This is part four in a series on the benefits of enrollment. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series as well: part one, Enrollment = Growth; part two, Open Enrollment: Three Misunderstandings and Three Realities; and part three, Two Portraits of Enrollment.
Lying behind most excuses is another issue that will surface if pressed. Here are the four excuses I hear most often for why churches do not practice enrollment.
You’re Just Padding the Numbers
The truth is we are padding the numbers. We will have people on the class list that have never attended the group and may never attend the group. But does that change the fact that these are real people? Isn’t every name the name of a real person who has at least expressed a desire to be part of a Bible study group? Enrolling someone in a Bible study gets us one step closer to seeing them in Bible study. Enrollment dictates attendance.
If you are not planning on actively attempting to enroll people in your Bible study group, then what plan do you have for reaching your neighbors? How has that plan been working?
Enrollment Hurts the Attendance Percentage
This excuse is a cousin to the first one. You will never have 100% attendance in a group that practices open enrollment. You will have lost people on the class list, and you will have people who have trouble finding some of the Old Testament books. But everyone present? Nope.
I want everyone on the class list to be there as well, but I also want to reach people with the gospel. If I have to pick one (and, to be honest, I can only have one), then reaching people had better win that debate every time.
Side note: in most cases, “we dropped them from our class list” is another way of saying we don’t want to be held responsible for those we are unwilling to seek.
We Don’t Have Any Guests in Our Worship Service
Could it be that the reason you don’t have guests in worship is they know they aren’t welcome until after they attend? If we offered to enroll a person in a Bible study group before they attend, do you think it might raise the possibility that they will attend a worship service as well?
This excuse points to a commonly accepted practice: attending a worship service is the appropriate first step in becoming a part of a church. That sounds good, but the truth is that people are looking for safe places where they can develop meaningful relationships, and that rarely happens in a worship service. What if Sunday School—or whatever you call your Bible study groups that meet on a regular basis before or after a worship service—became the first step? Would we spend time worrying about what happens to a person after they join our church? Probably not, because they are already connected to other believers through a Bible study group.
Our Class Is Already Too Large
First of all, too large for what? To add more people? To keep up with what you already have? The bottom line is you need smaller groups and more of them. And you need to be looking to start more smaller new groups. I say this for practical purposes as a teacher—I teach two Bible study groups weekly and have helped start three new groups over the past five years. I can make a great presentation to a group of 50, but I can’t really teach to their known needs. I am not capable of understanding and accounting for 50 different and unique need sets. But 12 I can manage…and I have room for a few more. I am a better teacher with a smaller group.
These four excuses are really different ways of saying, “It will not work here” and “We tried that before.” Great irony is seen in these all-too-common excuses. Arthur Flake, one of the foremost leaders in Sunday School history, noted these two excuses in his journal as roadblocks to growing a Sunday School…in 1920. That was nearly 100 years ago! We tend to think of ourselves as being more sophisticated and refined when it comes to doing church today, but we have apparently failed to advance in our ability to create excuses. The more things change, the more they actually stay the same.
In Flake’s words:
It is time to quit quibbling and dilly dallying and get out in the homes and the places of business and urge the people to join the Sunday school and attend the services of worship. We no longer need to experiment with ways to reach the people. We know the steps which work everywhere: (1) find the people, (2) provide space, (3) enlarge the organization, (4) train the workers, (5) maintain systematic visitation.” —Arthur Flake, The True Functions of the Sunday School
Could it be that ongoing Bible study groups that practice open enrollment could be exactly what our culture needs? The only way to know is to try it.
What other excuses have you encountered for not enrolling people in Sunday School? How did you respond?
G. Dwayne McCrary is a project team leader for ongoing adult Bible study resources at Lifeway. He also teaches an adult group and preschool group every Sunday in the church he attends.
Quotation from Arthur Flake, The True Functions of the Sunday School, Nashville: Convention Press, 1930, 1936, 1955, p. 48.