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AFTER THE PANDEMIC:
Changes, Challenges, How Will We Be Different?
Safe Sunday Schools,
Rotation Model after the Pandemic
Online Sunday School?
...and more


This topic is looking ahead at issues and needs
not only for the "reopening" of Sunday School and related programs,
but for post-pandemic Sunday School and children's ministry,
--what we have learned from the pandemic,
changes that need to be made,
and what the "new normal" may look like.

Kicking off the discussion in THIS topic is a list of safety recommendations to help reduce the spread of illness in Sunday School and congregations after the pandemic is over. You will also find an article about how the Workshop Rotation Model can help us answer many of the challenges ahead.

Your thoughtful replies and questions about "after the pandemic" are welcome.

Please note that this forum will be converted and greatly expanded into a special forum for our Supporting Members late 2020. Become a Supporting Member now to access all our great content and support important discussions like these!

For more "HELP NOW" ideas and discussion, view the other topics in this COVID forum.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity,
but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 - NLT


Safe Sunday School Now & After the Pandemic is Over

Recommendations from your friends at Rotation.org

The COVID pandemic has taught us that anywhere children and adults gather can become a "vector" for the spread of illness, including COVID and influenza which not only can make you very sick, they can be health and life-threatening to many. Moving forward, churches have learned that they can and SHOULD DO MORE to protect the health of members, visitors, and staff.

Many of the following recommendations are/were lessons learned during the COVID pandemic and should become part of our future "safe church" policies and practices. Heeding the following advice is not only the right thing to do, it will earn respect, spread good practices, keep more people healthy, and let us focus on teaching.

They have been suggested by healthcare professionals, the CDC, various children's ministry experts, and he members of rotation.org, Consider them a starting point for discussion and implementation in your church.

Establish a "sick child" policy and educate parents.

Remind teachers to be on the look-out for ill children and adults, and have a plan to deal with such.

Have a supply of disposable masks for students and teachers who have symptoms.

Prop open doors where possible so that people don't have to touch handles and knobs and so that the flow of fresh air is increased.

Place hand-sanitizing "volunteers" at your entrances to catch people coming AND going -or- begin classes by passing the sanitizer.

Learn to put "some" space between students in the classroom and during activities especially during "flu season." For example, add an extra table, sit in a larger circle, form lines at an arm's length. Teach kids good spacing habits.

Remove or adapt practices and points of physical contact in lessons and activities. This includes worship service practices such as "passing the peace," or passing an offering tray.

Review and improve church cleaning practices and schedules, particularly anything people put their hands on.

Place signage in bathrooms and hallways about washing hands and covering coughs.

Review and make necessary modifications to air handling systems. "Fresh is best"

Pay special attention to "super spreader" activities, such as singing, and be extra-vigilant about letting "sick" kids (coughing, sniffling) participate without wearing a mask and washing hands.

Practice safe food handling by having gloved volunteers pouring drinks and distributing snacks.

Train volunteers and nursery workers in safety policies and emergency practices.

Review and update your volunteer background checks.

Review unmonitored or unsafe areas in the building. Lock unused space. Install security.

Review or create safe workplace policies and practices that protect and promote the health of pastors and staff.

Be an example to others of hope, care, safety, and patience.

And finally...  Have a plan to deliver at-home Sunday School and worship to those who cannot attend in-person, and reach out to children with illnesses and chronic issues.

If you have something to add to this list, please post your reply.

Permission granted to share as needed.

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 Teach Compassion and Reach Out to those with Health Problems

As it happens, we have been learning the story of Jesus calming the sea as our rotation. On Sunday, our pastor changed her already prepared sermon to preach on this text and spoke about love casting out fear.  We are sharing ways for families to show love that casts out fear to the world by:

  • Purchasing bags of food for an emergency food bank for kids in our area who depend on school breakfasts and lunches
  • Asking children at home make cards for people who are isolated in assisted living or elsewhere
  • Opening a room of books we have to stock Little Free Libraries to families who want to pick up reading material (because our libraries are closed), by offering to run errands for those at risk.

