Today’s post by Wayne Etheridge is the seventh installment in our Coach’s Guide to Sunday School resource provided by the office of Sunday School and Discipleship. To see the full guide, visit ALSBOM.org/coachsguidetosundayschool.
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” According to this proverb, we typically view what other people have or their situation as better or more desirable than our own.
This principle appears in churches too—we look at another church (often a larger one), see what they have (more people, property, buildings, money, so forth), and think such thoughts as, “If only we had that many people, we would never have to struggle finding and enlisting workers.”
Many (if not most) times, this is only a perception, not reality—the other people have difficulties, obstacles or challenges we may not know about, recognize or understand.
Recently I was in a church that in their Sunday worship bulletin included a large card with the numbers 3-3-2 printed vertically on one side and the following statement on the other: “Any given Sunday it takes 332 ministry volunteers on campus.” The remainder of the card listed those positions by category—over 80% (270) were for preschool, children, middle school and high school. This card encouraged people to “Join the 332 Team.”
Since the typical (median) Southern Baptist church has less than 60 people total attending Sunday School each Sunday, likely you do not need to enlist 270. However, every church, every Sunday School—regardless of size, location, age—must enlist people for leadership. Every team must have players enlisted, equipped and engaged in the game in order to accomplish the team’s purpose and achieve its goals.
First Things First
You are the God-called, church-elected ministry leader of the Sunday School. Get your heart, head and hands around that fact firmly before going any further. You will lead best if you enlist a Sunday School Planning Team to serve with you. As the Sunday School “coaching staff,” this leadership team works together in the critical matter of discovering and enlisting workers, and all that goes into that process as shared in this chapter.
With that in mind, let’s use a pro football draft process as an analogy to illustrate key aspects of your work in discovering and enlisting Sunday School workers. The draft itself is not an isolated event—it is the culmination of a year-round process involving scouts, coaches and front office personnel. Many hours are spent studying, interviewing, evaluating and discussing before the three days of actual selection take place. A successful draft—or lack of it—can and does have a significant impact on a team for years, and it does not happen by accident, coincidence or luck.
So how do you apply this to your role as Sunday School director?
Discovering and enlisting workers is so much more than simply filling slots on a roster—it is a spiritual process by which we seek God’s guidance to invite people to be engaged in a life-changing ministry, nothing less. Therefore, doing it well and doing it right are vital.
Below are four key actions to take before beginning the actual enlistment process. Taking the time to do these on the front end will make the experience more meaningful for everyone.
1. Know what you are looking for before you start looking
These are not job descriptions, rather these are the spiritual, character and relational elements. These are the most vital because everything about a worker grows out of these elements.
Your church likely has some leadership standards or requirements identified in its constitution and bylaws. A typical example is that a person must be a member of the church and have been for a minimum amount of time (often six months to a year).
Essential qualifications that most churches include are:
- Baptized as a believer
- Church member of that congregation
- Called by God to serve and to serve in that age group
- Relates well with others
- Growing as a believer through prayer and Bible study
- Willing to train to improve as a leader
As you develop your own list, remember that you are enlisting people for a life-changing ministry—do not be content to take people whose primary qualification is that they are breathing and show up. This work is too important for that. Serving the Lord through the Sunday School IS a big deal. Having low expectations or taking shortcuts on worker qualifications virtually assures problems in the future.
Every pro football team has a playbook and each player on the team has specific responsibilities on each play. Some teams provide their playbooks on tablet computers for ease of use by the players.
If your church does not have any written Sunday School worker job descriptions, then work with your Sunday School Planning Team to develop them as soon as possible. This process allows all age groups to be directly involved in the content of each position and elevates the importance of these responsibilities. Coach’s Guide to Sunday School 30
Look carefully at the job descriptions found at the State Board of Missions’ website, alsbom.org/ss-helps. You may use these as they are or develop your own with these serving as a guide. Either way, prospective workers need to know what is expected of them and what specific responsibilities are involved as they pray and decide about serving.
2. Know what you need and where you need them
Pro football teams must decide what kinds of predominant offensive and defensive schemes they intend to run in order to know what types of players need to be drafted. Certain schemes require more players at one position or another.
Similarly in Sunday School, the organization needs to be planned before workers are enlisted. As Sunday School director, you need to know how many total workers are needed AND how many in each age group (preschool, children, youth, adults). Planning the organization should be an integral part of the annual planning done by your Sunday School Planning Team.
Example: Your current Sunday School organization is comprised of two preschool classes, two children’s classes, one youth class and two adult classes. In annual planning, the team sees the need for one more youth class and perhaps one more adult class. Now you know not only how many total workers are needed but that additional youth and adult workers will be needed beyond those presently serving.
