toward dealing with the problem. The logical next move is to determine which causes are preventable and which are not. Let’s examine the 5 we have listed.
People move for various reasons. This is unpreventable and does not account for a large percentage of dropouts. Most will attend a Sunday school in their new location.
We will never please all of the people all of the time. However, we need to be sure that the needs of the Sunday school family are being met. Do you have a reasonable age grouping of your classes, providing a comfortable unit for each age level? Have you taken into account differences of interest and common problems? For example, adults grouped together from ages 18 to 45 is a very poor grouping just as students 14 years to 25 years would not be able to share common problems comfortably. The size of the class is another important factor. Proper sizes differ with the age level of the students. Listen to suggestions made and be willing to make changes when they are justified. Most dropouts, because of dissatisfaction with organizational structure, can be avoided.
Poor teaching is the bane of many Sunday schools. This is preventable and should be dealt with kindly but firmly in every circumstance. However, we need to be sure that everyone has a clear understanding of what poor teaching is. Poor teaching is the result of apathetic attitudes, poor preparation and lack of commitment. Good teaching does not require a specified education or even superior Biblical knowledge. I have sat under excellent teaching that was peppered with poor grammar and mispronounced words. Encourage your teacher to attend teacher training sessions available to them, provide good resources for study and preparation and set your standards high. Never be afraid to study by those high standards. Talk with those teachers who do not comply and pray diligently about the situation.
A feeling of belonging is the most vital factor in the prevention of Sunday school dropouts. Anyone who truly feels that they “belong” will not easily lose interest in any group.
Some percentage of loss can often be attributed to lack of transportation if your church or the individual is not easily accessible to public transportation. This is particularly true for some senior citizens and for children. In most cases, this problem is preventable.
Now that we have thought about the causes and looked at some preventatives, how can we win back those who have already dropped out? The following is a list of suggestions for reaching Sunday school dropouts:
Keep accurate records. Beware of who is absent and how often.
Pray for each dropout specifically.
Contact the dropout and try to keep in touch. Let them know they are missed. Find out why they are no longer attending.
Organize a Sunday school visitation program, including Sunday school classmates of the dropout.
Hold Sunday school growth contests to revive interest and try to win back the dropouts.
Elevate standards of teaching in your Sunday school.
Provide an environment of welcome and guard against Sunday school cliques and exclusiveness.
Improve the appearance of classrooms and your organizational structure.
Provide Sunday school social events and special programs to which dropouts receive a special invitation.
Provide transportation where needed. A bus may not be necessary. Car pooling or use of vans or station wagons may be the answer.
We can win back those dropouts! Pray, organize and work – then trust the Lord for success!