April 2021: The following think-piece by Neil was posted in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. It has recently been updated and improved, and is about to be expanded with further discussion, additional voices and examples, and a shareable presentation.
The Workshop Rotation Model After the Pandemic
This article has two main points:
1. The advantages of using the Rotation Model in helping Sunday Schools regain their footing, adapt to attendance fluctuations, and try to rebuild enthusiasm for attendance.
2. The idea of creating an "Outreach Workshop" for each Rotation story with its own resources and "teacher" dedicated to reaching those who are not attending, or who are attending very little.
2020-2021's COVID pandemic has disrupted everything in the church. Eventually, many of our families and children will return, but as the article and links above note, some families will likely NOT return as much or at all. In larger churches, this will be a minor setback, but in many smaller churches, this will threaten the viability of Sunday School. And all of this is happening in the midst of a much longer trend toward less frequent attendance and lower church membership across the U.S. That makes me sad, but I'm also hopeful because I believe and have personally experienced how crisis really is the mother of invention.
For the last couple of years, I've been thinking a lot about "the future of the Workshop Rotation Model" in the face of daunting trends -- which the pandemic has accelerated. And I've come to the conclusion that "the WoRM" is still THE BEST model for teaching kids in a classroom setting at church and will continue to be a blessing to those who embrace it. Regardless of attendance trends, kids still love and need creative and attractive Bible teaching, and changing the story every week doesn't help them or the teachers.
Looking at our post-pandemic needs and realities, I've also concluded 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 School need to rebuild.
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.
- Rotation.org! 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 exhausted and don't want to hear any of this now. 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 organization 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.
"How" and "what" to change have always been the hard questions, not "if."
- 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.
By teaching the same major story for weeks at a time, 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.
The concept behind "Workshops" simply means we need to teach each story through several different creative methods --and not all in a single lesson, but rather, or a period of several weeks. Hence, students learn it through art one week, video another, drama the next, and so on.
And it's this "workshop" concept that has created this next breakthrough idea in the Rotation Model: creating an "Outreach Workshop" that teaches each Rotation's Bible story online or through at-home resources specifically geared for infrequent and non-attenders.
"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.
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?