3. Know who else is in the room and communicate well
On draft days, a variety of persons are in the “war room” of each pro football team, and other people may be available via phone or computer links.
Many churches use a Nominating Committee (or similar group) to recommend to the church all workers for various church ministries for the next year. If this is true in your church, you will want to work with them in the enlistment of Sunday School workers.
The key principle is that workers need to be enlisted by the person to whom they are accountable for their service. Why?
- The spiritual and ministry relationship is established in the enlistment process as you pray and share together.
- You have the most in-depth knowledge of the work to be done, the Sunday School goals, and how that person’s gifts and abilities will help accomplish them (why they are needed on the team).
- You are in the best position to answer any questions or address other issues the prospective worker may have.
The Nominating Committee’s assigned task is to recommend people for leadership roles. You are doing the “leg work” for them in relation to the Sunday School portion of their task.
4. Know the completion date
Pro football teams know when draft days will be held—the exact dates may change from time to time, but no team gets caught by surprise.
Every church has a date for when the new church year begins. Obviously all workers need to be enlisted and approved by that date. If your church has a Nominating Committee that presents all workers for all church ministries for church approval in a single business meeting, then you work backwards from that business meeting date to know when the Sunday School workers portion of all church workers must be completed.
Example: The new church year begins on the first Sunday of September, and the church has a business meeting on the first Sunday evening of August. In that scenario, all Sunday School workers should be enlisted and names given to the Nominating Committee no later than July 15 so that the list can be prepared and ready for distribution at the business meeting.
Doing the Work of Discovering and Enlisting Workers
Coaches develop a game plan for their team when facing an opponent—that game plan is the coach’s strategy for calling set plays at certain times in particular situations.
In order to accomplish the aspect of your work addressed in this chapter most effectively, you need:
- A strategy for discovering workers
- A strategy for enlisting workers
- A strategy for retaining workers
Do not get overwhelmed by the word “strategy.” It simply means having a plan and a process for carrying out a task.
A Strategy for Discovering Workers
Matthew 9:35-38 shows us Jesus’ heart for people and for engaging His disciples in a lifechanging ministry to people. He called people to follow Him, learn from Him, then go out to share His message and continue His mission.
One approach to discovering workers used quite often in churches is for the Nominating Committee to go through the church membership roll and identify potential workers, compile a list of those, and then seek to enlist them directly. Or, better yet, provide the list to various ministry leaders in the church (such as the Sunday School director) for them to enlist the needed workers and share the names with the Nominating Committee to recommend to the church.
This process can be effective. However, too many times the result is that familiar and/or popular persons are sought, and lesser known individuals are omitted, not considered, or ignored. That results in a bad outcome for the church and for the workers. New people are not involved and therefore do not grow as disciples nearly as much; the church loses new energy, spirit and opportunities to reach and teach more people; and current workers are recycled and may be asked to take on additional tasks.
As Sunday School director, you and the “coaching staff” (Sunday School Planning Team) will want to develop an ongoing (year-round) strategy for discovering workers rather than limiting this to only one to two months. Here are four practical steps for the strategy:
1. Go where the people are first
Remember one simple truth—all Sunday School workers, regardless of where they serve, are adults. And your point is…? Therefore the adult Sunday School classes are the places to start.
Daniel Edmonds, Sunday School and Discipleship director for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, has profoundly and correctly said, “The measure of success in a Sunday School class is not how many people show up but how many grow up and go out to serve.”
Talk with adult teachers (and other class leaders) about potential workers in their classes. Discuss such questions as “What spiritual gifts, ministry passions and abilities do they see in people in the class?” and “Who are people who have volunteered or agreed to serve in a class project?” Then begin to compile a list of potential workers by classes.
2. Observe people yourself and encourage the Sunday School Planning Team to do the same
Jesus saw fishermen going about their business and called two sets of brothers to follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22). Jesus observed Matthew handling his responsibilities as a tax collector and called him as well (Matthew 9:9). Jesus called them as they were and for what they could become in and through Him.
Do not just consider the people currently serving. Seek to expand the leadership base of the Sunday School. Look for people who are not serving presently. Look also at new people who have joined the church over the last six months to a year. Look for ways to move people into simple, informal ministry roles to help assimilate them into the life and mission of the church. Ask new members if they have served previously and if so, where and in what type of ministry. When people are involved, they are more committed because they have a stake in the work.
Here are two key initial questions to ask in regards to a potential worker:
- Could this person serve if he or she was willing?
- Would this person be acceptable to the church?
