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How to Build a Strong Sunday School Foundation

How to Build a Strong Sunday School Foundation
October 2, 2015 Dale Hudson
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Have you ever seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy? If you haven’t been there in person, I’m sure you’ve seen pictures. Construction on the tower began in 1173 and by the time builders began work on the second floor, the tower had begun to sink to one side. The cause? A weak foundation. At a mere 3 meters, or about 9 feet, and set in weak, unstable subsoil, the foundation was flawed from the beginning.

Like a tower, a solid, thriving Sunday school starts with a firm foundation. Get the foundation right and you’ll be on your way to reaching children for Jesus.

The foundational base for your Sunday school is found in God’s Word. Jesus charged us with reaching and teaching children and families—to help them become fully devoted followers of Jesus. His words in Matthew 28:19-20 give us a foundational “why” for Sunday school:

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

As a Sunday school leader, you want to ensure that your ministry has that solid foundation from which everything else can spring.

Let’s look at what it takes to build a solid foundation for your Sunday school ministry.

1. Determine your mission

A mission statement helps solidify your “why.” If you don’t have a mission statement, then gather your key teachers and create one. Here are tips for creating your mission statement.

  • Keep it biblical. Keep it reflective of Matthew 28:19-20.
  • Keep it unified. Align it with your church’s overall mission statement, if possible.
  • Keep it short. If it’s simple, it’ll be memorable. Long mission statements might look good on paper, but most people won’t remember them. For example, ours is “Impacting Our World With the Love and Message of Jesus Christ…Everyone…Every day…Everywhere.”
  • Keep it fun. Each time your team gets together, have them repeat the mission statement. Make it fun by saying it as a cheer or shouting it together. Reminding your teachers of your mission helps them stay focused and motivated in a unified direction.
  • Keep it visible. Put it on display in your Sunday school rooms and hallways, in print on take-home pieces, and so on.

2. Define your core values

After you’ve solidified your mission statement, create your core values. Core values are the pillars that help you live out your mission statement. They’re the foundational supports that solidify your mission. Core values are the key goals you’re committed to as a team, what you’re passionate about, and what guides your Sunday school ministry.

As you create your core values, here’s what you need to remember.

  • Brevity – Limit the number and length of core values. You want people to remember them. The average human brain best remembers seven words or fewer.
  • Publicity – Once you’ve named your core values, publicize and display them. Hang them in meeting rooms and hallways, and print them on handouts and teacher materials.
  • Clarity – Explain your core values to your team. Help them understand that positive actions follow positive core values. When you introduce the core values and when newcomers begin service in your ministry, ask them to agree to abide by the core values.
  • Accountability – Hold each other accountable. For example, if a teacher gossips about another teacher and you have an “All for One” core value, the listener could kindly remind the speaker about that core value.
  • Recognition – Recognize and honor teammates who reflect the core values. For example, if you have a “Live to Give” core value and a team member visits and prays with a child in the hospital, you can point out the core value you noticed either privately or publicly.
  • Repetition – Repeat core values often. Core values leak and have a way of disappearing. Keep pointing your team toward them.

Core values examples

Here are examples of the core values where I serve.

All for one Unity centered on Jesus and our core beliefs

Inside out – Living a life marked by prayer and integrity

Grow to go – Remaining teachable to become usable

Live to give – Stewarding our lives for eternity

A passion for people – Impacting humanity with the love of God

3. Build a strong team

The strength of your Sunday school also rests on the foundation of your leadership team. That’s the irony of a children’s Sunday school ministry: It’s just as much about the adults who minister to the children as it is about the children themselves. Ensure that you have all your roles clearly defined. Once you’ve done that, empower your team to thrive in their roles. Empowering a volunteer team is foundational; show me a thriving Sunday school and I’ll show you a thriving team of volunteers.

Your team is a key aspect of your Sunday school foundation. Here are the key roles you’ll need.

