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Article: Workshop Rotation in Small Churches, Few Kids

This article was originally posted by Neil MacQueen for rotation.org. It has been updated with additional ideas and observations gleaned from member comments.

Workshop Rotation in Small Churches, Few Kids

Though the Rotation Model originally took root in mid-to-large size churches, thousands of smaller churches have since embraced and proven the scalability of Rotation Model concepts and practices. The Workshop Rotation Model can easily be adapted in small churches that have few students, or few classes, or little space. In fact, it might even be easier to do Rotation in a smaller church than a big one!

"Small" and "few," of course, are relative terms. Some "small" congregations have lots of kids, and some big congregations have very few kids.

For our purposes here, I am defining "small" as fewer than 12 regularly attending elementary-age children.

I've done Rotation in churches with 75 regular attenders, 35, and just 8. I've done it in wealthy churches and those counting their nickels. But the blessed thing is, in each church the Rotation principles, workshops, stories, and creativity were the same. The only thing that really changed was how many rooms we had for workshops and how many teachers we needed to recruit.

In one of my small Sunday Schools, we were heavy with younger kids (future older kids!), and in the other church we had a whole bunch of 3rd and 4th graders, but not many in K and 1st. There is no rule that every year and every age-grouping has to always be the same. If next year you need to group 1st graders with your 2nd and 3rd graders, do it. If you have 1 Kindergartner, put them in with the 1st-3rd. For me, the most important consideration was optimal class size to be able to pull off certain activities. Many games and dramas are hard to do with just 2 or 3 kids.   

One of the BIG ADVANTAGES of being in a small church is that the kids tend to know each other better than they would in a large church. They also tend to be siblings. Thus I don't worry about including the 1st and 2nd graders in with the 3rd and 4th from time to time.

Here's the kind of Workshop Rotation schedule we used in my "smallest" church, though we did computer rather than drama. We also did it in only two rooms. Halfway through the schedule, we converted each of the two rooms into a different workshop (our video became the art workshop, our computer room became the game workshop. And we used the church kitchen for cooking when we decided to schedule a cooking workshop for a story.

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The optimal class size for one Sunday School teacher is arguably about five children of similar age. Larger class sizes or numbers of classes/workshops are easier to scale up to in Rotation because they simply require more helpers, materials, and space.

If you routinely have just 3 or 4 kids, and fewer on certain Sundays, then you may want to EXCLUDE using certain workshops, The drama and game workshops, for example, typically regularly need four or five kids to pull off without much adaptation. Whereas, workshops like Art, Cooking, Computers, and LEGOS work well with just 2 or 3 kids.

In small Sunday Schools, we also face attendance fluctuations caused by seasonal attendance and a family that supplies us with many kids suddenly not showing up on a given Sunday. On some Sundays in small programs, this means you can have just 1 or 2 kids in a class, or sometimes NO kids in a particular class. Such fluctuations tend to bother the teachers more than the kids. One way to deal with these fluctuations is to PREDICT THEM and schedule accordingly. Talk to your parents and ask them if there are certain Sundays they know they won't be there. Schedule certain "size sensitive" workshops, like Games and Drama, when you know you'll have enough kids. See some of the tips below for how to go with that flow!

There's another way to schedule your workshops in a small Sunday School where Sunday-to-Sunday attendance can be unpredictable. I call it the "Split/Combine" option.

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See a video clip that explains this "split and combine" approach
when attendance is small and unpredictable.

The assumption here is that "splitting" into two different age groups is always better for the kids when you have enough kids to create two functional classes.

What's a functional minimum? That depends on your activities and the ages of the kids who are there THAT Sunday. TWO kids per workshop is a good minimum. That means if you have three kids in attendance, you should probably group them together.

  • If you have four, five, or six kids of similar age, keep them together.

  • If you have four or more kids in attendance, but some are very young, and some are very old, then you'll probably want to split them.


The key strategy in the "Split or Combine" Schedule is to have two teachers plan for two identical but age-grouped workshops. Then on each Sunday "at 8:59 am" you see who is in attendance and split or combine accordingly.

If you combine all the kids, the teachers combine too. Depending on the workshop activity and level of age-adapting you need to do, you can have the older kids do a "break out" or separate study within the combined class --something that's much easier to pull off when one of the teachers has already prepared for the "older" lesson anyway!

Art usually doesn't require many students. Games often do --depending on the game. Software is easy just with one student if that's all you have!  But the student may feel "by themselves" if you're watching a video.  This is why the decision to split or combine isn't always based on numbers.

The reason you plan and teach two identical workshops in this "Split or Combine" scheduling trick is so that regular attenders get a new type of workshop each week no matter whether they were combined or split the week before. (If you try and hold two different workshops on the first week, like art and drama, but on the second week combine everyone into art, your regular attenders will say "I already did that." Place two identical but age-adapted workshops each week makes sure regular attenders get a new workshop each week.)

