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Article: The Workshop Rotation Model After the Pandemic

How the Model can Help Adapt to Attendance Challenges

How the creation of an Outreach Workshop
can make care beyond the classroom a regular part of our ministry

2020-2022's COVID pandemic disrupted everything in the Church. Many families have returned, but some have not. And many of those who have returned have come with cold feet. In larger churches, this is less of a setback, but in many smaller churches, "less" threatens the MORTALITY, not just the vitality of Sunday School.

Of course, this is happening in the midst of a historic trend toward less frequent attendance and lower church membership across the U.S. We have our work cut out for us.

Looking at our post-pandemic needs and realities, I believe that there are certain FEATURES of the Rotation Model that can help Sunday Schools adapt to attendance challenges and the need to ATTRACT families and kids back to Sunday morning. Since sharing these thoughts, many Rotation educators have agreed!

The Workshop Rotation Model has the flexibility and creative attractiveness many Sunday schools can use to adapt, rebuild, and do better.

there are certain FEATURES of the Rotation Model that can help Sunday Schools adapt to attendance challenges and the need to ATTRACT families and kids back to Sunday morning.

Why is the Workshop Rotation Model still a great model for teaching?

  • Because the BRAIN SCIENCE still tells us that teaching one story through many creative approaches is the right way to teach. It's also better for memory formation -- more brain science!
  • Because the workshop concept is a fun way to teach and learn and design inviting spaces.
  • The Rotation Model is scalable up or down, and its design and schedule can flex during the year and over the years with attendance.  See's many WoRM scheduling examples.  SEE ALSO THE VIDEO IN THE NEXT POST!
  •! No curriculum has a bigger creative resource base or a greater variety of lessons, creative ideas, and community support than we do. And most of our content is free.

But then COVID shut down our churches and classes, and it forced a lot of us to both scramble AND begin thinking about the post-pandemic future and it's scary new normal.

I know there are many people who are still exhausted and don't want to hear any of this. They wish for a return to pre-COVID programming. But you and I and everyone reading this knows that the ground was beginning to shift underneath us long before we'd even heard of coronavirus, and most of the trends we were experiencing will be accelerated by the crater left by COVID.

In addition to seeing how the Rotation Model gives us the organizational tool to ADAPT to new normals of attendance, the COVID shutdown and our creative responses to it have REKINDLED a gut feeling that "in-class Christian education" is only PART of the teaching picture, and that we need to look at adding other ways of connecting and teaching if we want to be part of the future instead of a relic of the past.  The Rotation Model itself was a response to need, and thus, it doesn't surprise me to see how we can adapt the "best of" Rotation to meet new teaching opportunities.

In fact, I don't know a serious Christian educator who doesn't ASPIRE to reach and teach kids and families BEYOND Sunday morning and their buildings.

The question has always been how to turn that Outreach aspiration into a sustainable practice --and there the Workshop Rotation Model has an answer: make it a workshop.

"How" and "what to change to" have always been the hard questions. "Change" is the only given.

  • How to do it in a way that complements our in-class offerings, not cannibalize them.
  • How to do it in a sustainable way without killing ourselves or creating a competing program.
  • What teaching should look like outside the classroom and online.
  • And what methods, technologies, and creative content should we be using.

We've been here before... The Workshop Rotation itself was created to address long-standing problems and make room for new methods of teaching, and I believe can help us tackle these new problems and needs. Let's take a closer look at how the Workshop Rotation Model can help us meet new challenges...

The "ROTATION" part of the Model can address one of our biggest problems -- the trend toward irregular and less-frequent Sunday School attendance and yet the need to teach them the story of faith.  And the "WORKSHOP" part of the Model gives us a way to organize and staff our outreach.

The "Rotation" in Workshop Rotation Model makes sure irregular attenders are exposed to the MAJOR stories of the Bible, rather than having them show up for one of the less important or more obscure stories plucked from the Lectionary -- which is what happens when you change the story 52 times a year.

As it becomes harder to get more regular in-class attendance, the need to prioritize "teaching the majors instead of the minors" when the students ARE in-class will be even MORE important. Staying on the same story for several weeks in a row is the solution.

And it's this "workshop" concept that gives us the way forward to conceptualize and organize our outreach to infrequent and non-attenders:  by creating an "Outreach Workshop" staffed by a caring teacher who reaches out beyond Sunday to connect with the kids and offers them lesson content specifically geared for infrequent and non-attenders.

Yes, it's a workshop, but it's not in the Sunday morning rotation.

