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This topic is following the Zoom Coffee Chats hosting by on the subject of "Renewing and Rebuilding" our Sunday School programs and attendance in the fall of 2021 and beyond. Scroll down for highlights and summaries of the discussion!

Report from Our July 19th Zoom Coffee Chat

Three dozen Christian Educators from across North America met on Zoom July 19th for conversation, sharing, and encouragement on the subject of "returning to in-church Sunday School." Some had already restarted their in-person Sunday School and some were getting ready for a relaunch this fall. A summary of their conversation is posted below.

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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Recap of our Renew, Rebuild - back to school Coffee Chat Zoom gathering

Many thanks to the thirty-some people who attended our first-ever community gathering on Zoom earlier this week! It was good to finally meet some of you "face-to-face" (sort of, in a virtual way).   This is a wonderfully creative and generous community and I thank you for your ideas and for your encouragement of one another.

I know some people were unable to attend, and I also know that those who were there wanted a summary of all that we talked about on Monday. So here it is. (I have also attached a more detailed transcript of our discussion.)

The big ideas and themes that seemed to run through our conversation:

  • Family ministry 
    • A great way to rebuild relationships between families to renew one of the big reasons families come to church.
    • Involving/equipping parents in their children's Christian education is a goal for many.
    • Parents modeling to parents how to nurture their children in the faith.
    • Churches are finding it to be a way to solve the volunteer problem (you need fewer volunteers if parents are in the room working as helpers with their children).
    • It is a way to honor our baptism vows to help parents raise their children in the faith.
  • Relationship development - most churches spent more time reaching out to their families during the shutdown and spent time developing relationships, and many participants indicated that "personal outreach" is a habit they want to carry into their future plans.
  • We need to consider the present time to be an Era of Experimentation: try something new and if it doesn't work, tweak it or try something else. Renewal will not happen fast, and it isn't just about numbers.
  • All of us are facing similar challenges, and it is good to talk, brainstorm and to encourage one another.

The biggest question that came up regularly in our conversation was about hybrid ministries, serving the needs of those attending in-person and those still at-home.  See the detailed transcript for discussion by some of our participants about what they are trying now. Reply below with what you have tried and problems and suggestions that you have.

I invite you to join the conversation by replying to this topic (or by posting questions in our Teachers Lounge or in other topics at this site).

  • What was your biggest takeaway from our conversation Monday?
  • Are you doing hybrid Sunday school? Have you tried it? What is and is not working?
  • Tell us about your plans for fall to re-attract and renew.
  • What would you like to talk about at our next Coffee Chat?

We would love to hear your questions and see your ideas and resources!

Below is a screenshot from our chat. (We couldn't fit everyone in one screen.) I look forward to "seeing" you all again soon, both in conversation here at the site and in our next Coffee Chat. Stay tuned for details!

Blessings on your ministry,

Amy Crane Board President 



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Thanks to everyone who attended the "Return" Zoom Chat.

After our hour together I felt like we had just begun. About a dozen of us stayed for another 40 minutes and even after that extended time I still felt like the conversation was just getting started.

Thinking and reading about all we said, one subject that did NOT come up was our expectations. So let me ask that question...

What are our expectations?

To answer that question, I turn to some biblical perspective...

When the Jews began their return in 538 B.C. after 70 years in Babylonian Exile, they found Jerusalem impoverished, its walls in disrepair, and the Temple still destroyed. Here's a good historical overview of that "return."

Their "return" and rebuilding happened in four waves and took over 92 years.    

As much as Ezra and Nehemiah want us to think they were "re-establishing" the past, we know from history that the Exiles brought back a new Judaism. Exile had changed them. To borrow a phrase, they returned to "build back better." Their "return" was not a return to the past because the past had changed them. Word.

In addition to rebuilding their destroyed Temple, the exiles also brought back from exile a new system of prayer services held in local venues known as "synagogues." This new way and place of doing things would be where Jesus prayed and taught. And this "new" idea would eventually give birth to the first churches.

