Planning to Win

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Today’s post by Darryl Wilson is the sixth 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

Imagine a coach who meets with his team on opening day of practice. He says, “Guys, we recruited you because you are the best. You know how to play. You have a good work ethic. You know how to win. Now, get out there and practice hard. I will see you in six weeks for our first game.”

What would happen during practices over those six weeks? In what kind of conditioning shape would players be at game time? How much would they improve in their individual skills and positions during that time? How prepared would they be to play together as a team? What would happen in that first game? Winning requires teamwork, which in turn requires planning and practicing correctly together.

A good coach knows that a winning strategy is developed with a good understanding of those involved and of what must be accomplished to arrive at the preferred finish line. This will include annual and ongoing planning sessions. For that planning to come to fruition, ownership of the vision and plan must include every player. What planning steps are essential for success as a Sunday School team? Consider the following:


Sunday School work is spiritual work. To attempt the work in our own strength is foolish. Direction, conviction and power are needed from time spent with God in prayer. The coach will spend time on his knees and will lead Sunday School teachers and workers to join him in prayer for what God wants to do through Sunday School. Prayer times will be scheduled. They will be intentional and focused. They should infuse the organization at every level, in every age group. A special time of prayer annually and quarterly can be the reminder needed by every Sunday School leader. Calendar this now.


Relationships take time initially and perpetually. Sometimes we need help when the number of relationships is high. That may require focus upon a leadership team. Who are some of your team members?

  • The Pastor
  • The Sunday School director, Sunday School secretary and other general leaders
  • Teachers, apprentice teachers and others
  • Class leaders such as secretary, outreach leaders and others.

For the Sunday School coach, the pastor is a key relationship. Time must be spent in getting to know one another, sharing vision for Sunday School and planning Sunday School work. This will require spending monthly time together. An hour will often produce amazing results. But the coach will also want to invest time in teachers and other members of the Sunday School team. Trust is best developed through time invested in team members at another time than game time (Sunday morning). Visit homes. Eat meals. Pray together. Do ministry together. Get to know one another. Listen. When needs are discovered, meet them. When resources are requested, provide them.


Teamwork requires communication. Notice the word WITH. Coaches observe, listen well and communicate frequently. They share vision and high expectations. They affirm. But they also listen to individuals and to groups. They build ownership of the work by seeking input and working toward consensus plans. Sunday School coaches avoid surprises as often as possible. They establish and calendar regular meetings and plans and communicate them well in advance and in multiple formats. Those who miss meetings receive notes about what was discussed and the importance of their involvement in plans. Understanding and relationships are pursued. Conflict, when it occurs, is resolved.


Effective planning takes time. For ownership of plans, all team members should be present (or as many as possible). Make sure you allow enough time (the agenda below could take from 3-­‐6 hours). Share the agenda in advance. Meet away from church, where possible, to avoid interruptions. Make assignments. Provide food/snacks and childcare. Budget for expenses related to the retreat. Gather resources: Sunday School statistics, goal progress, calendars, budget, class rolls, prospect lists, organizational chart and whatever else you may need. Then include the following in your retreat.

a. Prepare spiritually (20-­‐30 minutes). Prepare a time of private prayer and Bible study (perhaps facilitated by the pastor) for looking at scripture and listening to what God has to say about the tasks of Sunday School.

b. Evaluate progress (30-­‐60 minutes). Evaluate your progress at carrying out last year’s goals and plans. Evaluate growth, Sunday School and class organization, age group balance, outreach efforts, ministry and fellowship plans, assimilation/first impressions, training and all aspects of the work during the last year.

c. Envision the goal (30-­‐60 minutes). This is critical for forward movement. How can Sunday School help the church to have the most Great Commission impact in the community, region and world? Where does God desire Sunday School to be in a year? What is the motivating picture toward which Sunday School needs to work this year? What are your dreams for where Sunday School can be in a year? What would it look like if you were overwhelmingly successful in carrying out your Great Commission work through the Sunday School?

