In a recent article for his blog, John Ed Mathison writes: “Change is always difficult because most of us don’t want to change. However, the amount of growth is oftentimes dependent on the amount of change we are willing to make."
My experience with Sunday School at Frazer is an excellent example. Early in my ministry I put together a visionary group called the Joel Team to help discern God’s vision for the future. One layperson suggested that Sunday School attendance had to grow in our church. This bucked the trend because United Methodist Sunday School had been declining over the last 50 years. Our Sunday School was small, but these creative laypeople began to discuss how we could change that trend.
We discovered that some of the larger Sunday School classes were meeting in smaller rooms, and some of our smaller classes were meeting in larger rooms. This isn’t good stewardship in the use of the facility. Let me remind you that Sunday School classes have a tendency to have ownership of their space. They go to great efforts to upgrade the looks of their classroom. The window treatments, the altar tables, etc. are oftentimes personally made by members of the class. One layperson suggested, “Why don’t we look at Sunday School attendance every six months and rearrange the rooms to give the largest rooms to the largest classes.”
Caution! This is a huge change. People began to see that every Sunday School class might have to change rooms. But the question is – do we want to grow a Sunday School or do we want to have business as usual and keep our own rooms? Change would be necessary.
The Joel Team, consisting of people from all age groups, said that our core value is to grow our Sunday School. To do that it would be necessary to place the largest classes in the largest rooms. It was voted on and passed unanimously, because the core value did not center around the inconvenience of change but the vision of growing the Sunday School.
Every six months the average attendance of each class is recorded and the rooms are assigned accordingly. The Sunday School grew to three sessions each Sunday morning. Each room is used three times. If you go to Frazer today you will see no permanent Sunday School class names on a door. There are actually three slots for 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 Sunday School. Each class has a nameplate that they can slide into that slot. The classrooms change accordingly to average attendance and the size of the room. It has also created a bit of competition. If you want to keep your Sunday School room, you need to be inviting people and growing!
Another layperson suggested that the best way to grow our Sunday School is to start new classes. Because the tendency to give a new Sunday School class a room that is not being used (because nobody else wanted that room) you design defeat for the new class. The Joel Team suggested that we give the best classrooms to the new classes. That was a big mindset change for Sunday School classes.
All of these ideas passed our governing body almost unanimously. Because the Joel Team had representatives from every age group in the church it was not a case of “they” making a decision for radical change, but it was a “we” are a part of that deciding body. If these proposals had been my idea, I would not have been retained as pastor very long! But this was the vision of the laypeople. When laypeople have ownership, vision becomes reality.
What was the result? Frazer grew a Sunday School that became the largest Sunday School attendance of any United Methodist Church in America!! The amount of change dictates the amount of growth. Vision became reality when people were willing to change.” (www.johnedmathison.org)