I hope you aren't disappointed by my answer -- there's really no set formula. The process is as different among churches as the percentage they spend on salaries or debt retirement. A better question is: How do churches go about building a budget for Sunday School materials? Here are some basic concepts:
-- Provide resources for the leaders.
Your first priority is to make sure Sunday School leaders have the resources they need to lead their class in a meaningful Bible study experience. At a minimum, you will want to provide a Leader's Guide. Then you can decide what kinds and combinations of supplemental material you can afford to provide: Leader Pack, Commentary, Biblical Illustrator or Biblical Illustrator Plus, Teaching Pictures for children, audio/video resources, or leadership magazines. In some cases, there may be other resources available such as a trade book on which the study is based.
-- Provide resources for active attendees.
If you want to build an expectation that members should prepare for a Bible study group, you will want to make learner/study guides available to each active member. You'll need to decide whether or not couples will be expected to share a copy or receive two copies. If the material is designed to be written in, you should plan on a copy for each person. After this, you can decide if you want to provide devotional materials and/or family magazines for members as well.
-- Provide resources for visitors and prospects.
An inexpensive way to make visitors feel welcome is to provide them a copy of your Bible study materials on their very first visit. If you are going to do this, you'll need to figure out about how many first-time visitors you can expect each quarter and plan to fund that strategy.
Likewise, an inexpensive way to make a prospect who has not visited your class feel more comfortable -- and confident -- about attending is to provide them a copy of the Bible study guide. It also makes a really good excuse to have an "at the door" visit. Just drop by, introduce yourselves and simply say, "We don't need to come in. We just wanted to invite you to our class and drop off the material we'll be studying this week." Again, if you want to make this a part of your outreach strategy, you'll want to budget for this expense. You may be surprised how much your investment pays off.
-- Provide resources for every member on your roll.
If you want to take another big step, determine to provide a copy of the Bible study materials to every person on your ministry roll. The first question from your budget committee would probably be: "Wouldn't that be expensive?" Well, that depends on whether you view it as an expense or an investment in ministry. How would you distribute material? Traditionally, classes would plan to distribute materials to every member four times each year, at the beginning of each quarter. If you divide up the work by utilizing group leaders and other volunteers, you could probably make this strategy (classically called "literature distribution") a part of your plan -- and budget.
Often, chronic absentees just want to know if anyone really cares. Use the same approach mentioned above and personally deliver the material, if you can. If may take a couple of cycles to have an impact. But what if one or two absentees decided to give Sunday School another try? Would it be worth the effort and expense?
If you have additional ideas and plans for how to budget for Bible study needs, we would love to hear them. You can email us at email@example.com.
David Francis is director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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