SUCCESSFUL CHANGE STRATEGY FOR SUNDAY SCHOOL
Change our Sunday School class? Why would we ever want to do that? This is one of the most common--and frustrating--questions Sunday School leaders encounter. The Sunday School staff (directors, teachers, outreach-evangelism directors, Christian education ministers) are typically zealous for excellence in education, and this calls for change at one point or another.
The change might involve the need for a new curriculum, a different teacher, or a new meeting place. Whatever the reason, change holds the promise of progress and better meeting people's needs. But there's a difficulty: Class members may be threatened by change and its perceived disruptions. Many people thrive on the familiar and the routine. They love traditions and "the way we've always done things."
The benefits of change might not be clear to everyone who attends Sunday School, but its possible threats certainly will be! This is why Sunday School leaders must carefully plan Sunday School changes and not leave things to chance. Change is a major undertaking that requires strategic savvy.
WHY SUNDAY SCHOOL CHANGE IS NECESSARY
"When you're through changing, you're through."
"To improve is to change."
"Status quo is Latin for the mess we're in."
These quotes vividly underscore the necessity of Sunday School change. It comes with our commitment to progress.
Change serves the Sunday School and the church's Bible Teaching-Reaching Ministry in four essential ways:
First, change allows the church to continue growing numerically by providing for visitation of guests and a place for new members to be integrated into the life of the church.--Without change, class members tend to stick to their friendship groups (cliques) and leave newcomers to fend for themselves.
Second, change serves Sunday School by helping classes keep the big picture in mind.--Classes sometimes become insulated from the rest of the church and end up competing with other programs for members' time and money. Planned change helps remind class members that Sunday School exists as one part of the church to reach people for Christ and to teach the Bible. The Sunday School also has a role of helping to build the whole body and to promote congregational unity.
A third benefit of change is that it keeps the Sunday School learning experience fresh, vibrant, and relevant.--Few teachers or curriculum plans are so engaging that they can hold members' attention indefinitely. Change prevents Sunday School "dry rot" from setting in.
Change also promotes personal spiritual growth by challenging members to serve God in new ways.--This fourth way in which change serves Sunday School is perhaps the most important and under appreciated. Change stretches us and forces us to get out of our stagnant comfort zones. In short, change is the highway to spiritual maturity.
STEPS IN IMPLEMENTING CHNAGE
Implementing change successfully is really just a matter of common sense, but even common sense takes effort. Too many people want the benefits of change, but they don't want to pay the cost in time, energy, and follow-through.
Unfortunately, the old adage, "no pain, no gain," applies to Sunday School work as much as anywhere else.
Successful change strategy is based on a three-part philosophy and a five-step strategy. When all eight of these ingredients fall into place, the result is a potent formula for ministry success.
A THREE-PART PHILOSOPHY FOR CHANGE
The change philosophy is simple. Sunday School change should be:
To succeed, Sunday School changes must appeal to felt needs within the class and the church at large. Change for the sake of change never works.
People must see how they and others will be better off as a result of the change--how the gain is worth the pain. These benefits should be portrayed in concrete and tangible ways. For example, the Sunday School leader can point to such benefits as giving class members the chance to make friends with new people, helping to train a new teacher who needs some experience and encouragement, or showing members how they can apply the Bible to problems they face at home and in the workplace.
The better class members are able to see how contemplated change fits into the mission of the church, the more readily they will champion it. Most people have a strong streak of idealism that responds favorably to appeals for cooperation and team play. We like to feel we're making a contribution to something bigger than ourselves. The smart Sunday School director never allows class members to lose sight of the church's mission (growth, evangelism, discipleship, and so forth) and how Sunday School helps advance these causes.
Opportunity-focused change makes people aware of specific benefits that are there for the taking. Maybe the opportunity is to increase the size of the class, to help the church establish a higher profile in the community, or to raise money for better facilities.
Whatever the case, class members are shown how Sunday School changes will help the church seize the opportunity. The opportunity acts as a magnet pulling the class toward change.
Efforts to implement change should be undertaken only when an acceptable philosophy is firmly established within the Sunday School structure. Until people are sold on the need for and benefits of change, they will not likely display much enthusiasm. The impatient staff members or volunteer leader should steadfastly avoid all attempts to ramrod or steamroll the change into place before the psychological climate is ripe. Making decisions in isolation of the group is easy, but implementing them effectively takes lots of cooperative effort.
A FIVE-STEP PROCESS FOR IMPLEMENTING CHANGE
When backed by a supportive philosophical climate, Sunday School change can be effectively implemented via a five-step process:
Information percolation. The Sunday School ministry should be thought of as a garden that requires fertile soil for growth. The best way to fertilize the garden is with information about the benefits of change.
Discussions of the benefits should percolate throughout the Sunday School organization, involving all affected leaders and class members. Change-oriented information should be circulated well in advance to give everyone ample opportunity to adjust to it psychologically. The staff and Sunday School leaders should strive to counteract any natural, built-in tendencies to put changes into place immediately and "get on with progress." Patience gives the "fertilizer" ample time to work.
Dialogue. Key leaders and Sunday School members should set aside time to engage in a constructive dialogue about the change and how best to bring it into reality. This might take the form of a special midweek meeting, a fellow ship meal, or perhaps even one Sunday morning class period (appropriate when it is difficult for everyone to get together except during regular Sunday School time). The dialogue should be relaxed but run in a businesslike manner by the presiding leader.
Personalized commitment. When a consensus is reached about backing the change, the Sunday School leader should make sure each member agrees to give it positive, individual backing. Even if some people are lukewarm in their desire for change, they should be asked to cooperate as team players during the implementation phase. Hashing through differences of opinion should take place before implementation rather than later in the process in order to avoid later resistance.
Compromise is not
necessarily bad when implementing change. So long as the compromise involves how things are
done, rather than the mission itself, it can be the "icing on the
1. One-way communication (instead of two-way
Participative implementation. Needless to say, the change should be implemented as participatively as possible to avoid any appearance of arm-twisting. A simple motto applies: People tend to commit to what they participate in. Again, progress-impatient leaders will enjoy the process more if they relax and not rush to push the process to a premature conclusion. Effective change in churches takes time.
Celebration and appreciation. Beneficial change should be celebrated as a reminder of how things can be done right when people their minds to it. After all, look at the number of psalms devoted to celebrating how God worked in the midst of the Israelites. Sunday morning and evening worship services are an excellent time for such celebration as is a Sunday School assembly time. Positive mentions of the change should also be made in the church newsletter or bulletin. People enjoy seeing how their class and church were able to succeed, so remind them frequently!
In the final analysis, Sunday School change is a body-building process that strengthens the entire congregation. Leaders should court changes but work smarter rather than harder. A little bit of planning and thoughtful strategy will smooth out the curves along the winding road.