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To Summer Sunday School?  
or Not to Summer Sunday School?
To VBS or Not to VBS?   
v1.2 

Some musings and advice from Neil MacQueen
Your musings and advice welcome via 'reply' to this post.
 

It's time to get over the debate about whether or not Sunday School should continue during the summer.

Summer Sunday School is a good thing, but it is also okay to take a break. Even the pastor takes a vacation, you know? And Jesus himself had to get away from the crowds. The concept of "Sabbath" and "seasons" are just as scriptural as the importance of making Bible study a regular habit.  
And we are not in a race to "save souls." God can and does do that without us.
I know there are many in the church who think it is "wrong" to take a summer break from Sunday School. I admire their passion and I used to feel the same way! ...But the longer I've worked in CE, the more I've come to realize there are many ways to do things right, and quantity of classes is not the same as quality.
Often the strongest voices "for" summer Sunday School comes from paid CE staff and pastors, ...in addition to publisher . I have led CE programs as full-time and part-time staff person, and as an unpaid volunteer. I've done it in large churches and in small.  Especially in those smaller churches with little or no CE staff, I can vouch for the wisdom of volunteers and programs needing a break during the summer, and the kids being no worse off for it. 
 
(I'm also aware that some of our CE volunteers and leaders tend to be energized over-achievers who enjoy a full calendar of things to do. We love them for their "want to do" spirit, but they are exactly the ones I don't want to burn out.)
 
There's a natural rhythm to life which also applies to our CE people and calendars, ...a time to be born, a time to tear down, build up, a time to depart, etc, etc. (Eccl 3)  
 
If your Sunday School runs (well) through the entire summer, is well-attended and well-taught (not "church lite") then God Bless You and keep on keepin' on. 
 
But for some of us, summer Sunday School is...
  • not a tradition
  • not a feasible or necessary option
  • and can consume people, planning and resources that could be used to do other things.
In my small-ish church, we don't schedule Sunday School during July and August. Instead, we plan other types of get-togethers at other times during those months.
 
Last year we also took June off, but this year we are teaching in June for two reasons:  
 
(1) As Rotation folks, we've learned to be flexible. And this year we wanted to teach in June because we have this great idea for outdoor lessons around our small lake. 

(2) Our relatively new church doesn't have a VBS traditional or habit, so running our Sunday School through June helps fill any sense of "gap" some may feel. (And here in Florida, you don't do outdoor VBS in July and August.)
 
We are also a Rotation Sunday School, so our rooms and lessons are exciting all year round, and we don't need to "energize" our teaching methods with VBS like a traditional program might need to. What we need is something "different," as well as, a break.
 
Practical Reasons to Take a Summer Break from Sunday School 
 
1. Leadership. Small churches with little or no paid help and fewer volunteers often need more of a "break" than larger churches. That said, even paid leaders in the large church need a sabbatical.
 
For example: A large church with 12 kids per class during the fall can still hold a viable class for 4 or 5 kids during the summer. Whereas, a small church with 4 kids in a class has a problem justifying the effort for 1 or 2 kids.
 
2. Breaks in the Calendar Can Be A Very Good Thing

Several good things happen when you create holes in your program calendar:

(1) You create space for volunteers to relax and regenerate.
(2) You create space that makes you want to fill it with something different.
(3) You create space for other teams in the church to fill-in. 
 
On the planning calendar at my church, we incorporate "breathing spaces" to achieve all of the above.
 
A couple of reasons why you might want to continue during the summer:
 
(1) You have awesome plans and leadership.

(2) You won't just be "holding down the fort" with a skeletal staff and underwhelming attendance.

(3) You won't be filling the summer with "lite" lessons. 

(4) Your amazing adult ed program wants to continue, and the parents of your children want to attend those "can't miss" studies, and thus, need classes for their kids.

Suggestion for all:  
 
Try the thing you think you don't need or won't work.
 
If you think you don't need a break, schedule one, -that is: come up with something different.
 
If you think you need but can't pull off Summer Sunday School, try it, but with a new spirit of creativity. Set up a big tent in a classroom, build a campfire area, pull out your old favorite church camp crafts, and grab your guitar to do some "Summer lessons around the campfire," ...which BTW can be done in a backyard or church lawn too.
 
A personal experience with "trying the thing some didn't think would work"
 
Many years ago as an unpaid Christian educators in a small church, I was told "we don't have summer Sunday School because the families won't support it." We had about 15 kids on the roll.  
 
I said, "let me organize and help teach it, and give the regular teachers a rest."  We instituted some rotation-model style lessons and rooms, --and we averaged 12 kids every Sunday!    They liked it so much that they adopted the Rotation Model that fall. We called it "Camp Bible Wahoo" and the lessons are here at rotation.org. In my current church where I am paid staff, we already do Rotation, and take a break from that in July and August. 
 