See a video clip that explains this "split and combine" approach
when attendance is small and unpredictable.



Important Considerations for WoRM in the Small Church:

"Workshop" refers to the exciting way you teach. It doesn't have to mean a "dedicated art room" or "dedicated games space." Instead, rooms can pull double-duty -- being an art workshop one week and video workshop the next. You'll still want to creative "transform" the atmosphere each week if reusing the same room, and that can be done with a couple of "tricks" like hanging a backdrop and shoving tables and chairs to one side of the room. On the weeks when our Art Workshop became our Video Workshop, we brought in five of those plastic stackable adirondack-style chairs you see sold everywhere, folded up the tables, and pulled out the popcorn machine!

That said, many small programs have plenty of rooms, and it's just a lot EASIER if you have different spaces you can leave SET UP and you can rotate into week to week.  Leaving a room set up to teach drama, or with computers or using art—is one of the "GREAT INNOVATIONS & RELIEFS" that Rotation Model brings to any size Sunday School. Not having to change the room around every week is a real blessing.

(See more suggestions below about limited space.)

Small Church Rotation Models can usually get away with one or two teachers doing all four workshops. I myself would often teach 2 of the 4 workshops in my small churches. Keep in mind that some volunteers might not be good at preparing to teach two different creative workshops each month. This is another nice thing about smaller programs: I was there to help those teachers do the preparation. Otherwise, you still want to recruit different teachers to staff your different workshops in a small church (great way to get parents involved, btw).

It's not uncommon for small Sunday Schools to be run by two teachers who split up the workshops.  Those teachers need to bring in special helpers (teens and other adults) to stay creative and share the burden. They should also plan breaks in their schedule.

Four weeks per story is still considered a "minimum" number of weeks for most stories/passages regardless of the size of your program.

IF YOU HAVE VERY FEW KIDS...

Don't give up and "go back to boring." You want the kids you DO have to love learning God's Word, increase their attendance, and attract new attenders.

How to find more students immediately!

As mentioned above, most groups work best when you have a sense of "critical mass."  The difference between 2 kids and 4 kids in a class is dramatic. Not only does it feel better to the kids, the level of energy and activity is different, and what you can DO is different.

So....If you only have 2 or 3 kids, invite some teens or older adults to form an intergenerational class with the kids. You might just get much more than you hoped for!

Older kids, especially, don't like to be "one of the few" as they equate number with "cool." Inviting a Jr. High or grandparent, pastor or parent on a regular basis can help the kids feel like they are part of a community.

You can also gain extra students by asking couples and entire families to "teach a workshop together."

Plan special workshops and activities that INVITE the friends of your children. For example, encourage the younger kids to have a friend sleepover the night before and bring them to a special Breakfast Cooking Workshop or Seder Meal.

Promote, promote, promote. Tell your story. Always ask grandparents to bring their grandkids. Always welcome friends and make sure you send something home about your program.

Begin to view "few" kids as a special opportunity to do some special things for those kids! Never make "the few" feel like "not enough."

For example, many churches with large classes might never attempt a "carpentry" project because of the tool and material requirements, but with just 2 students, you can have an AWESOME hands-on carpentry workshop led by a woodworker in your congregation who wouldn't otherwise teach. And doing a computer workshop is a lot easier and less expensive if you have just two kids.

Have a creative back-up plan for those Sundays when few of your "few kids" show up. (See more suggestions below.)



Small Churches with Very Limited Workshop Space

Small churches with limited classroom/workshop space have found the following to be helpful:

1. Definitely schedule a Cooking Workshop so your church kitchen can be one of your workshops.

2. Drama and Games and Video do well in OPEN spaces, or using the same room.  To set up your space or room for video, bring in stackable Adirondack-style chairs or director's chairs that can be removed for the Game Workshop next week.  Hang Drama workshop costumes and on the wall or in a cabinet to clear floor space. Have a taut wire across the ceiling to hang a fun curtain on Drama Workshop week.

3. Set up an outdoor space or a tent at the end of a low-traffic hallway.

4. Use laptops, instead of desktops, so your computers don't' take up space in your classroom that needs to be used differently the following week.

5. Come up with creative and QUICK WAYS to transform your single room every week into a new space.

6. Look for other types of space if you don't have enough classrooms. I've heard of computers and drama spaces set up at the end of hallways, games in parking lots, and videos shown in the Pastor's Cindy's Cinema (which she taught once a month in her office).

Our SHARED SPACE ARTICLE has many great ideas.

See the posts below for more GREAT IDEAS for SMALL WoRMS!

Your replies and suggestions welcome.

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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