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Increasing and Improving Sunday School attendance has been a perennial subject here at In many ways, thisentire site is devoted to helping increase or improve Sunday School attendance by improving the lesson experience.

  • Increasing = adding more kids
  • Improving = helping a kid/family go from 1 to 3 weeks per month.

Your ideas and stories about "what works" welcome!

Facts About Attendance to Chew On:

1. Some attendance factors are out of our immediate control.

These factors can include pastoral leadership, worship, and adult education offerings that are lackluster, and the demographics of a congregation and its neighborhood. As we like to say around here, "kids don't drive themselves to church."

2. The quality of our Sunday School and teaching is a contributing factor to attendance.

While kids don't drive themselves, today's kids have a larger influence on their parent's attendance behavior. The Workshop Rotation Model was created in part, to address the children's "experience" of Sunday School -- to help them both learn AND want to return. Decades of boring Sunday School have now created two or more generation of parents who don't want to subject their children to the same thing.

3. The world has changed.

But none of these changes is an excuse for abandoning the regular Bible teaching to kids, they just make it more challenging.

  • More adults are working weekends.
  • Kids and parents have more options and activities competing for their attention.
  • It's easier to find things to do (and find peers doing them) on Sunday morning than it was 40 years ago.
  • The definition of "regular attendance" has changed from "nearly every week" to 1 or 2 times a month. This change parallels the trends in attitude regarding spirituality and "institutional church" among younger generations being measured by research groups such as Barna and Pew.
  • Growing secularization of society. Simply put, churches have lost many "nominal" or "notional" Christians.
  • Some churches have been substituting children's worship for Sunday School in part or entirely (and the two are not the same thing).
  • Many of today's adult Christians did not grow up with a dynamic children's ministry experience, and thus, don't understand its importance.
  • Your "change" here.

4. Worship and fellowship are not substitutes for teaching and learning.

Faith in Christ requires a working knowledge and understanding of his teachings and life story.


5. A "Monolithic Approach" to Reaching and Teaching Kids Won't Work (and probably never did)

"Back in the day," we had the luxury of regular and good attendance and could create a singular learning experience on Sunday morning. Continuing to teach that way as if nothing has changed is the road to extinction. Worse, it doesn't reach and teach the kids about Jesus -- which is the only thing that should not change.

One of the "proof-texts" for teaching children creatively here at has been Acts 2 when the disciples were given the gift of speaking in MANY languages to the crowd gathered outside our upperroom. But now in most cases today, the crowd no longer gathers outside our door. Instead, we have to hit the road like Peter and Paul did AFTER Pentecost. We have to "go where the kids are" in both a literal and figurative way. Today, that includes reaching out to them as individuals, instead of always expecting them to gather as a group.


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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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A Few Ways to Promote Sunday School Attendance

Here are some of the things that have worked for me in churches of various sizes. Feel free to comment and make your own suggestions.

Make sure your facility and classrooms are attractive and inviting to kids and visiting parents. Beige and boring, dim and musty are unacceptable.

Make sure your approach to teaching is attractive and inviting. 45 minutes in a chair with a worksheet and a pile of pipe cleaners is a great way to make kids disappear.

Create "points of re-entry" for those who need a reason to "get back into the habit."  These points of entry can be special events, Sunday School service projects. They can also be as simple as asking a parent to come help.  (Conversely, planning a constant stream of events creates the impression that nothing is special.)

Have a plan for shutting the "back door" on attendance loss. Be aware of who's not there and why. Sometimes people just need to know they are missed.

Have a plan of regular communication with parents (not blurps buried in the emailed newsletter or tossed away with the bulletin).  If you are not using text-messaging, you are living in the past.

Promote "what's happened," not just "what's happening," and do it through visuals and social media. Help people see what they've missed, and remind those who attended that they were glad they did!

Have a thriving family ministry and young families ministry. This is probably the single greatest way to help families feel connected and responsible to each other. Doesn't have to be fancy or complicated.