Your replies welcome!

 

Neil is a Presbyterian minister, church educator, and long time contributor to Rotation.org's resources and ongoing discussions.
Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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Thank you! We are struggling with this right now. Our teachers need a break, but the parents won't come to church in the summer if there isnt anything for their kids. The parents LOVE the program we do during the year. We are looking for College Students that are interested in teaching the kids on Sundays over the summer. I need the summer break so that I can energize and plan for the fall.

cbepstein posted:

Thank you! We are struggling with this right now. Our teachers need a break, butthe parents won't come to church in the summer if there isnt anything for their kids. The parents LOVE the program we do during the year. We are looking for College Students that are interested in teaching the kids on Sundays over the summer. I need the summer break so that I can energize and plan for the fall.

Not to diminish your need for a break, but you've obviously been doing great work. I'll bet a thousand churches would love to have these problems:

  • Parents who LOVE the program during the year.
  • Parents who want something for their kids during the summer.

If this were happening in my church, I would kick the issue "upstairs" to the pastor and other leaders with a few suggestions -as it's not entirely your problem to solve (unless you're paid staff).

Suggestions:  Invite all the families to a cookout now and get out the calendar to divide up "who's going to take which week."  (Nothing like dates on a calendar to move people to action.) Empty slots can be filled by college students working with "that teacher" who would love to do a week or two with a college student helping them."  Who knows, this approach might just help you discover new volunteers.

I agree that it is important, but hard, to take a break during the summer! We started Sunday school in March of this year with a purchased curriculum and two broad age groups (3 year olds - kindergarten and 1st to 5th grade --- we have one fifth grader in the church and there was nothing for her before that, as children's church during worship ends after second grade). Average attendance 3.4 and 3.8 per week, respectively.

The adult Sunday school teacher is disappointed we are taking a break as two sets of parents started attending his class (the other three families represented were attending a group that stopped for the summer or were helping teach kids' Sunday school). So next summer we may want to figure out a way to continue. (Getting the parents to lead means they will still be missing that adult Sunday school class, since we have such a small pool we are working with, but is a great idea for others.)

I hope to use this time off to regroup and evaluate, as the teacher and I aren't pleased with the curriculum we were using for the older group. I am hoping to find a way to make rotation work for us with our small space and small group, but need to bring some more people on board. And that will take energy that I don't want to spend preparing weekly Sunday school lessons for preschoolers all summer.

Love all the encouraging ideas here about ways to have summer programming without the VBS production! 

 

 

We are blessed with space - one large room for used for movies, storytelling and computers, as well as a gym, good sized kitchen and a dedicated art room space. We average 12 kids on a Sunday from ages 4-7th grade. We have all the kids in one group due to the lack of volunteers, but it does work. (We used to have 2 groups). The issue comes down to volunteers. We have great volunteers, but it's the same people who volunteer for lots of other things also. (Nursery, coffee hour, etc) That's why we all need a break. We also have some parents who will not help with our children's ministry. They need us so THEY can have a break. If all of our parents helped out, we could run a great program over the summer. However, I understand that there are people who are not comfortable teaching in Children's Ministry - it's not their gift. (These parents do help in other areas) I know that many churches face similar challenges. 

Have any of you found a summer curriculum that will work for a multi-aged group of kids that doesn't involve a lot of prep work and isn't terribly expensive? (And isn't boring for the kids?)

Hey Chris,

re: "Have any of you found a summer curriculum that..."

  • will work for a multi-aged group of kids
  • that doesn't involve a lot of prep work
  • and isn't terribly expensive?
  • And isn't boring for the kids?
  • And also meets your initial post's issue of "not a lot of volunteers."

My first reaction is:       

I don't know the details of your church, (or your personally), but I do recognize the impulse to "want-it-all." But I think you stated the BIGGER issue when you wrote:  "--we all need a break." 

So the question to me iswhy don't you take one? We always talk about the need to model good behavior and spiritual practices to our children. "Sabbath" is one of those practices. It may also be just the thing to bring volunteers back -knowing they aren't going to be sucked into an over-demanding program with unrealistic expectations (for the current situation).

So that's my curriculum for you:  An Experiential Study of the Fourth Commandment 

(Neil now looks nervously at his own calendar.)

journeywithjesusHere is a blog entry by DeDe Bull Reilly about how to make every Summer Sunday special in Children's Ministry. Our church typically paused most activities during summer months because of the way our attendance typically fell way down. However, I love the idea of building so that they will come, as the saying goes.



Summer Sundays should not just pass, but be intentionally celebrated. Making each Sunday a special event builds energy and helps people feel they belong to something alive and relevant. We’ll be taking advantage of our 2021 Summer of Sundays to serve a state of celebration in Children’s Ministry.