I'd love to learn how others are supporting families at home in these unprecedented times. This seems like a whole culture shift, and we need to share ideas for navigating these waters now and in the future.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Opening our eyes to healthy and safe buildings

  • Addressing the well-being of kids and adults who have mold and dust allergies.
  • "Safe" spaces, scary rooms, bad lighting, etc. (yes, some spaces are scary to kids)


In the "new normal" after the pandemic is over, we're going to need to do a number of things differently not only do things right, but to win families back.

Many years ago at a church where I had just started serving, I walked into a Sunday School room and my head started throb and my throat start to close. One of the classroom walls was glistening with seeping slimy groundwater. It was my first encounter with a "sick building" and how they can make our children and teachers feel sick. The teachers told me it was like that EVERY summer and fall (and none of them wanted to be in that room). Fortunately, the problem was easily fixed by rerouting the downspouts which were dumping rainwater next to that below-grade classroom but it made me take a much closer look at ALL our teaching spaces, a journey which not so coincidentally led to the creation of the Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School.

Here's a picture of that room with the "Temple" mural painted over that once-slimy wall after the room was fixed. This room became known as the Bible Skills and Games Workshop.

At about that same time, I was diagnosed with dust allergies and a modest sensitivity to mildew. I didn't grow up with allergies, rather, they “turned on” years later and it began turning on my awareness of how even mildly 'sick' rooms can make a child or adult feel uneasy and irritated. It's hard to learn when your sinuses start to feel full and eyes start to itch. Worse, I believe people make subconscious decisions about places that makes them physically and psychologically uncomfortable. I know I didn't like going "downstairs" at our church, and when I brought it up to two trustees who ALSO had allergies, they saw to it that things got better because they personally understood the problem. (Installed AC with filters and adjusted the cleaning schedule).

And now here we are in 2020 becoming more aware of that our facilities and group interactions are a “vectors” for the spread of common and uncommon illnesses that can be dangerous -- especially to older members, and those with health issues.  For decades, we've coughed and touched and fevered our way through schools, churches, workplaces, and restaurants without thinking about how our "tolerable" illnesses can threaten someone's grandparent or friend who has heart disease. I pray that those days of "blissful" ignorance are over -- that healthier practices and facilities are one of the silver linings of the Coronavirus pandemic. The "new normal" must include a "safer-normal."

"Scary" and "Unsafe" Places

Years ago in a former church, a dad approached me to say his child was "afraid" to walk down to her classroom at the end of a lower level hallway at church. It was "too dark!" she said. And indeed, it was. It was the first time I started looking at our facilities as our KIDS experience them. It was a simple lighting fix, but it started a whole list of "emotional fixes" to our facility to make sure our kids FELT welcome and safe.

A few years back at a church I temporarily served, I was in charge of setting up a new Sunday School in a new "office building" the church had purchased. The number of spare rooms, out of the way closets, and exits was a problem waiting to happen. We asked for the spare spaces to be locked and security cameras to be installed, but were told it would be too expensive.   (More expensive than a lawsuit? No. But the "retired guys" on the Building committee were from a different era and didn't seem too worried. What that committee needed was some moms!)

Crisis has a funny way of making us re-evaluate what's right, what's no longer helpful, and what's no longer necessary. Crisis also helps us see things we should have been taking care of, but for whatever reason, didn't. Going back to doing things "the old way" and not worrying about their effect on people is not leadership.

I truly believe that crisis is the mother of invention. Moving forward, what we in children's ministry and the church need to do is "re-invent" how we think about and manage "safety" in our buildings and the ways we interact with each other.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Neil

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The future of Sunday School after the pandemic:
personal, but not always in-person

SundaySchoolChange

Many of our friends in Christian education are reporting exhaustion with all the changes and challenges 2020 has brought them. I feel your pain. We've been challenged at Rotation.org too.

Fair to say that (a) it ain't over yet, and (b) AFTER the pandemic we're going to have a "new normal" for Sunday School and most of Christian education -- and the "new normal" is going to be equally as challenging for a number of short and long term reasons:

  • It's going to take time for many people to fully return.
  • Some people probably won't come back.
  • Many congregations and programs were already fighting decline before COVID.
  • New financial strains may cause churches to cut of C.E. staff.
  • Surveys are reporting a lot of stress and exhaustion among church staff.
  • And "no church affiliation" is still the fastest growing denomination in the U.S.

