Have you ever walked into Sabbath School or the midweek service and wondered, “Where is everyone? Have I come on the wrong day?” Then after checking with your calendar, you confirm it is the right time and day, but only a handful of people have arrived. If so, you are not alone. Unfortunately we see this decrease in small gathering attendance (Sabbath School and midweek services, specifically) in Seventh-day Adventist churches across the NAD.

In a recent study (ICM, 2014) conducted by the Institute for Church Ministry, researchers found that most churches in the NAD currently only have one adult Sabbath School in place, with many churches reporting low attendance. In this study, more than half of churches reported 25 or fewer participants weekly. Further, over three-quarters of all adult Sabbath Schools reported attendance of 50 participants or less!

This trend is only magnified in weekly midweek service numbers, as well. Attendance of prayer meeting was typically half of the attendance of Sabbath School.  In this study, 51% of churches reported 10 or less participants weekly.  When the number of attendees was adjusted to 20, the percentage moved up to 79%.

What does all this mean? And what can be done to increase attendance?

Through research and repeated field testing it was determined that one way to increase Sabbath School attendance was to start a second adult Sabbath School in any format.  However, the most likely to produce growth and evangelism is for the second class to be more community-based, meeting off-site from the main church facilities.  While this may feel like an impossible task (especially if your church body is small), the effort and time spent planning a second class could have many eternal ramifications!

In order to build midweek service attendance, some tough questions must be asked. Is the current program benefiting and growing those who attend?  Is it an effective use of pastoral and lay-person time and energy?  If not, then a true revitalization must occur. Research and field testing have shown that if a small group ministry is implemented, the attendance will be more than doubled.  This may initially mean additional help and support from the pastoral staff, as well as lay-people.  However, with careful planning and regenerated passion, the midweek meetings will make a greater contribution to the church’s growth and its care for members.  What a blessing this could be!

The world is a hectic, busy place.  Church members – just like any other member of society – want to feel as though they are using their time the best, most productive way possible.  When church activities feel unfruitful, they easily slip out of importance from the members’ lives.  However, with honest evaluation, some hard work, as well as with some changes and reinvention, the benefit and meaningfulness of Sabbath School and midweek services can be enhanced.  This will not only boost attendance from current members, but has the potential to bring in those who many not have been a part of church activities before.