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The Math of a Growing Church

If you can do fourth-grade-math, you can calculate the numbers of a growing church. I learned this while in my ninth year of shepherding churches. I don’t remember why, but I decided to study the Sunday school organization of our church. I began by adding up the number of classes and dividing our average annual attendance by that number. What I learned was that we averaged ten persons per class.

I remember thinking, “That’s interesting. I wonder if we averaged the same attendance per class the year prior?” I discovered that we did. I then examined every year for the past 15 years. I learned that no matter the average annual attendance, we always, and I mean always, averaged ten per class. I served that church for almost 11 years and we never averaged nine or eleven per class. We always averaged ten. And for every net increase in the numbers of classes, our attendance increased by ten people per class.

When I started serving in denominational leadership I began calculating the average attendance per class in other churches. With few exceptions, the average was ten. The number ten seems to work whether the church is small or large.

This observation led to several conclusions. First, attendance goals are not as significant as goals to start new classes. Attendance increases as the number of classes increases.   This means that recruiting and training new teachers must be a top priority. Recruit, train, and begin new classes. Doing these things enabled us to reach and teach more people.

Second, some classes will average more than ten. Demographics, exceptional leadership, and adequate space, allows some classes to grow larger. It is not necessary to divide these large classes, but we did train new leaders from their members. We were also able to show that, while they may average more than ten, they too reached a maximum average. Some classes maxed out at six or seven, others at twenty, but the church-wide average was always ten.

Third, while the square footage of your education space is important, so is the total number of meeting rooms that you have. If you have a total of ten rooms for classes, you will not exceed an average attendance of 100 without adding meeting rooms or using rooms for multiple groups.

Fourth, increasing numbers came to faith in Christ as our Sunday school enrollment increased. If we could connect a person to a Sunday school class, our opportunity to lead them to Christ, and see them follow Jesus in baptism, greatly increased. As I studied our Sunday school, the attendance-to-enrollment percentage became unimportant to me. What I wanted to see was an increasing number of classes and an increasing enrollment. If those two things grew, I knew attendance would increase, and we would see more people come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

I strongly believe that churches need to emphasize growing the numbers of Sunday school classes, or small groups, if you will. The only way to do this is by increasing the number of small group leaders we have. People are reached, taught and cared for by committed small group leaders.

How about a little fourth-grade-math homework assignment? Add up the total number of Sunday school classes, or small groups, in your church. Divide the average attendance for the 20013-2014 Sunday school year by the number of classes. If you are like the vast majority of churches, you will average about ten per class. Next, develop a plan to train new teachers and start new classes. Failure to do so will result in declining impact on your community. But, if you will do the work, you will increase your impact, to the glory of God.

And here’s an opportunity for you. On March 6-7 there is a training conference for all who work with preschoolers, children and their families. It’s called CM52, because Children’s Ministry is 52 weeks a year. First Baptist Church, Longview, WA is hosting the event. You can register at If your church doesn’t have a quality children’s ministry, with trained workers, you will find it impossible to reach and keep young families. I highly recommend this event. Ongoing training of small group leaders is key to a growing church.

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