3. Intentionally use Vacation Bible School to find potential workers
VBS is one of the very best places and opportunities any church has to find new Sunday School workers. Several reasons explain why this is true:
- VBS offers a wide variety of ways to be involved as a leader so most anyone can find a place to serve.
- The planning that leaders need to do helps people develop relationships with other church members and develop teamwork.
- Participating in the associational VBS training (and any training conducted by the church) helps sharpen knowledge and skills, and builds confidence for doing their ministry task.
- The real-world experience of actually serving in VBS helps workers grow spiritually as they see lives touched and changed through a church ministry.
Work with the VBS director to identify last year’s VBS workers who are potential Sunday School workers AND to set a goal to purposely enlist at least 3-5 new people to serve in the next VBS.
4. Move to having an apprentice
An apprentice who learns from a master, a veteran or an experienced craftsman is a model. This process has been followed in many fields throughout history, even to this present time. Some professions even require on-the-job training as part of the certification process.
In the Old and New Testaments, we see examples of a God-called leader enlisting and equipping a successor, and part of that experience included the successor serving as an apprentice who learned through participating in the work.
Some notable ones are
- Moses and Joshua
- Eli and Samuel
- Elijah and Elisha
- Jesus and the disciples
- Paul and Timothy
- Timothy and faithful men who can teach others
An apprentice is much more than a standing substitute, assistant teacher or associate—an apprentice is not the backup quarterback who comes in only during a crisis or when the score is such that the outcome is assured.
An apprentice is a leader-in-training who prays, plans, prepares and regularly participates in actually doing, with the intention of leading a class in the future. This is the biblical means of having workers available and ready as the need arises.
Work with the Sunday School Planning Team to guide the Sunday School from having a substitute/assistant focus to the apprentice. Here is the question for each current Sunday School worker: “Who are you raising up as a new worker?”
A Strategy for Enlisting Workers
Much of the time, we enlist our problems—just not deliberately or purposefully. We do this by what we say to a prospective worker during enlistment, by what we don’t say, or by how we actually handle the process.
- “The job isn’t that demanding; it doesn’t require much time.”
- “Yes, we really do want you to make contacts with the members and guest periodically. Forgot to mention that when we talked before.”
- “I just thought you understood that all the workers were expected to go to training. It really is important.”
- “I know you are in a hurry, but if you would just agree to do this, it would really help. Here’s the teacher’s book.”
- “Thank you for taking this. We had already talked to several other people and were really getting worried we couldn’t fill the position.”
Then we wonder why we have ineffective workers, discouraged workers, confused workers or short-term workers. Honestly, it is no wonder at all!
HOW we enlist workers sends a powerful message. The following five actions will provide a healthy strategy to enlist workers so that most problems are prevented rather than having to be fixed later:
1. Prayer – by everyone involved in worker enlistment (Nominating Committee, Sunday School director, planning team, so forth). Begin the process in prayer; pray throughout the process; pray for those who accept and for those who do not—this is God’s work, so be sure He is directly involved through prayer. Once you have sought and received God’s leadership about a particular person for a position, then proceed to the next step.
2. Personal visit – Text messaging, email and social media can be very helpful ways to communicate with family and friends, but they are very poor ways to enlist workers. Church hallways, parking lots or sporting /recreational events are not desirable either. Talk face-to-face to make an appointment (phone call also works); then discuss in-person the ministry position.
3. Presentation – be prepared to and actually address these issues; do not rush or prolong the conversation; share and listen; answer questions.
- Why me—why this person; how did you decide on him/her
- What for—share the needs this person can help meet; how the individual serving can help make a difference—NO HYPE
- What is involved and expected—the specifics of the position (job description); resources; what support he/she can expect from you
- With whom do I serve—show how this person “fits” into the team
4. Prayer – by and for the prospective worker. Do not ask for or press for an immediate response. Remember that you are approaching this person after a time of prayer and thought, so he or she needs to do the same. Pray for the person asking God to reveal His will and give clear guidance to the prospective worker. Pray with the person before you leave—this is not spiritual manipulation, rather a genuine petition for God to reveal His direction.
5. Planned follow-up contact – Generally, one week is sufficient time to give a prospective worker to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider a ministry position. A phone call or inperson is best. If the person declines, you can clarify the reason(s) if necessary. If the person has further questions or concern, you can respond quickly and directly. If the person accepts, thank the individual. If the person declines, thank the individual for prayerfully and thoughtfully considering the position. In either situation, share the results with the Nominating Committee so that group can continue to serve as a clearinghouse for prospective workers.
6. Conduct background checks for workers with preschoolers, children, and youth (persons under 18 years old) – Your state convention can provide you with appropriate information for obtaining this information. Each state has its own laws and reporting requirements. This action is vital for everyone—the kids themselves, their parents and family, the workers and the church.
