Like most other organizations, a Sunday School class or a small group has a life cycle that includes various stages of life. These stages can be identified on the chart to the right of this article. Listed below are the common stages of life for a Sunday School class.
Stage One: Birth
Every class experiences birth. Someone or some group of people at some point in time started the group. As a general rule, this stage involves high excitement and a degree of uncertainty. Faith and vision are high and very important. There is a lot of stress on the teacher to involve people and reach out to new members. Guests are being reached out to and are often friends and neighbors of members.
Stage Two: Growth
As a class grows, it moves from no longer being new to having some stability. People are becoming more familiar with each other. They are discovering the different gifts and talents of the group and, if done correctly, the skills of the class are beginning to be used. Class members are beginning to assume more of the responsibilities of reaching and ministering. Guests are warmly received and are quickly incorporated into the fellowship of the group.
Stage Three: Thriving
At this stage, key leaders have emerged. The teacher or leader is important, but the responsibility of leadership is being shared willingly by other people in the class. Bible studies are relevant and interactive. At times, the class almost seems to be growing without effort because there are so many people active and engaged. Growing just seems natural. At this stage, the group is also generating leaders for other ministries within the church. Disciples who are mature and growing are being produced.
Stage Four: Declining
At some point the group peaks in attendance and in growth. Attendance and enthusiasm begin to wane. The key signals to look for in this stage are: removing people from the class’ enrollment or ministry list; an attitude of protecting members; guests attend once and do not return; and there are references of how things “used to be.” Instead of releasing members for ministry in other areas, the group begins to cling to its members. Where enthusiasm and anticipation was the attitude, the class begins to exhibit signs of nervousness and status quo.
Stage Five: Existing
At this stage, the group turns inward and becomes protective. Outreach is non-existent. In this stage, the class has lost a sense of purpose and members gather weekly for Bible study and a good visit.