"The Outreach Workshop"

Designate one teacher during each Rotation as the "Outreach Teacher" and equip them to reach and teach infrequent or non-attenders with at-home and online learning options
in a manner and at a time suited to the student's needs.

The Outreach Workshop's "location" would be whenever and wherever is most appropriate for the individual students we are trying to reach.

The Outreach Workshop's "teaching medium" could glean from and adapt materials from the other workshops in the Rotation specifically for at-home or online delivery.

The Outreach Workshop's teacher would be someone with the specific skillset and interest in doing outreach (or the desire to learn).

The "Outreach" Workshop could use many approaches:

  • It could be a LIVE class over Zoom or Facebook Live or YouTube, and recorded for later viewing by those who couldn't attend.
  • It could include the personal delivery of tangible or online learning materials.
  • It would be a ministry of on-going personal contact.

The Outreach Workshop would not necessarily be a "weekly" outreach with weekly lesson materials. Instead of overwhelming infrequent and non-attenders, the Outreach Teacher would stay in touch and provide learning resources and opportunities at a frequency appropriate to each person's needs and with materials and activities most likely to appeal to them.

By making it one of our "standing workshops," planners would be making sure it got staffed and resourced just like all their other workshops -- even though it doesn't take place in the building.

Keep Rotating on one story for several weeks in a row especially because you'll have more kids post-pandemic who are less regular but need to know these major stories!

Create an Outreach Workshop for each Rotation that's focused solely on those "not there."

My gears are turning, how about yours?



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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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The 3 Reasons video below includes a creative scheduling solution for small Sunday Schools that might be particularly impacted by low or fluctuating attendance during their renewal.

You can right-click the video to "save as" to your computer. This will download it so you can share it with others. It's a 45mb MP4 video that can play on most any device.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Adding an Outreach & At Home Workshop is a great idea!!  I'm sure we will be making this addition to our fall rotations.  Happy to share when that happens.  I love how adaptable the Rotation Model is!

This article presents possible solutions to possible attendance problems smaller Sunday Schools may experience coming out of the pandemic. Your comments and ideas are very welcome.

Last minute Workshop/classroom scheduling changes that can help you adapt to low attendance on any given Sunday this fall

I've been discussing with members of our team the problem smaller Sunday Schools will experience as they return to in-church Sunday School -- problems that include LOWER  and LESS REGULAR attendance made worse by the effects of the pandemic.

Most Sunday Schools have always had to deal with "low Sundays." Larger programs can simply do more "broadly grading" of their workshops/classes in advance or at the last minute, combining 4th and 5th graders for example -- or put up with the occasional "I only had 2 kids in my class" problem. But most smaller programs are already broadly-grading, and thus, unpredictable drops and fluctuations in attendance can turn a class of four into a class of one or zero without advanced notice.

The following "8:59 a.m." scheduling solutions are especially addressed to those with smaller programs using the Rotation Model, though they also may be helpful to larger programs and traditional model Sunday Schools as well.

If you're using a traditional model for your Sunday School (new story every week), the following solutions may work for you during the months you're rebuilding attendance. Just substitute the word "Bible Story lesson" for "Video/Art" etc. in the following graphics and explanations.

These options also demonstrate the Workshop Rotation Model'sABILITY TO ADJUST  TEACHING SCHEDULES based on the Bible story, your creative needs, and changes in attendance at any time of the year, pandemic or no pandemic!

If you're using a traditional graded curriculum, you're sunk if they want to suddenly put a 4th and 5th grader in with your K-2 kids, lesson plan, craft, and worksheets. (Worse: those older kids probably won't want to come back next Sunday.)

But if you're using the Workshop Rotation Model, its flexibility and style of teaching give you options!

Here are two workshop scheduling changes smaller Rotation Model Sunday Schools can make at the last minute due to low attendance:

In this first Workshop scheduling solution,

  • You staff for two identical workshops each Sunday in two different spaces, one for older and one for younger kids (art projects are often age-sensitive, which is why it helps to split the groups if you are able).
  • Each lesson plan has its own appropriate age adaptations, materials, and teacher!
  • But if at "8:59" you don't have enough kids to support two groups, you combine into one with both teachers working together and seeing to the needs of their age group.


What's "enough kids to split" ?
Most of us would agree that there's a critical mass for good teaching and classroom dynamics. Just one or two kids is tough. I'd split my kids into two groups if I had at least two kids in EACH age group, you might pick three. Sometimes it depends on who the kids are. And sometimes in the Rotation Model, it depends on the workshop or planned activity itself. For example, it's often easier to combine for video and cooking, but need to separate for art and games.

