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To Summer Sunday School?  
or Not to Summer Sunday School?

Summer Sunday School planning yes or no

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

To Summer? Or Not to Summer Sunday School? --the debate has been around for many decades.

Back in the day, many churches closed down their Sunday School hour at the end of the school year. In churches where I grew up and served on staff, it wasn't uncommon for families at the end of the school year to say "see you in the fall."

Other churches have a long tradition of not taking a summer break. They keep offering "regular" Sunday School no matter what the attendance is. They may combine classes and do "Sunday School lite," in addition to having a VBS and a couple of fun events.

When I arrived in one church as the unpaid Parish Associate, I was told by the teachers that "nobody will come to Summer Sunday School." when in fact the problem was that the teachers didn't want to continue. (See that story below.)

Factors Behind the Summer Sunday School Decision:

  • Tradition ("That's how we've always done it")
  • Attendance  (Some churches change because low attendance seems more like a problem than an opportunity)
  • Staff exhaustion (Especially true if your regular programming is exhausting instead of invigorating)
  • Volunteer depletion (Especially if you have few volunteers and key ones go on vacations or "to the lake" it can be hard to recruit for the summer)
  • What the pastor does during the summer (in one church where I served, the Senior took August off, and so did half the congregation)
  • Local options (I once served a church in a lake community whose attd dropped 80% in the summer)
  • Air conditioning  (Some Sunday School rooms don't have it, and that can be a problem during the summer in some regions)

I used to look forward to a break from summer Sunday School, the shifting of gears toward fellowship events, the "making of room" in my schedule to prepare for VBS. But the longer I've been at this, and the more challenging  consistent attendance has become on "regular" Sundays, the less willing I am to "cede" any Sunday for any reason, including summer Sundays.

Even if it's only a few kids, we need to value those kids and those opportunities, not ignore them.

quotemarkThe more challenging  consistent attendance has become on "regular" Sundays, the less willing I am to "cede" any Sunday for any reason, including summer Sundays.

Even if it's only a few kids, we need to value those kids and those opportunities, not ignore them.

We only have so many teaching opportunities with our kids, and with long-term attendance trends headed in the wrong direction across the Church, there is simply no way I'm going to give up 8 or 10 summer Sundays because of "tradition," or lack of air-conditioning, or tired teachers, or a small attendance.  In an era when "regular" means only twice a month, I'm not giving up 12 summer Sundays.

Here's my biggest pet-peeve about "taking the summer off."  Often, it's a decision based on the needs of the adults in charge and not the needs of the kids.

Granted, taking a break from our labors is one of the Ten Commandments and even Jesus himself needed to get away from the crowds and disciples every now and then. But canceling Sunday School for 10 or 12 Sundays? That sounds more like giving up than sabbath.

So before you decide to reduce your schedule or cancel teaching opportunities, consider these things:

  • Make sure your decision to "take a break" isn't based on your personal schedule, energy, inability to delegate, or lack of creative options.
  • Make sure your reason for taking a break isn't because your regular Sunday School is so tired and boring that stopping it is an act of mercy.
  • Remember that most kids and families don't experience the program's demands like you do. What they need is a break from the "same old" and not a two or three-month gap in the calendar.
  • You won't encourage the habit of attendance by breaking it for 2 or 3 months.
  • With the trend toward redefining "regular attendance" as "once or twice a month," we need fewer gaps and more opportunities for kids to learn, not fewer.
  • Summer is a fantastic season in which to spend quality time with kids and families because the kids' schedules are more open.
  • Every church has its own situation and history. Just make sure that situation and history isn't being used as an excuse.
  • Realize that those 2 or 3 kids who will still come are "worth" teaching.
  • Unlike fellowship and VBS, Sunday School is directly related to worship attendance, so undertand how both can suffer or succeed with your decision.

You won't encourage the habit of attendance
by breaking it for 2 or 3 months.

Yes, I'm a big fan of summer Sunday School, or at the very least, summer learning opportunities. Didn't used to be! ...but have seen the light.

I've also seen the light about making Summer Sunday School WORTH coming to, and not turning it into a pale "lite" version of what we usually do.

I recognize that things can get complex for some churches over the summer, especially if adult classes get canceled and worship services get combined, and you're going to be gone in August. But everything about the challenges facing the Chuch here in the 21st century tells me that we have to make the most of EVERY opportunity, and not do things that get people "out of the habit."

We need to do both "better" and "more."