Most of the former leaders died in exile and new leaders had emerged. Some came from Babylon and had never seen Jerusalem. Some of those who had remained in Jerusalem were undoubtedly unprepared for what and "who" was about to happen. And as scripture reveals, some opposed the changes that were coming. (Sound familiar?) 

Nehemiah 2 and 3 are especially worth reading right now. Nehemiah describes his call to lead, and lists all the FAMILIES he organized to restore the gates and walls of the city. He also names his naysayers, people like Sanballat and Tobiah the Ammonite.

To be sure, many of the returned exiles brought bad habits and practices back with them --ways of thinking and doing things that were a little too "Babylonian."  Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah call it out and it makes me wonder what our "babylonian-ishness" is.  

One of the most important things the Exiles did during exile was collect and edit the works that form the core of the Old Testament. Genesis and Exodus to Kings and Psalms and all the books in between, plus the collected works known as Isaiah and many other prophets. In other words, they returned with the scriptures in their hands.  ...and that sure sounds a lot like Sunday School.

It's going to take time.

It's going to take some new leaders and families to step up.

Not everyone is going to come back.

There will be naysayers.

Some "Babylonian habits" will need to be addressed.

More personal gatherings and a recommitment to scripture will be important.

We may be only part of the "first wave."



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I have been thinking a lot about the "return from exile" as part of my leadership role at my own church. Neil makes some very good points here--and I wanted to add a few of my own.

As we come back together again, things will probably not look or be exactly the same again. The  older exiles, who had seen the glory of the former temple, wept with sadness when they saw the foundations of the new temple—which seemed “as nothing”.  Things will look different post-pandemic—in positive and negative ways.  It is okay to mourn what has disappeared--both in terms of people and ministry. But also look forward to the new--and perhaps better--ways of ministering to people.

The prophets had to push the people to re-order their priorities and get back to work on the temple after things stalled for 14 years. We all, in our own churches and ministries, need to determine our core priorities and put our energy and creativity there.  We may not have the staff and volunteers and finances to do everything that we had done in the past.

The leaders--Ezra and Nehemiah--give us some pretty good examples to follow. Ezra reminds us of the importance of keeping the focus on God's Word, and Nehemiah is a great example of using prayer as a first (and not last) resort AND combining prayer with action.

Thank you for this uplifting message and support. I pray for patience, grace and flexibility for all of us throughout this journey of change and discovery. Love to ALL.


PS The Zoom Chat was wonderful and I thank everyone for sharing and especially the team that made is so. So grateful.

I received some useful guides (free) from Lifeway - 6 Considerations for Reopening Children's Ministry and 10 Attributes of an Unshakeable Kid's Ministry.

Here are some highlights that reinforce and expand on our discussion this week:

6ConsiderationsConsiderations for reopening:

  • When and how to reopen will vary from community to community. You will want to consider health agency and local government recommendations. Discuss with church leadership how children's needs may be different from adults (especially since younger children cannot be vaccinated yet).
  • Consider phasing in in-person programming. And phasing out digital and other offsite offerings.
  • Take this opportunity to evaluate what you have been doing (both before and during the pandemic). What was working? What is worth keeping? How can it be improved? This is the perfect opportunity to do some visioning!
  • Make sure your classroom is clean and welcoming. Be prepared for children who are not used to being in groups after such a long break. Make sure you have sufficient personal space for each child; consider requiring pre-registration.
  • Communicate with past volunteers and potential volunteers about plans and changes in expectations. Pray with and for them as you decide how to proceed. Build relationships.

10attributesAttributes of a great children's ministry as you evaluate what you have been doing and plan for the future:

  • Design a ministry that is family focused. Equip parents to have spiritual conversations with their children. Provide resources, encourage them with text messages, pray for them. Develop relationships.
  • Make sure everything you do reflects your ministry's mission. Clearly define the "why" of your ministry. Communicate that mission to your volunteers and participants.
  • Think outside the box (or the church). Your ministry does not have to be confined to one physical space. "Church from anywhere."
  • Discipleship happens through authentic relationships between leaders, kids, and families. As leaders we model a personal relationship with Jesus by our actions.
  • Volunteers should be trained and equipped. And take time regularly to encourage your volunteers.


