I serve a fairly large congregation with very sparse adult participation in Sunday School. Currently my colleague is teaching the adults; I'm up next starting in a few weeks. It's hard to be motivated for the handful who'll turn up no matter what. I've been trying to think of something that might draw in some new folks; namely parents who currently bring their kids to Sunday School and may or may not be a part of the worship life of our congregation. I want something interesting and engaging and don't know where to turn. Any suggestions?
I’m a big proponent of asking people what would draw them to attend a class or participate in an event. Perhaps you could ask some of those parents of youngsters if there are themes or issues that would interest them. Not knowing what the current format of your adult class is, I’d caution you to consider the folks who show up “no matter what” and reflect upon what it is that they enjoy about the class, so that you can incorporate their likes and continue to draw them as you try something new. Maybe they, too, have some thoughts about what would be compelling and interesting. In the church I serve, parents enjoy a format that we offer occasionally called “open mic” where parents can talk about whatever is on their minds, from raising children to Sabbath time. We had an interesting conversation with some clips from a tv show on vacations that involve service or mission to the community. We’ve offered classes on great books for children and families related to a particular season of the liturgical year, have tackled the influence of the media on values, have done intergenerational classes on everything from bible study to social justice issues. Bottom line: it’s really good to do some advance work and see what people might attend, if offered. Then you’d be making decisions based on data, rather than on hunches or what works well in another setting that might not be the same as your own…
And Ruth offers:
I don’t wish to sound facetious and it’s hard to comment in details without knowing your set up. I have four small churches so I do understand the small numbers/motivation issue, believe me.
This may sound simplistic – but have you tried asking those who have dropped kids off what they would like?
Eg A chance to look at current issues in the Sunday papers from a Christian perspective; a chance to learn more about what their kids are doing; a chance to this about some of the ‘awkward’ questions kids sometimes ask’’ ; a look at parenting from a Christian angle...
Hope this is some help.
I want to add something about motivation. Our questioner says, "It's hard to be motivated for the handful that will turn up no matter what." I know how frustrating it is to work hard on something and then have only a few people show up, but I try to view those few people as offering me a sacred opportunity to minister with intimacy and more personal attention. The first four-and-a-half years of my ministry, I served an extremely small church in a small rural town. I felt very strongly about the need to give as much time and effort in my preaching and teaching there as I would for a congregation 100 times its size. While I agree that it's important to do whatever you can to draw more adults into the Sunday School program, I think it's equally important to try to maintain a high level of motivation for the work you do for those currently engaged in the program. You may never reach those who choose simply to drop their children off and go. But you have a holy opportunity to touch the lives of those who are going to come no matter what.
What about the rest of you? What are your experiences and thoughts? Please share! And as always, send us your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.