Create "rites of passage."  Parents respond to special events where their children will be recognized. This can include "promotion Sundays," gifting Bibles, communion education.

Create events that attract the attention of neighborhood families.  Bouncy houses. Water game days. Free concerts and ice cream, and VBS-like programs that include something that gets non-church parents to stay and mingle. When parents start to feel a connection, they are more likely to send their kids. 

Organize and equip key families to identify and invite their friends and neighbors. Research shows that it's your members' connections that are the best way to recruit new members. This is an especially good strategy if your congregation's demographics are aging.

Make sure your church's "presence" along the road and in the community is KNOWN. When people start looking for a church, you want yours to be visible to them. 

When visitors with children come to your church, make sure the kids leave with something fun in their hands other than a piece of paper (a cup with a crazy straw for example, and the church's name on that cup).  And don't forget to follow up on visitors.

Take control of your church's webpage for children's ministry. Supply them with exciting photos of past events and "what it looks and feels like" to attend.  (Most church websites are completely boring.) Avoid the boilerplate "blah blah blah."

Bond your kids to each other. Friends attend to be with friends. One of the best things I ever did to boost Sunday School attendance in a small church was to start a children's fellowship that met once a month. Our teachers also helped (many of them were parents.)

Here's an easy way teachers can help us follow up on visiting kids:

Have the visiting kid write their mailing address on an envelope. Then after class fill that envelope with three things and mail it:

(1) A fun "thank you" card for the child.

(2) A coupon for a free scoop of local ice cream.

(3) A flyer for the parents.

Don't' forget to give a copy of the address to the church office!

Children's ministry mag has this free printable postcard you can use to get started. The image could be your "fun thank you card." Before you use it, edit the pdf/image to add your church's logo, website and class and worship times.

[Yes, kids still love to get "real" mail. Adults are jaded with real mail because of all the junk and bills, but who doesn't love to get a handwritten note in the mail!]


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"Investing in children’s ministry is a way for churches to pursue not only discipleship, but also outreach."

According to one recent Barna study: "More than half of engaged Christian parents chose their current church primarily because of the children’s program (58%)."


Barna Research has been surveying and studying church habits and attitudes for several decades. Sometimes they confirm what we suspect to be true, or challenge it. Often they provide the research data to backup what we need to tell others.

The graphic was provided for free by Barna's (not free) report on Guiding Children.


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7 Ways to Respond to People Who Attend Church Less Often

Rev. Carey Nieuwhof, the popular Canadian pastor and church consultant has written, "7 Ways to Respond As People Attend Church Less Often." It echoes many long-held opinions here at about the quality of church offerings. Nieuwhof gives them fresh language with new insights.

I think they work both for members who are attending less often, and those looking for a church.

Here are his 7 Ways to Respond...

1. Create an Awesome Online Presence
Keeping in mind that kids need adults to bring them to church, this one is mainly aimed at offerings to adults. One of his main points here is that many things that attracted adults to church, like great sermons, messages, and music, are now available online.

Kids are a bit different -- they will naturally compare us to every entertaining thing, which isn't fair, but it's real. I also think our biggest comparison is with their feelings and experience with "going to school" (which isn't great for many kids). We need to be different.

What's also true is that our online presence is the way MOST VISITORS first encounter and evaluate churches these days.

2. Elevate Personal Relationships
3. Love People

I put these two together because as Nieuwhof points out, people will always value and act on personal relationships, and that's something congregations and Sunday School can foster.

4. Create an Irresistible Experience
Of course! But how? Well.... this is one of the reasons we created the Workshop Rotation Model!  It provides an ongoing organized approach to STAYING creative, rather keeping the special stuff for VBS and special occasions. The Rotation Model also helps with irregular attendance. Learn more

5. Offer Offline Surprises
This is another way of saying make Sunday a "don't miss" experience. Do special and surprising things that reward people for showing up.

6. Create a Culture of Serving
Churches are uniquely positioned to give people opportunities to serve, do justice, be kind, tackle problems. Humility and gratitude are two things many parents hope their children will develop.