  • Sunday School Leader – This person is your Sunday school champion— someone who’s passionate about growing faith in kids and families and who lives and breathes your mission statement and core values. This person is a thermostat, not a thermometer, setting the spiritual temperature of your Sunday school ministry. This person has the gift of leadership and a shepherd’s heart. He or she is a key decision-maker when it comes to curriculum, casting vision, training and equipping teachers, setting calendar dates, and more. Weekend availability is critical for encouraging team members and greeting kids and families.
  • Key Teacher This person loves to teach and impact kids. He or she is responsible for facilitating lessons and connecting with families. Key teachers are naturally good with kids and are people kids like to be around.
  • Assistant Teacher This person also loves to teach and impact kids. He or she assists the key teacher in facilitating the lesson and is usually equipped to take the lead when the key teacher is absent.
  • Room Assistant This is someone who enjoys being around kids. He or she provides general support inside the room with tasks such as crafts, snacks, restroom breaks, and more.
  • Hallway Coordinator This person’s responsibility is to ensure that each group is operating smoothly and the teachers have what they need for their activities.
  • Greeter A greeter’s main job is to smile. Look for cheerful, outgoing people who can make guests feel welcome and comfortable. Greeters assist families with check-in, register first-time guests, and give directions.
  • Resource Coordinator This person prepares supplies for each Sunday school class. With most of the prep time taking place during the week, this person loves details, organizing, and even shopping. He or she may also recruit other people to come in during the week to prepare resources.

Find, place, and sustain your team

There’s so much involved in creating a dynamic Sunday school team. As you build your team, there are four important factors to keep in mind.

  1. Clarify job descriptions. It’s important to create a job description for each role on your team. Clearly outline the time commitment, the responsibilities, the benefits of the role, and any other expectations.
  2. Place people in their “sweet spot.” Take time to find out each person’s gifts and passions. Don’t place people where you need them to fill a gap. Instead, place them where they’re gifted. When people are in their sweet spot, serving is energizing.
  3. Build mentorship into your team structure. Create a culture where each teacher or team member intentionally mentors another teacher or team member as everyone serves together. In other words, the leader invests in key teachers who can one day be Sunday school leaders. A key teacher prepares assistant teachers to become key teachers one day. An assistant teacher prepares room assistants to be assistant teachers one day.
  4. Plan for appropriate adult-to-child ratios. Check with your state’s law required adult-to-child ratios first, and then build a set ratio into the foundation of your Sunday school. Here’s the ratio our ministry follows.
  • Infants: 1 to 2
  • Crawlers: 1 to 3
  • Toddlers and Twos: 1 to 4
  • Threes and Fours: 1 to 8
  • Fives through Sixth-Graders: 1 to 10

Having a good adult-to-child ratio is critical to the success of your ministry. Here’s why.

  • Effective learning is possible. You can move from “crowd control” to interactive, hands-on learning.
  • Safety increases. Teachers can supervise children more closely, which leads to fewer accidents. And things such as fire evacuation plans are more efficient.
  • Teacher retention goes up. Nothing causes burnout faster than putting teachers or team members in a room where the ratio is way out of proportion. They’ll leave frustrated, wondering whether they can do it again next week. When you honor ratios, you’re honoring your team.
  • Parent confidence increases. Parents feel comfortable leaving children with you when adult-to-child ratios are correct. A new family looking into an overcrowded room will be hesitant to leave their kids—or they won’t come back.
  • The children enjoy the experience more. Children experience stress when they’re in crowded situations where there is a lack of toys, personal attention, and personal space for play. Proper ratios help kids relax, have fun, and learn.

4. Evaluate your ministry

Continual evaluation is vital to sustaining a strong ministry foundation. Start with the “wins” or successes you hope to achieve in each area of your Sunday school.

Create a checklist from your wins and use it to evaluate your Sunday school ministry regularly. It’s also a good idea to occasionally have someone from outside your ministry do the evaluation. A fresh set of eyes lets you see new things. Also take time for discussion with your key teachers after each evaluation. Ask key questions, such as:

  • What’s working well?
  • What’s not working well?
  • What’s missing?
  • What’s confusing?
  • What can we improve?

Be willing to tweak. Always look for ways to change your program and make it better. Just think: If you tweak one thing each week, this time next year, your Sunday school will be 52 times better!