Again, this is from my favorite connection to kid min in our UMC conference. Take a glance to see how she makes each Sunday "fun" in its own way. Very invitational.

She is using "national days" or special holidays to focus each Sunday activity. It would work for any season.

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Last edited by Amy Crane

The list in the article Robin shared above is a fun list that's a good reminder to make every Sunday "count," but to me, it feels kind of old-fashioned. Very few of the invitational gimmicks would give me a compelling reason to return for that specific Sunday, though I do like muffins.

Of course, it immediately makes me think of what WOULD be an added incentive --especially to the parents who would be my target (since they make the decisions)    

  • Some of the most successful summer worship events I've been part of involved a picnic-style atmosphere that included worship and special live music (contemporary style, not brass or bows).
  • One of my favorite summer Sunday School lessons was one we did by inflating then sitting inside a bounce house for the short bouncy lesson (lots of great metaphors). "How to lift others" etc (if you've been in a bouncy house, you know what I mean).
  • How about a "Super Heroes of the Faith" Sunday?  "Ruth- the original Wonder Woman," "Ironman Paul," "Super Sunday School Teacher," --costumed people with their backstories retold in super-hero language to remind parents why we want your kids to know them. Plus, a special visit from Spiderman.

These are the kinds of things I might brainstorm.

National Ice Cream Day has been a hit with our church through the years.  Of course, it helps that the pastoral family makes 5 flavors of homemade ice cream served after church with a picnic style lunch.

The BIG IDEA is not to just count summer as disposable.  Not everyone will be around because of summer vacation travels, but we shouldn't just let summer drop off the radar just because Sunday School is not in session.

I like the ideas of the bounce house and super heroes of faith.

Pentecost Sunday should be a HUUUUUGE celebration on par with Christmas/Easter.  It's the 3rd most important holiday of the church year.  Why don't we make it so?

I also love the idea of a photo booth with Dad on Father's Day.  We need more family days, especially where men can find a place to belong.

@Robin Stewart  Thanks for sharing the article and @Neil MacQueen thanks for your input of ideas.

Thanks for the valuable feedback, Neil and Ron. Yes, the big summer idea is to make every Sunday count with compelling invitations. I like the examples provided in your comments. I love the further development with the added incentives.

I would like to comment on one or two things. In contrast to Neil's statement about the parents making the decisions. Yes, I guess they do since they are the drivers but my most recent experiences showed me that more families came because the kids wanted to come. I have always thought that was part of the success of the engagement of rotation in our church. The kids love it, so the parents love it.

In fact, and as an aside, in one of our parent seminars the major point was drilled home that rather than today's kids listening to parents, it is reversed in many many cases. Not necessarily the best scenario.  I have overheard examples of such conversations in the hallways of the church..... Yep - this is one of my soapboxes. Done!

AND I guess you can call them gimmicks if you use the definition of a device intended to attract attention. I don't have a problem with that unless it detracts from the big picture of the ministry.

Anyway, it does seem like this can be a starting point for valuable conversation. Love the way we get to brainstorm.

This is a great discussion about summer, and making Sundays special and inviting is something important to think about in 2021 in particular as we encourage families to return to the habit of coming to church for Sunday school and worship after the pandemic shutdown.

This discussion about what will encourage people to show up in church parallels nicely the research from Barna about what church members miss about coming to church. The poll clearly shows that our children's parents are missing many of the social aspects of their participation at church. They are not necessarily missing coffee hours (or ice cream socials) but are missing connecting and sharing in a meaningful way with other like-minded adults = adult Sunday school.

To me, this shows that summer Sunday school for children and adults (this year in particular), even if it is on a more relaxed scale, may be a great way to start to reboot programs after the pandemic and help members of our communities to reconnect.

An added bonus of ice cream (and other "gimmicks") certainly is always welcome, and helpful for social media pushes to get the word out. 

Our Adult Sunday School Class continues during the summer.  Our Children's Sunday School does not, though we we offer lite lessons/activities for a one room school house setting.

While we put weekly Sunday School on hiatus, doing so frees up energy for two weeklong kids programs, Music Camp and Vacation Bible School.  We were able to pull off Music Camp last year even during the pandemic with 70+ kids attending all week.  Having Music Camp end with a public performance of a musical is a great way to build an outreach event for community parents as well as those who attend our church.

On a weekly basis, our leadership needs their batteries recharged.  The two weeks the kids spend together (once in June and once in July) have worked as good reunion events to keep and build interest for the fall.

Though the Pandemic shows a need for fellowship according to Barna, I think it best to do things top notch in the summer, that are scheduled so kids can work vacation time around it, so the school year can begin with rested, refueled leadership.

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