Our small church has been, and still continues to be remote. We are anxious to reopen! Prior to the pandemic our congregation numbers had been dwindling; the majority of members are over 50, our children's program had less than 14 (grades K-12). We are looking to increase membership, especially families. How do we interest them in coming to come give us a try? We have an excellent program and a welcoming congregation! 'Open house' type formats have not worked well in the past to bring new people into the building. Thanks!
I've been on staff in three small churches so I definitely hear what you're up against.
Three things immediately come to mind:
1. 14 kids is a great starting point even though that's fewer than you once had. The trap is to keep doing or thinking like you "once did."
In one recent small church, we instituted the Rotation Model to save our Sunday School. We started with only one group of 4 or 5 regular attenders rotating and with only two "workshop" classrooms available (each of which doubled as another workshop). Attendance got so regular we had to split into two groups! We also started bringing together the families of those kids which increased both the regularity and numbers in attendance. (And this was in a church full of retired folks.)
2. Children's Sunday School attendance is invariably connected to adult Sunday School participation because kids can't drive themselves. Today's parents won't stick around if there isn't something for them as well as their kids. In one of the small churches I was in, the folks who ran adult ed (and were running it into the ground) would only offer one study that was more of a presentation. In another small church, the adult ed was as vibrant and varied as I've experienced anywhere -- and it obviously boosted kids' attendance.
3. I've come to the conclusion that it can be a mistake to hold Sunday School BEFORE worship, especially these days.
AFTER worship, people are:
(a) already there
(b) feeling challenged and energized to act on their faith
(c) more likely to follow the example of others, including their friends and go to class ("positive peer pressure).
I saw this "after" effect in one of the small churches where I used to volunteer and served on staff for a short time. When they moved to a new building and decided to switch classes to "before" worship, attendance started to drop like a rock. Getting up for 9 am Sunday School is a 1960's way of thinking. Psychologically, worship is the bigger "must do" so why not put it first and use it as the lead-in to Sunday School when everyone is already there? Of course, it's not one change but several, that need to be considered, but this one is rarely talked about. And I know it would be a problem for "two-worship service" churches, but they are the minority. LITERALLY: The times they are a changin.
I would encourage every small church to follow Karl Vaters' small church blog/ministry. https://karlvaters.com/ Lots of great advice for small churches.
Hope this helps!
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