Tag: Sunday School

Sustainability: A Small Church Concern

Small churches are concerned about a lot of things including growth, finances, and ministry programs.  But one issue seems to cut across all of these small church concerns — sustainability. Small churches often do not ask the question, “How are we going to sustain this?” before launching a new program or ministry.

A quick glance at the typical small church’s schedule illustrates the importance of sustainability.  Most small churches have at least two weekly programs — worship and Sunday School.  Think about what it takes to sustain these efforts each week.

First, Sunday School.  If yours is like ours, we have classes for adults, teens, elementary children, and preschoolers.  Each of these classes needs a meeting space, some type of literature, supplies, and leaders.  Our church also maintains attendance records for Sunday School, so there are administrative functions that have to be attended to each week as well.

Our Sunday School spends about $4,000 a year on literature and supplies; has designated rooms for each group to meet in (which involves utility costs and furnishings); and, utilizes somewhere between 12 and 18 leaders each Sunday.  We have all of that infrastructure for an average Sunday School attendance of about 50 each week.

Then there’s worship.  Worship at our church involves the following:

  • a preacher (usually me);
  • a part-time accompanist;
  • a part-time choir director;
  • a choir of between 8 and 15 each week; and supplies like choir robes, hymnals, choir anthems and other special music;
  • meeting space (our sanctuary);
  • part-time custodial services to clean and prepare the space each week;
  • audio-visual equipment and volunteer operators;
  • ushers;
  • a group to prepare for communion and baptism each month;
  • administrative support for bulletins, envelopes, and other printed material;
  • worship participants who pray and read Scripture; and,
  • a flower committee for altar flowers and sanctuary decoration at special seasons of the year.

Each week we involve between 20 and 40 people just to provide worship for 80 to 100 people.

Given the above examples, what guidelines can you use to determine whether or not a ministry is sustainable?  A rule of thumb might be that a church needs 1 leader for every 3-5 participants.  This 20-33% ratio seems to hold true for other programs that we have, including our Wednesday night fellowship meal and the age-group programs that follow it. But remember: the younger the group, the more leaders per participants are needed.

What’s the point here?  Very simply, determine how many leaders and what resources your church needs to mount and sustain a new program.  Of course, specific programs will require different mixes of space, financial resources, supplies, and personnel.  But whatever programs your church is considering, these programs will need some combination of those elements.

As a pastor, don’t do what I have done too many times in the past — start a program by yourself, or one that is inadequately staffed or funded, hoping that others will help.  That approach seldom works.  Believe me, I know.

In my opinion, small churches function best when they realize that they cannot sustain more than a few weekly or monthly programs.  But small churches can supplement their weekly programs with one-time efforts such as special programs at Christmas and Easter; a once-a-year push to feed the hungry, or collect relief supplies; or, special outreach opportunities.  Small churches can rally higher percentages of their congregations for one-time events than for on-going weekly or monthly events.

In planning your church calendar for 2012, consider which programs you can sustain, and what other one-time events your church can orchestrate.  Sustainability is important for small churches.  When adequate consideration is given to what your programs will require to sustain them, your small church can avoid the disappointment of overloaded leaders and failed programs.

God’s Timing Is Important Even For Programs

God’s timing is important.  It’s so important that the writers of the New Testament distinguished between chronological time, chronos;  and, the right time, kairos.  Of course, there is much more to it than that, but you get the point.  The biblical writers knew the difference between the time of day, and the opportune time.

At our small church we’re experiencing a Kairos Moment.  Not a Kodak moment, but an it’s-the-right-time moment.  For over 3 years we’ve been trying to get something going for children’s ministry.  We tried several approaches, special events, and none of it worked.  Attendance was poor, enthusiasm was in short supply, and it just didn’t happen.

But this month we’ve seen a sudden resurgence in our children’s ministry.  Last fall we created a Family Ministry Team composed of young adults who were all new members of our church.  Some have children, some don’t, but all of them are interested in enhancing our outreach and ministry to families.

Their recommendations were presented to, and adopted by our church this summer.  This month the first of those recommendations began to take shape.  They recommended a change in our Sunday School curriculum, and the addition of a younger children’s teaching time during the worship service.  And on Wednesday nights, we now have children’s missions groups for all ages from preschool through elementary school.

Our Sunday School class, which we started 3 years ago for younger adults has also grown.  Sunday we had a new family with three children attend both Sunday School and worship.  At our annual church picnic yesterday, most of these newer members and their kids were present.  They enjoyed fishing, playing with each other, riding the 4-wheelers around the farm, and just being outdoors on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

On the way back to the church on the church bus, a couple of us commented that “this is God’s timing” because all of our efforts to get children’s ministry cranking had failed previously.  Our plan is to “grow up” our own teen group by starting with the children we have who in a few years will themselves be teenagers.  It’s a long-term plan, but one that I can see taking shape now.