The above scheduling solution leaves the definition of "enough" up to you. I like to split older from younger almost every chance I get because older kids need things at their level and don't like to be treated like "babies." Even when we "combine with ALL" I recommend having a teacher specifically assigned to "break out" with older kids during the lesson.

Personally, I like the above option better than this next option, but this second option might also work for you depending on your circumstances, (and if you are a traditional program that changes the story every week. See the note about that below.)

Here's another scheduling solution you can fall back on when attendance drops...

  • First, you schedule your workshops and recruit teachers in two-week blocks --letting them know that they may all be working together on any given Sunday, or splitting into different groups depending on attendance.
  • Then, if you don't have enough to split the first week, you have "ALL" attend one workshop that week and the second week as well. On Week 3 you revisit the decision to split at "8:59 a.m." based on actual attendance on Week 3.   (Note: If you're changing the story every week, which Rotation Sunday Schools don't, you could revisit the decision to split every week based on who showed up.)
  • But if you have enough to split on Week One, you hold two different workshops for the next two weeks that have two different lesson plans geared for their specific age groups. You make the same decision on Week Three. (If you need to make the decision every week due to volatility, see the "first" scheduling solution above this one.)
  • The difference between this option and the first one shown above is that in the first one you split into two of the same workshops, an art workshop for older and an art workshop for younger. Whereas in this second example you split into two different workshops.  It's a minor difference, but one you might appreciate if you're expecting low attendance in the first two weeks of your Rotation, and better during the last two weeks.


Because the decision to split happens at "8:59" Sunday morning based on who actually showed up... if you elect to keep ALL together for Video, then the teacher who prepared to teach Art the first week gets put on hold until the second week and has to adapt it for ALL on the second week. That's an intentional choice I made in my schedule because it gives my Art teacher time to think about adapting the Art for ALL, whereas Video is often a bit easier to "show to all" without much notice.

Note: Splitting into "younger and older" group is usually always preferred so that we can meet the social, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs of our students. Especially for older kids, they need to feel like they are "older" otherwise many won't want to come back.

Here are the problems "attendance fluctuations" will create in traditionally organized Sunday Schools that use traditionally graded classrooms and curriculum --and how the Rotation Model is more suited to the needs of broadly graded Sunday School...

  • Too many of the activities and printed materials will either be too young or too old for some of your "suddenly combined" classes. Workshop lessons from our Writing Team are broadly graded and don't depend on "printed worksheets" and the like.
  • Your teacher who "only used to teach the younger ones" will probably have a hard time dealing with the older kids tossed into their lesson. Workshop teachers are used to adapting their lessons for each grade group.
  • Traditionally designed classrooms for younger children will make your older kids feel like they're being treated "like babies."   Workshop classrooms in the Rotation Model are designed for all grades and kids are used to going to different rooms.
  • Traditional programs often face resistance to changing schedules and rooms. Rotation Model leaders, teachers, and kids are used to changing rooms and schedules.

See our online presentations to learn more
about the Workshop Rotation Model
and its "normal" scheduling options!


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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Regarding adding an "Outreach" or "At-Home" Workshop

Regarding Neil's suggestion about adding an at-home online "Outreach Workshop" that doesn't take place in a classroom --I think it is an excellent idea.

Front porch meals, Zoom classes, letters mailed to children, and many more creative lesson enhancers and extenders in the home will strengthen a church's discipleship program. We learned a lot of things during the pandemic, including how to creatively reach out.

Taking a Day to Visit Those Not Showing Up

I did not hear all of this On Point broadcast about rethinking education this morning,  but I imagine some of the discussion there can be applied to Christian education.  However, I did hear this very touching segment from a middle school teacher who talked about how he took a day and made home visits to students who were not "showing up" (or arriving late) for online school. That personal connection makes a difference. His presence showed his students that he cared about them, not just about their schoolwork.

Here it is:

Our churches need to be having conversations about how best to build relationships with the children in our congregation as well as how to disciple children -- and help parents with their job of discipling their children by providing at-home resources. We need to show those children that we love them and care enough to be present for them.

More Suggestions:

There are some good "outreach and online" ideas in this in this conversation here at It includes this post from Neil with a specific example of what one church did to visit kids during the pandemic. Pandemic or no pandemic, the ideas work!

Also, read's "Connecting and Caring Beyond the Classroom"
This one-page PDF shares 13 ideas for teachers and leader about reaching out to students beyond the classroom.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

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