This is post 29 of 31 Days of Missionary Sunday School.
A frequently asked question of many Sunday School leaders is, “When is a Sunday School class too large?” Typically the question is asked by someone who is aware of the rule of thumb regarding a cap on enrollment. Through the years, this rule suggested starting a new class before the class enrollment reached twenty-five, but situations and circumstances have caused many to rethink or disregard this limit on enrollment.
There have always been other factors to consider as well. One rule that is hard to break is the capacity rule. Simply put, the capacity of the classroom determines the size of the group. It is hard to consistently exceed eighty percent of the room’s capacity in attendance.
Capability of class leaders is another factor to consider when deciding if a new group should be started. It is always good to maintain a healthy leader to learner ratio to maximize the competency of all leaders. When the ratio is unhealthy, leaders are stretched beyond their ability to minister effectively. However, even with a healthy ratio, some teachers do not like larger classes because it strains at their availability. Some teachers want personal involvement with each class member, and this interaction can become difficult when the membership grows ‘too’ large.
The contribution rule is one that I personally consider when evaluating a group. Is this group contributing to the overall mission of the Sunday School? Is it maximizing its potential for being on mission, developing disciples, starting new groups, and sending out leaders? When a group begins to fail at reaching its potential, then the group may be losing focus on the mission. A group can become inward focused and stagnant when it ceases to make a significant contribution to the mission of the Sunday School.
These four factors are helpful ‘rules of thumb’ for keeping groups on-mission in Sunday School. There is another factor that captures the essence of each of these four factors: the two-year principle. The two year principle tends to be the ‘rule’ with virtually no exception.
In two years, a class tends to reach its maximum enrollment and attendance capacity, form tight-knit relationships, decrease in opportunities for someone to assume a leadership role, and become unwilling to send people out in leadership or to start a new group. At two years, groups are still open to newcomers but will do well to add one person for every person that leaves.
Though the group is open for new members, many guests will find it difficult to get connected. In two years, friendships grow deeper among existing members, and ‘outsiders’ are not be able to penetrate the inner circle of relationships. It is healthy for members to develop meaningful relationships in a small group, so each group must consistently start new groups to allow others to get connected in fellowship.
In two years, class leadership is well established, and few leadership opportunities remain for newcomers. The best way to create new opportunities for leadership and service is to start a new group. New groups demand more leaders and create new opportunities for serving the Lord. New groups tend to focus on new people and will assist their members in finding friends, becoming disciples, and serving.
Daniel Edmonds, State Missionary, Director of the Office of Sunday School & Discipleship, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions