By Israel Steinmetz
Most Sabbath School teachers share a common frustration: low attendance. They feel like their congregation would benefit from Sabbath School class, but fewer than half of those who attend the worship service show up for class. Here are five tips for attracting more people to class:
1. LET TEACHERS TEACH
Many church classrooms consist of a discussion facilitator lobbing questions at a large group (10 or more people) who then “discuss” the topic. Oftentimes, this discussion consists of people repeating their favorite sayings, affirming their pre-conceived ideas, and trading half-quoted Scriptures. While the “round table” approach might work well in small, close-knit Bible study groups, this approach to large-group classroom interaction isn’t serving anyone well. Instead, we need to identify gifted, trained teachers and give them the freedom to teach. This doesn’t rule out discussion or Q&A. Instead, it raises the quality of the content students are receiving, clarifies the message, and safeguards against abuse/confusion. In short, it improves the “product”, which will in turn attract more “customers”.
2. INCREASE EXPECTATIONS ON STUDENTS
Christian education should meet—or exceed—student expectations in the secular world. This applies from the youngest of children up to the adults. Sadly, many Sabbath Schools are providing pre-school level lessons for elementary-aged kids, elementary appropriate lessons for teenagers and middle-school fare for adults. If the curriculum you’re using for the adult class only requires a 6th grade reading comprehension, you’re going to drive away a large segment of potential students who are hungry for challenging study. The level of expectation for Adult Sabbath School students should be similar to first year students at Bible College. Students should be learning new skills, understanding new concepts, and applying new methods in age-appropriate ways. Expect more of your students and you can expect more students.
3. KEEP IT PRACTICAL
People want to be involved in things that make a difference in their daily lives. People invest in what has value. If you want people to invest their time and energy in Sabbath School it needs to make a practical difference in their lives. Ensure that your class is outcome-focused and action-focused with curriculum and instruction that equips people to live out their daily lives for Christ. Sabbath School should be a place where people come to understand new concepts, learn new skills, and overcome obstacles. The more practical the material, the better. For instance, teaching financial management skills is far better than offering a lesson on financial principles. Training parents how to raise their kids is far better than explaining parenting concepts.
Ask yourself this question: As a result of attending Sabbath School today what can our students do throughout the week that they couldn’t do before? Clear and compelling answers to this question will make Sabbath School irresistible.
4. COMMUNICATE THE VALUE
So, let’s say you’ve taken steps 1-3 to improve the overall Sabbath School experience. You’ve got teachers in place who know how and what to teach. The expectation level has been raised so that students are being challenged and actually learning new ideas and skills. You’ve ensured that the content and delivery is practical and hits people where they live. Unfortunately, those who aren’t already attending Sabbath School won’t know the difference. Word-of mouth will attract a few, but you’ll need to find ways to communicate to your members that Sabbath School isn’t the same thing they’ve avoided in the past. Prioritize communication about Sabbath School outside of Sabbath School. Make announcements from the pulpit. Include it in the bulletin. Utilize email and social media. Get the word out about what Sabbath School has to offer. Don’t expect anyone to come unless you issue an invitation!
5. KEEP COMMUNICATING!
One of the most common fallacies in church communication is the idea that once you tell your people something they know it. The truth is you’ve got to keep telling them repeatedly and in different ways for them to get it and respond. The keyword here is over-communication. It’s a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. So, after you’ve advertised Sabbath School in every way you can think of, start over and advertise it again! Week after week, month after month. Until every person attending worship service is attending Sabbath School, you’re not finished advertising.