7. Prioritize Kids and Teens
This one is so broad as to be unhelpful, but reading Nieuwhof's breakdown I think what he's driving at is helping parents see that we care about their children and have what most parents want for their kids and teens, which is caring and trustworthy "other" adults in their lives. The challenge is to actually do it and how to let new or visiting parents know that we are doing it.   

Here's a Test for Your Church:

  1. If I were to visit your church website right now (like many visitors will do), will it show me that you are DOING THESE 7 THINGS?

  2. If visiting parents show up in your worship service next Sunday, would any of these 7 things be obvious to them beyond mere words?

These are my opinions, and not necessarily those of Your feedback and insights are welcome. ~ Neil

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Is it possible that the "ATTENDANCE" kids need is OUR OWN?

Where You Go I Will Go Ruth 1:16

In the past, "Sunday School" was a time to gather at church. Moving forward, it can continue to be that, but it can't continue to be only that.

"Sunday School" is a need, and a desire, and a commitment to reach and teach kids. It cannot only be a single location or time.

Not anymore.

Our definition of Sunday School can begin to change when we STOP viewing "their attendance in Sunday School" as the only option, and START thinking about all the other ways WE can become "attendant" in their lives.

The Rotation Model and this site have tried to change how we teach and the classrooms in which we teach. But the great work ahead of us is also WHEN and WHERE ELSE we can teach.

Teaching groups in a classroom at church can still be a wonderful thing. But if it's the only place we teach, then Sunday School is likely headed for extinction. In many churches, it is already extinct -- having been replaced by a pale imitation called "children's church," "kids leaving during the sermon," "teaching-lite" fellowship groups, or simply no children's program at all. There's a case to be made that all of those things are opportunities, but they rarely produce the kind of encounter with Bible stories good teachers would recognize.

Lately, I've been steeped in Book of Ruth lessons with our Writing Team. And the more I've been in that story, the more I've marveled at Ruth's commitment to Naomi. Ruth left behind her homeland, and as a young woman, made a dangerous journey to a completely new place where she had to glean the leftovers in a stranger's field to survive.

God doesn't appear in the Book of Ruth, but throughout its pages, you can see the hand of providence acting through good people. I have every confidence that this is still happening today -- especially with those willing to make the difficult choices and journey with those we are called to go serve "where they go." I also believe God has not brought us this far only to have us survive on the leftovers.

The Parable of the Sower is also helpful here. It's not a picture of limited resources only being aimed at the most fertile ground, though some of the seed definitely makes its way there too!  It's not a parable about one Sunday morning basket of seed, but seed going EVERYWHERE -- even on the hard and thorny ground.

Parable of the Sower Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:1–20, Luke 8:4–15

At my family's cabin, we are in a battle with thorny ground --  thorny bushes, spikey locust trees, and other invasive species. It got that way because the previous owner didn't keep it cut and culled and let the invasives move in. But we're making progress -- one patch of ground at a time. We're also planting tree seedlings -- hundreds of them.


We didn't just plant them in the "good" ground. We specifically targeted some of the hard and thorny ground, knowing that the trees we tend there will eventually restore the area on their own. They may not look like much now, but someday, many of those seedlings will give shade, shelter, and food, and drop seeds of their own.

When Ruth married Boaz, they didn't bring forth a King, but their grandson Jesse and his wife Nissabet did. This is the kind of faith and hope and planning we need now on the thorny ground and hard path we find ourselves on.

So how can we increase OUR "attendance" in the lives of the kids who are NOT gathered around our feet on Sunday morning?

And what part of our reaching and teaching of children has grown thorny and hard for them because we not been "attending” to it ?

FYI: I generated these Parable of the Sower images using Bing's Artificial Intelligence art engine "AI Creator." Click them to enlarge. I chose the style of "Van Gogh" because his skies remind me of the active presence of God in our toil.

AI-Sower2Parable of the Sower Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:1–20, Luke 8:4–15


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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

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