    (I've put a couple of citations and "further reading" links for these statements and at the end of this article. )

The pandemic and its aftermath will accelerate many of the changes we have already been experiencing, and light a fire under those we need to make. Crisis has a way of doing that.

I am hopeful! Call it providence, but 2020 has been a year of some much-needed experimentation in Christian education:

  • It has taught us "how -to" and how-not-to reach out online and at a distance.
  • It has inspired at-home learning initiatives and materials, but also reminded us of the challenge of getting follow-through at home.
  • It's been a year of technical learning, trial and error.
  • We've learned that "new" can be exhausting, but also full of potential.
  • We've been forced out of our same-old-silos and comfort zones.
  • We've experienced the luxury of "doing without" things we thought were important and are finding out just how important they really were.
  • And we've all been reminded of the blessing of being together AND learning together (which is something many had taken for granted).


What does the future hold for Sunday School?

It's going to be wonderful to get back together, which is something many churches are doing right now in a limited way. But the need for more “online" and "at-home" outreach and learning is NOT going to go away with a vaccine. They were not temporary measures. They were the beginning of the future -- a future that doesn't sit in the church waiting for people to show up.

I've heard people say or write "people are tired of online!" -- And the funny thing is, you read those things in articles and posts online! But contrary to that kind of "nostalgic" wishful thinking, time spent online is growing and being woven into the fabric of our daily lives. The average American now spends 152 minutes a day on social media alone, and that doesn’t include other online activities such as Netflix, school, or work. More jobs have moved online, and there's been a growth in online schooling too. These trends already existed pre-COVID, and will continue whether you like them or not.

Naysayers are easy to be found when something new is emerging. Remember when those disciples were blown by the Spirit into the street on the day of Pentecost to speak in new ways? (I heard the naysayers when I started teaching with software, and began experimenting with the Workshop Rotation Model, and helped launch this website.)

I have no doubt we're going to see more "online" and at-home Sunday School materials from the publishers and creative teachers. But as helpful as these materials will be, they are not the revolution. The real revolution is personally REACHING OUT to our students and families via various online methods: connecting, pastoring, encouraging, and yes, teaching.

In other words:  our efforts will be personal, but not always in-person.

"Personal" is harder and more time-consuming, but it's also often more rewarding and effective.

This revolution won't replace in-person learning

This revolution won't replace in-person learning, worship, or fellowship, but it will supplement it AND encourage it, and give us new ways to reach more kids and families, rather than waiting around for them to walk through our door.

The inclusion of more "at-home" also holds the promise of something we've long sought: bringing parents back into the teaching equation.

These changes are in keeping with something we have been saying in the church forever and 2020 has reminded us in a dramatic way: the church is not a building.

Lots more to say! Your thoughts welcome.

<>< Neil



More for leaders...

One of my favorite "church futurists" is Pastor Cary Nieuwhof. Not only is he leading a congregation, he is talking about the things churches need to be talking about.  I would encourage you to read his blog. Nearly every one of his posts is challenging and full of facts, such as some of the things I just quoted above and continue with below.

Read: "7 Weird Lies About Online Church that Pastors Need to Stop Believing"

Here are some conclusions from "7 Weird Lies About Online Church"

  • If you think people are "screened out," run your theory by TikTok or Instagram. Apparently, people aren’t nearly as done with screens as you think.

    (I would add Netflix and Facebook to the number of "screens" in our lives. )

  • If you think people "don’t like technology," and "church online is just a bridge to get us to reopening," then you're engaged in wishful thinking. "Almost all of the people you want to reach and connect with are online. It’s time for the church to embrace that."

  • He concludes:

    In the midst of an unprecedented amount of change, it’s natural to cling to the familiar. It’s also a terrible leadership strategy.





Citations and Further Reading:


Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister specializing in creative approaches to Christian education. He helped create the Rotation Model and Rotation.org.


Note: This "After the Pandemic" topic will be expanded into a special forum for Supporting Members later this year.

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The Workshop Rotation Model After the Pandemic

Using "Rotation" and "Workshop" concepts and planning strategies to create online and at-home outreach, resources, and teaching.

2020'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 will not return as much or at all -- and pre-COVID attendance trends in the U.S. will likely continue in the wrong direction. 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. And I've concluded 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.