d. Identify needs and priorities (30-­‐60 minutes). Sunday School is ineffective when it attempts to do too many things at the same time. Instead, begin by identifying the top half dozen needs on which Sunday School must focus this year. Then prioritize that list. Which is the most important one? Which is the second? Is there one on the list that must be accomplished before others on the list? When you have numbered them, then make sure you focus goals and planning efforts on the first one first. Realize that you may not get past the top three before you need another planning meeting to evaluate the list to see if there are new needs and priorities. Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.

e. Set goals/make plans and assignments (30-­‐60 minutes). Set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable (with God’s help), realistic and timely (deadlines). An example could be, “We will start a young adult (ages 18-­‐30) Sunday School class by April.” Then write out the plans/actions that are needed to accomplish that goal. For our example goal, those plans might include:

  1. enlist a leadership team for the young adult class,
  2. train the team,
  3. decide on where/when to meet,
  4. invite the church to pray for and invite young adults to the class,
  5. introduce the leadership team in worship,
  6. send out invitations to all young adult Sunday School and worship prospects, etc. Then you will need to make assignments and set deadlines for each of plans.

f. Calendar progress checkups (30 minutes). To carry out your work, coaches will want to gather their Sunday School leadership team together for regular times of planning. These monthly meetings will include the following: prayer, training (brief), vision check, evaluation and progress reports, celebrations, adjustments of plans, preparation, and announcements. These meetings will be added to the church calendar along with dates for prayer, promotions, training, budgeting, outreach events and other plans.

g. Teambuilding (30-­‐60 minutes). As a coach, you understand the importance of working together. Your team can accomplish much more when they know and trust each other. That is why time is well spent during a retreat for getting to know one another and building a sense of team. Get everyone involved. If the group is large, divide into age groups. End with your team-­‐building exercise with debriefing and a time of prayer in pairs.

h. Training (30 minutes). Since you have your Sunday School team together, include some training. Where do you anticipate a stretch in the coming year that needs reinforcement? Where does teamwork need to be improved? Focus your training in one or at most two areas. Be practical. Be hands-­‐on. Be clear. Be brief. Get them to practice—that will produce best results.


Training is essential for improving effectiveness and teamwork. In order for your Sunday School team to win this year, where is training needed? Regular doses of training should be sprinkled throughout the year in monthly team meetings, annual planning, articles and more. There should also be special training events planned during the year. These can be for the whole Sunday School team, for age group teams, for task teams (like outreach leaders), and for new team members (like new teachers). Regularly assess training needs. Ask questions. Listen. Observe. Address needs but balance topics. Make sure Sunday School essentials get regular reinforcement. Balance training between teaching, reaching and caring. Focus on organization, enrollment and fellowship. Some training ideas/plans will naturally flow out of the annual retreat.


As the coach, it is your job to go to bat for your team. Meet with appropriate church leaders to ensure your Sunday School team has everything it needs. Provide space. Be proactive and plan ahead. Make sure the space is well cared for, furnished and properly equipped. Provide resources, supplies and Coach’s Guide to Sunday School 27 curriculum. Plan a budget that will help the team carry out the annual Sunday School plan.


A coach cannot win alone. It takes a team. Work together with the church nominating team to ensure pursuit of God-­‐called Sunday School teachers and workers. Spend time praying for those God wants to serve. Observe the lives of those he lays on your heart. Spend time with potential leaders in life and ministry activities. Debrief those experiences. Then invite those God has pointed you toward to join the Sunday School leadership team. Do this face-­‐to-­‐face. Paint a vision of the importance of the role. Give individuals a few days to pray. Then follow up. Provide training and coaching to help them achieve even more for God.

Your job as a coach is important. Planning helps your team achieve even more as you work together. Planning done well results in ownership of goals and enthusiastic pursuit of plans. Sit down now to make plans to lead your team to win!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

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