Preschool wins

  • Environment is welcoming and appealing to new families.
  • Adult-to-child ratio is appropriate.
  • Team members engage with the kids.
  • Teams follow the curriculum plan.
  • Kids are engaged and learning.
  • Music is worshipful, fun, and age-appropriate.
  • Rooms are clean and well-maintained.
  • Take-home pieces go home with parents.
  • Drop-off and pick-up process is quick, safe, and efficient.
  • Kids go home remembering the Bible point.

Elementary wins

  • Environment is welcoming and appealing to new families.
  • Adult-to-child ratio is appropriate.
  • Team members engage with the kids.
  • Kids are engaged and learning.
  • Teams follow the curriculum plan.
  • Music is worshipful, fun, and age-appropriate.
  • Rooms are clean and well-maintained.
  • Take-home piece goes home with parents.
  • Drop-off and pick-up process is quick, safe, and efficient.
  • Kids go home remembering the Bible passage and main point.
  • Kids know the Scripture passages.
  • Kids complete the weekly challenge.
  • Kids bring their friends to church.

5. Build a strong relationship with your church

An average Sunday school impacts children, but a strong Sunday school impacts an entire church. Unity within your church is foundational to the success of your Sunday school ministry. Here are pointers to build a strong relationship with your church body.

  • Build strong relationships through collaboration. Rather than being a silo where you’re separated from other areas of your church, be intentional about partnering with other ministries within your church.
  • Build strong relationships through feedback. Invite feedback from church leaders and parents—and stay teachable and humble. Great leaders are always growing…and always will be.
  • Build strong relationships through communication. Provide regular reports to your church leadership. Share progress and praise reports. Share challenges, but when you have challenges, come to church leaders with possible solutions as well. Remember that an average Sunday school brings challenges to church leaders, but a great Sunday school brings challenges and possible solutions to church leaders.
  • Build strong relationships through trust. When an issue arises and hasn’t been resolved, always fill the gap with trust—assume the best about the other person’s motives.

Establish these principles into the foundation of your children’s Sunday school ministry and it’ll stand tall and straight and impact kids and families for eternity.

Looking for more ways to improve your children’s ministry? I invite you to join me at Group KidMin Conference. It’s this September 22-24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. I will be there both as a keynote speaker and also a presenter. I’ll be leading the following sessions:

  • Pre-conference session: Lead Well in Kidmin
  • The Secret Formula for Building Great Volunteer Teams
  • Leading Millennial Volunteers

Hope to see you there!

Dale Hudson has served in children’s ministry for over 24 years. He’s the director of children’s ministry at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach, Florida. Dale’s also an author, husband, and father. He was named one of the top 20 influencers in children’s ministry by Children’s Ministry Magazine. Dale blogs at relevantchildrensministry.com.

9 Comments

  1. Jesse Jamison 5 years ago

    I’m a big fan of smaller classes. It is easier on the teachers and retention goes up. It just means that you have to find more teachers. Fortunately, I think most parents are willing to take some time to teach Sunday school classes to their kids and a few others.

  2. Kate Warnock 5 years ago

    Thank you for your insight, Jesse. It’s great to hear you have a lot of parent involvement so your classes can be smaller and more manageable for leaders. It sounds like it’s best for everyone!

  3. George Uranda 5 years ago

    I am a born again leader of Sunday school. I really have loved your material. I have learned new ideas, God bless you.

  4. I have just been chosen as a Sunday school director and i didn’t know what to do, but i had the passion and vision for the children. With you encouragements i have got by reading your ” Building a Strong Sunday School Foundation”, i have been Equipped and am ready to take the children to high grades. I need more of this. Thank you.

  5. Ravi 4 years ago

    It was wonderful to know about Vision and mission, it was so encouraging to me to encourage other Teachers. God bless you and use you more in coming days.
    Ravi

  6. Okello Peter 4 years ago

    thank you for the efforts you put in to guide us in the world
    Peter Okello- Busia Uganda

    • Julia Johnson 4 years ago

      Hi Okello, Thank you for your kind comment. It is our mission to help people grow in a relationship with Jesus, and we’re so glad you’ve found this content helpful. Thank you for all that you do!

  7. We aree a group of volunteers and pening a new scheme in our community.
    Your web site provided us with valuable information to work on. You have done a formidable
    job and our entire cokmunity will be grateful to you.

  8. Michael 2 years ago

    Thank you for this piece, it’s very helpful.

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