Why?

  • 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.

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, the 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, the ground was beginning to shift underneath us long before we'd even heard of coronavirus.

This 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 looking at adding other ways of connecting and teaching if we want to be part of the future instead of a relic of the past.

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. The meaning behind the terms "Workshop" and "Rotation" are organization concepts that we can use to address our post-pandemic attendance challenges, at-home aspirations, and online opportunities.

Here's "how"...

The "ROTATION" part of the Model can address one of our biggest problems -- the trend toward irregular and less-frequent Sunday School attendance.


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 sounds like a genius move -- but it's not enough. Just teaching the majors in-class would be the equivalent of burying the master's talent in the ground.

That's why in addition to harnessing the prioritizing power of "rotation," we also need to focus on NEW ways to reach and teach outside our classrooms and church buildings. Of course, I'm talking about online and at-home outreach, but like most good ideas, the devil is in the "how-to." And that's where another fundamental concept in the Rotation Model comes into play. "Workshops" are traditionally thought of as special media-centered classrooms in a church building. but what if every story rotation had one workshop that did NOT take place in the church building, and instead, focused on outreach and teaching the rotation's story online and at-home?

mceclip0What if we designated one Workshop in each Rotation as the "Online & At-Home" Outreach Workshop?


Traditionally, we defined "workshops" as in-class creative teaching techniques led by a teacher who LIKED that method of teaching and did so in a classroom space designed and decorated around that medium. (The Bible Games and Drama Workshops, for example.) But what if we designated one of our workshops in each rotation as the "ONLINE & AT-HOME" Outreach Workshop, resourced it with for sharing the Bible story through a variety of online and at-home techniques, and assigned a teacher(s) for this workshop who had online and outreach skills , and let them do their reaching and teaching outside the classroom throughout each rotation.

The "Online-At-Home" Outreach Workshop would complement the in-class offerings so that irregular attenders were getting the same stories online or at-home as the in-class attenders, and our resource teams and teachers could stay focused. This would also help when irregular attenders showed up in-class. If we had reached them with our "outreach" effort, they'd be familiar with the in-class story.

The "Outreach" Workshop could be many things and methods. It could be a "virtual class" over Zoom or YouTube. It could include ideas for families to do at home. It could include personal outreach with resources such as sharing a music-video clip, fun photos from church, and "mini-lessons." In other words, its content and its method of sharing would be varied and tailored to the needs and timing of the students.

The Lord will provide...
Like many of you, we here at Rotation.org have already been resourcing this idea -- thinking we were merely providing a temporary solution to the pandemic shutdown. At Rotation.org we developed 2020 At-Home resources, adaptations of Writing Team lesson sets for home use. and just launched our new Advent 2020 forum.  But all these resources could also be the kind of thing an "At-Home & Online" Outreach Workshop could continue to tap and expand on.

As well, our Bible lesson forums are already full of "small" ideas and socially shareable content, and capable of collecting much more.

Keep Rotating

Create an Outreach Workshop for each Rotation

My gears are turning, how about yours?

Neil



Note: This "After the Pandemic" topic will be expanded into a special forum for Supporting Members later this year.

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Regarding Neil's suggestion about adding an at-home online outreach workshop in his post above, I definitely agree that reaching out to children at home, especially to (but not only to) infrequent attenders, is a great idea to take away from the last seven months!  

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. I think much was achieved in the creative ways that people were reaching out when we could not meet in person, and I agree that it should not stop once we (or some of us) begin gathering together in churches again.  See some outreach examples in this conversation, beginning with this post. 

Adding an "Outreach" component to each lesson set (whether we call it a workshop or not) is an excellent idea! This is the time to continue the experiment to see what works, and I imagine that what works will differ greatly from one community to the next.   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. 

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Gen-Z

Jesus took different approaches to different people -- tax collectors, zealots, prostitutes, fisherman, lepers, and priests,   

…at the very least,
we need to do the same with kids and teenagers.

This means that if you and I want to help God gather the next generation of the church, we have to choose to open our hearts and minds to methods that are built for a generation unlike any before it.

(Based on a quote from Pastor Carey Nieuwhof speaking about reaching Gen Z children and young adults born 1997-2012.)

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