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Don't miss our next Coffee Chat, Monday, August 23  at 4 PM Eastern

(3 PM Central, 2 PM Mountain, 1 PM Pacific)
for an hour of conversation and encouragement

Register in advance for this meeting. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

I hope you can join us as we continue the conversation about relaunching programing in the fall, with Delta variant adding stress to the mix.


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Our second Coffee Chat today (August 23) went well! Two dozen educators had a good conversation about prayer, challenges faced, technology, and plans for this fall and beyond. I hope to have a summary of our gathering ready to post here tomorrow.

Many thanks to all who joined us today!


  "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up,
just as you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11


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Recap of our RENEW REBUILD part 2 Coffee Chat on August 23

More than two dozen Christian educators gathered on Zoom for an hour of prayer, brainstorming, and encouragement as we shared our challenges and ideas regarding the start of a new school year in the midst of a continuing pandemic. While the situation is different in each community, we found that we had much in common.

I know some people were unable to attend, and I also know that those who were there wanted a summary of all that we talked about on Monday. So here it is. (I have also attached a more detailed transcript of our discussion.)

The big ideas and challenges that seemed to run through our conversation:

  • Prayer is an important part of planning. Several in our group have discovered the benefit of involving members of the congregation as prayer partners for their ministry.
  • Many feel like their ministry is faced with inertia -- families have gotten out of the habit of attending weekly Sunday school (some have even dropped out of weekly worship). How do we get those people back into the habit of showing up (whether it is in-person or online)?
  • We talked about hybrid ministries and how to meet the needs of the community when some are in-person and some are online (or at-home).
  • Amy Frasier summarized many participants' feelings: "It is comforting to know we are all having similar issues and are not alone."

We will continue to explore these ideas and challenges here at This is a wonderfully creative and generous community and I thank you for your ideas and for your encouragement of one another! I look forward to gathering with you again next month, and until then, I encourage you to ask your questions in the Teachers' Help Lounge and to share your ideas at our site.

Blessings on your ministry,

Amy Crane Board President 


Last edited by Neil MacQueen


Register Now

for Today's Coffee Chat:

Preparing for Advent and Christmas

Tuesday, September 28th at 2 p.m. Eastern

(1 p.m. Central, noon Mountain, 11 a.m. Pacific).
The meeting will last an hour.

Please pre-register for this Zoom Coffee Chat

When you register, you will be asked which breakout group topic interests you most. You can always change your mind.

This is an opportunity to share your great ideas, hear what others are planning, and do a bit of brainstorming. In many churches, COVID and its impact on attendance and volunteers will once again make Advent a challenging time of year. You'll have the opportunity to share and hear ideas about that too!

Participants in past Chats have found these gatherings very encouraging, and that may be the biggest take-away of all. Join us!

After you register for the Zoom gathering, take a look at our growing collection of creative resources for Christmas and Advent here. They include a special COVID-ERA ADVENT IDEAS forum.


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I need to cancel today, Unexpected emergency.  Sorry was really looking forward to it

For those of you who missed our September Coffee Chat on Advent and Christmas planning (and also for those who would like to see the recap with links), you can see a summary as well as a transcript of our gathering in our Christmas and Advent forum.

Many thanks to all who participated in the Zoom conversation this week!

Please let us know what topics you would like to talk about in the future.

Join us for our next Coffee Chat: how are you engaging people?

How can we be our best, serving our communities in this challenging time of changing Covid protocols and rebuilding programs? Join us Tuesday, November 16 at noon Eastern (11 Central, 10 Mountain, 9 Pacific) for brainstorming and encouragement! Please preregister.


Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Do you have a suggestion for a breakout group discussion topic? Post it in a reply below, or email it to


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