Growing off the Plateau

We looked last week at the term plateau, church health, and church growth.  Let’s think some about how to get off the plateau.

Kirk Hadaway has conducted much research over the years with Southern Baptist churches in particular.  He also attempted to determine the characteristics of plateaued churches and what he called, “Breakout churches”–those that had grown off the plateau  and had experienced 10% or greater growth over five years.  

Many of you have read this research but I still think his suggestions are helpful. 

One common characteristic among these breakout churches: strong Sunday Schools!  Describing his research, Hadaway says, “Is there a strong relationship between the quality of Sunday School programming and church growth? The answer is YES.”    He went on to share that “the overall quality of Sunday School programming is very important to church growth.”

He also examined the characteristics of those strong Sunday Schools.  I have found these helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of Sunday Schools where I have served.  I also always talked about Sunday School not as a program but as a ministry!  There is a huge difference.  You may want to  use these characteristics to measure the effectiveness of your Sunday School.

1. Effective outreach programs. “BOC” (BreakOut Churches) used a variety of approaches to spread both the gospel and the news about their Bible studies and ministries.

2. High attendance emphases.  As old fashioned as it may seem, growing churches use periodic high attendance Sundays to build attendance, excitement, anticipation, and to provide markers for progress in reaching people.

3. Training programs for workers.  Hadaway’s research verified that training is essential to effective Christian education and to effective growth.  This finding is confirmed by the Search Institute research on factors which contribute to the development of mature faith among members.  Taking your workers to Super Saturday training or an associational training event or conducting training tailored to fit your church’s needs all make a difference.

4. Quality children’s and adult areas.  Here’s another point that is proven in much research: in order to reach parents we must provide quality children’s and pre-school ministries.  The two go hand-in-hand.  Adult and children’s leaders are partners in reaching and teaching.  When I pastored we needed more worship space and Sunday School space.  Which do we do first?  I led the church to provide preschool and children’s space first because I knew we would not reach the parents if we did not provide for their children first.  Time proved that was a wise decision.  We even punted on new staff offices and let that space become preschool space.

5. Goal setting and striving.  BOC churches set goals for their Sunday Schools and strove to reach them through faith and action.  Goals include more than numbers, too: increased discipleship, more leaders, more training, more people finding their personal ministries, more involvement in missions as a result of what is studied in Sunday School, greater stewardship.

6. Starting new classes.  BOC realize that the most effective means for reaching new people is starting new units of Bible study.  They recognize that older, established classes may provide quality Bible study and ministry to members, but new classes are more effective in attracting new people.

7. Channeling new members and prospects into the new classes rather than established classes.  For the same reason new classes are more effective reaching new people, ministry may also be better because attention and care can be more concentrated on a smaller number of persons.

8. Regular time for prospect visitation.  Does visitation still work?  It does for BOC.  Additional research indicates that when contacts are made is also important.  To be effective visitation or other contacts need to be made within 36 hours of the guests’ first contact with a church.  After that the likelihood of reaching them diminishes.

9. Major on evangelistic visitation.  Not only do BOC visit regularly, there is a specific purpose to their visits.  Those who visit know that they are to share a testimony to the effect of the gospel, or perhaps something they are learning in Bible study.

10.  More accepting of newcomers.  A major difference between plateaued churches and those that had begun to grow was their openness to new people.  This one is huge as we attempt to create an environment of hospitality and really show the love of Jesus.

Go back and rate these 1 to 5 with one being the lowest and five the highest to see how your church is doing in these areas.  Every church can improve and be more effective for the glory of Christ.

One Comment

  1. Good, practical advice. Thanks for sharing!

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