A Strategy for Retaining Workers
Coaches know that filling the roster with good players is not enough—you also have to keep the players you select. Many factors go into keeping players long term, and teams are not always able to do so for a variety of reasons.
Two key factors in retaining the best players are compensation and communication. When players are paid well and when there is open, honest communication among coaches, players and others in the organization, it is much easier to keep the best people and build a winning team. The same two factors are just as true regarding Sunday School workers:
Since Sunday School workers are volunteers and not salaried employees like pro football players, the type of compensation will not be identical obviously. However, seeing lives changed for the Lord and serving because He called us to serve are far greater “compensations” than money. Two key ways you can “compensate” Sunday School workers are through recognition and appreciation. Below are some practical ways to do so.
Appreciating Sunday School Workers
- Sunday School Leadership Banquet—annual
- Birthday card
- Age group recognition Sundays—preschool, children, youth, adults (one each Sunday in the first month of the new church year)
- Christmas—an ornament for Christmas tree
- Valentine’s—coffee mug with candy and note
- Summer—coupon for ice cream treat
- Certificate of Appreciation (could distribute at leadership banquet)
- Cards, notes, emails not related to a particular occasion or season
- Imaginative expressions of appreciation, such as:
- Lifesaver® candy with a note, “You’re a LIFESAVER in our Sunday School.”
- A box of animal crackers and a note, “We know some days are a zoo in __________ Sunday School. Thank you for serving.” (age group)
- A rubber band with a note, “Thanks for stretching yourself to serve in Sunday School.”
- Play money with a note indicating, “No amount of money could pay for your influence with __________ in Sunday School.” (age group)
- Other ways to express appreciation (check about allergies):
- Gift certificate for DVD rental
- Handmade item(s) from children
- Movie theater pass
- Baked goods
- Potted plant or flowers
- Pieces of fruit or small fruit basket
- Devotional book or Bible commentary
- Card signed by all class members
Communication and Support
If workers hear from us only when it is time to sign the next year’s “contract,” they get several messages, none of them good:
- “I am not really concerned about the job you are doing just as long as you agree to keep doing it.”
- “The job isn’t that important.”
- “Your contribution to the kingdom is not valued.”
The workers respond with such things as:
- “If they don’t care about how I am doing, why should I?”
- “Since this job isn’t that important, I don’t need to keep preparing so hard.”
- “Why do I need to participate in training? What’s the big deal?”
- “Do you still want me to serve? I never hear from anybody.”
What’s the end result? Everyone loses: family members, the community, the church, especially the students in the classes, and most importantly, the kingdom of God because people are not reached.
These three actions will help you with a strategy to retain workers:
- Several actions listed previously under Appreciating Sunday School Workers work well for providing ongoing communication.
- As Sunday School director, ask every Sunday School teacher three things at least once or twice during the year (Planning Team members need to do this with their age group workers).
- How is your ministry with (age group) going?
- Do you have everything you need?
- How can I pray more specifically for you?
- Establish “Our Class Missionaries” in each adult class. Remember the simple truth that all Sunday School workers are adults and come from adult classes. Sometimes prospective workers are reluctant to leave their class because they are afraid of losing relationships or being forgotten. Sometimes current workers want to return to their adult class because they miss the connection with their friends. “Our Class Missionaries” addresses both of those situations and more. This simple plan encourages people to consider serving outside the class because they know they will be supported and cared for when they take a ministry position, thereby helping to discover more workers. The plan is as follows:
Our Class Missionaries
Each Adult Sunday School class
Each Adult Sunday School class prepares, displays and uses a poster that contains the following visuals and information:
- a picture of each person in that class who is serving in Sunday School outside the respective class
- each person’s name, age group in which he/she is serving, and leadership responsibility (for example, John Smith, Grades 1-3, teacher) written below the picture
- Prayer Support—Each week at the beginning of the Bible study, prayer is offered for each person whose picture is displayed and for that person’s Sunday School ministry.
- Relational Support—All class missionaries are assigned to a care group. When the class has fellowship activities, all class missionaries are included as honored participants.
- Ministry Support—When class missionaries have a need related to their ministry (such as for a substitute while they are away), they contact their adult class for that kind of support.
- Commission them and send them out—on the Sunday before they begin serving in their leadership role, the class needs to gather around them and pray specifically for them by name and for the fruitfulness of their ministry.
The discovery, enlistment, and retaining of Sunday School workers is one of the most exciting and yet challenging aspects of serving as Sunday School director. Do it well under God’s leadership, and lives will be changed for Christ as people grow in the Lord and serve Him faithfully.
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