My point in all of this is that God’s timing is important.  Too often we see God’s timing only in big events.  But even a program like Sunday School and children’s church, or children’s mission groups, is in the Father’s hands, too.  At the right time, the right people will come forward, the children will appear, and God’s providence will prove infallible again.

If you’re struggling to get a program going, don’t despair.  Keep praying, keep hoping, keep dreaming of the day that God will raise up the right leaders, and things will begin to take shape.  Have you had that experience?  If so, share something in the comments to encourage others.  Thanks.

Small groups are the building blocks of small churches

Our church is typical of many established, small town churches.  Three years ago, our congregation was made up mostly of older adults.  Of course, older adults are the backbone of many congregations.  They provide a higher-than-average amount of financial support, they attend with above-average faithfulness, and they love their church.

Our senior adults are wonderful, and they realized that for our church’s future we needed to reach out to younger adults and young families.  But the mass mailings we had tried did not produce new visitors.  To add to our difficulty, the region in which we live has been in an economic downturn for several years.  Few jobs exist for younger adults, and few young families were moving to our area.

But three years ago we started a younger adult Sunday School class with about 5 younger adults.  I’m using the term “younger” because age is a relative thing.  We needed to reach folks in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, but we weren’t going to do that all at once.  We believed that if we started lowering the age-range, we would eventually reach young families with young children.

Yesterday at our church-wide covered-dish lunch, 12 children were running around the fellowship hall while the adults finished eating and talking.  Six of the 12 were preschoolers; 5 are elementary schoolers; and, 1 is a middle schooler. These are our class members’ children.  As the sound of giggles and laughter bounced around the room, all of us were glad to see children playing around us, again.

Our class also had a record attendance yesterday with 19 present. A couple of our class members were out, so the number could have been higher.  These younger adults have already begun taking leadership positions.  One was elected a deacon last year, another takes a turn once a month leading our children’s time during worship, and 6 of the class members are leading our new Family Ministry Team.

Three years ago we started with five.  Now there are over 20.  Our class with their children now account for 20-30% of our attendance each week.

Starting a new class or small group isn’t glamorous, and it’s not a new idea.  But, starting a new class is a strategy that works.  I remember years ago Lyle Schaller, author and church consultant, saying “new people need new groups.”  If you want to attract new people to your church, start a new class, be patient, practice hospitality, and watch as the group grows and matures.  Small groups are still the building blocks of small churches.

Many are chilled, but few are frozen

Chatham in the snow Our house sits on Main Street across from the Carter’s #3 store. I have found Carter’s #2 (it’s in Gretna), but I’m still looking for Carter’s #1. But, back to my point. Next to Carter’s #3, reposes Scott’s Funeral Home. Nice folks and they perform their services with dignity and kindness. But more importantly, they’re also the only business in town with a time-and-temperature sign, which we can see from our upstairs front windows. They turn the sign off at 11 PM, so if you need to check the temperature, you have to do it before 11.

This morning when I got up, the temperature registered 21-degrees. The windchimes reminded me it was windy. We were supposed to have snow last night, but it went east of us, so that was the big topic at church today. Of course, the crowd was down because it was unbelievably cold and windy, making the “feels-like” (whatever happened to the word windchill?) in the single digits. So, the conversations in the hall went something like this —

“Little chilly this morning, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but we dodged a bullet last night on the snow.”

“Right about that. ‘Course, I like a good snow a couple of times a year.”

So, that conversation got repeated in various ways about 50 times today. But, we still had 39 in Sunday School, and probably 60 in worship, and actually had a young family visit for the first time today.

Our sanctuary has three sections of pews downstairs — left, middle, and right. All the heat registers are on the sides, so when I walked into the sanctuary this morning, everybody was sitting on one side or the other — the middle was totally empty. I kidded our folks about Baptists who like warmer temperatures and reminded them that in eternity there was at least one very warm location. Of course, someone reminded me that heaven was not this cold.

Because the group was smaller, I walked down off the platform and preached from the floor in front of the communion table. I like to do that from time to time, and our folks seem to like the variety. Today’s sermon was from John 1:29-42, titled “Invite Others.” Afterward, we all rushed home for lunch so we could get back for the music recital.

This afternoon, the community gathered in our sanctuary at 3 PM for the mid-year recital of the Chatham Arts Community Music School. About 30-kids performed, parents were proud, and video cams were everywhere. So, that was it. A good Sunday on a cold day in Chatham. We’ve been doing this for 151-years now. I imagine we’ll be around for a few more, cold weather or not.