Church growth guru Pastor Carey Nieuwhof has been posting challenging articles and predictions about what the "post-pandemic church" and attendance is going to look like." Below I've excerpted TWO of them.
While his comments are mostly directed at worship, they do apply to Sunday School as well. Nieuwhof is basing his predictions on surveys, research, and the work of other experts in the field of church growth and decline, such as Barna Research, Lifeway Research, and Pew (many of whom he interviews in his podcasts).
Article 1 is titled:
but could have just as easily been titled
"CHARACTERISTICS OF A SUNDAY SCHOOL
THAT WILL BE IN DECLINE FIVE YEARS FROM NOW"
1. The Leaders Bet Everything On A Physical Return To Church
2. Success Is Still Measured By The Number Of People Who Attend Physical Locations
3. Online Ministry Is Still Seen As An Afterthought Or Lesser Form
4. All Feedback Comes From Their Echo Chamber
5. They Quickly Went Back To Their (Same Old) Format
Article 2 is titled:
Read it! Below are Nieuwhof's 5 Ways and some of my comments.
- In-Person Doesn’t Necessarily Mean In Your Facility
• This is similar to #3 but speaks more to the idea of alternative gathering spaces instead of viewing the church building as a "life center." The article mentions why this "shift" fits younger generations. One corollary is, "Sunday School doesn't have to be on Sunday or run like it meets in a school building."
- In Person Attendance In The Building Will Be A Percentage Of Your Real Church
• Lots of ways to go with this observation, but the implication here is that we need to change our "measures of success" when it comes to groups. It then begs the question, "What is our "real" Sunday School?"
- You’ll Use The Building To Reach People Online, (instead of using) Online To Get People In The Building
• Using online to get people inside the building is old thinking. The new thinking is that online IS a place to learn and meet, and call people to meet/serve in locations outside of the church building. How can our Sunday Schools reach and teach kids outside our buildings? Where can Sunday School "go" instead of always meeting in the building?
- In-Person Church Attendance Will Probably Become More In-Frequent Church Attendance
• See my notes on "infrequent" in the post previous to this one. Does spending a lot of money on graded curriculum that changes the story every week sound like a good idea if half your regular attenders will miss HALF of the curriculum you're paying for? Nope.
- Digital Church Will Be More Of A Front Door And A Side Door Than A Back Door
• This is similar to other observations based on research that I've read. A church's online presence is the new front door and sign along the road. Younger adults are much more likely to "look you up" before they walk through your door.
These predictions are scary and depressing to some people, particularly those in charge who lack skills and experience in these areas. It's going to be a lot of hardwork, trial, error, and dealing with naysayers. What I'm keeping my eye on are THE FORERUNNERS -- those who are already succeeding in these areas and can teach us. That's how the Workshop Rotation Model spread in the 1990's -- people watched what and how we were doing Sunday School. We also took it upon ourselves to share our "how to" via Rotation.org.
Find those who are doing what you'd like to do or haven't yet thought of and learn from them.
Then become a teacher so that others can learn from your experience.