Here are some of the different ways I've approached Summer Sunday School in different churches where I've served on staff and as a volunteer:

1. In one small church where I served, the teachers told me "we'd never get kids to come to a summer Sunday School."

They also didn't have great Sept-May attendance either and hadn't done a VBS in years. To me, it meant we were in an overall "learning deficit" going into the summer. So I put together a new team of parents and created three unique Bible camp-themed classrooms in the church (campfire, tents, lake) and rotated kids through them all summer with "camp inspired" lessons. "Camp Bible Wahoo!" was super successful. It averaged 10-14 kids per Sunday even in August in a church that only had 18-20 kids total at the time, and it led to an eventual revitalization of the regular program along the lines of the Rotation Model. The next year we held more "camp" classes and added a VBS. Not surprisingly, we started adding families to our congregation.

2. Mixing it up in a small church.

In one smaller church where I served, during the month of June we held extra special Sunday School classes, and then during the month of July and August we held special learning events outside of Sunday School after worship or on Sunday evening.

Every Sunday School class in June was different and special. The July and August after worship get-togethers included the entire family and included a fun intergenerational Bible lesson.

From June to August we also made a special practice of recruiting kids and parents to help read the liturgy and scripture. One of our goals was to send the signal that summer can be a time of doing things differently, rather than not showing up at all --and it worked.

3. A Summer Intern

How many college-age kids (or single moms, or struggling parishioners) do you have in your church who help lead something "different" because they could also use a little spending money?

When I was a seminary intern at a large church in Louisville KY, the CE team wanted to keep me a second school year but I needed a summer job. So they created a 9-week position for me as the "Summer Sunday School coordinator." I was green and had no curriculum, but I did have a great resource room full of creative supplies. I found a three filmstrips series on David, Solomon, and Paul, then matched it with three art projects and three games. We held two classes --one led by me and the other by college students I recruited. I let them teach with the filmstrips and I did the art class. Then on the third Sunday we combined for games. Little did I know at the time, that I had created a 3-week "rotation" on each story, an idea that would later resurface as the Workshop Rotation Model.

All three approaches were right for those churches at that time, and each was successful in terms of attendance. Each was also a time of experimentation that led to positive changes in our future programming. Yes indeed, sometimes crisis IS the mother of invention

Your replies welcome!

Neil is a Presbyterian minister, church educator, and long-time contributor to's resources and ongoing discussions.


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  • Summer Sunday School yes or no?
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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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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.

All - Am planning our Summer Fun Days schedule right now, and so happy for this thread. Thank you. I'm envisioning offering 45 minute, in-person, multi-age program for age 4 - 6th or 7th grade, up to three Sundays per month in June, July & August.  Robin, thank you for the Summer Sunday Special link - I plan to link some of the "national days" to scripture - for example, the lectionary for July 18th's "National Ice Cream Day" is also the Feeding of the 5,000 - yes, we'll talk about loaves and fishes, but I bet Jesus would have included ice cream, too!  We sure will! One could build a lesson plan around June 27th's "National Sunglasses Day" w/ seeing is believing, what shades our view of seeing Jesus, etc.

July 25th, the first Sunday of the Olympics, will feature fun and games - running races, 3 legged races, etc., w/ an emphasis on good sportsmanship, all are included, etc.  (That's a tradition in our church.) In lieu of a Sunday morning, we may host a Wednesday or Friday early evening program, in keeping w/ Neil's suggestion to "teach & be together in different ways, times & location."

Thanks all!

July 25th, the first Sunday of the Olympics, will feature fun and games - running races, 3 legged races, etc., w/ an emphasis on good sportsmanship, all are included, etc.  (That's a tradition in our church.)

I LOVE this idea of tying to the Olympic theme! Thanks for sharing!

Survey Says...

A few years ago we asked our members about their Summer Sunday School plans and feelings and here are some of the results of that poll.

You are welcome to reply below to add your thoughts to these poll results?
Does your church continue or take a break from Sunday School during the summer?


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  • Summer Sunday School poll
  • Summer Sunday School reasons for not having one
  • How I feel about summer Sunday School
  • Summer Sunday School alternatives

Be sure to view this important related topic here at;

Summer Ministry Ideas and Resources

It includes a video of members of discussing their
great ideas for Summer Sunday School and Children's Ministry.

This is a really useful discussion and has given me some ideas as I look to planning our activities during the summer.  We have some children's programming most years, but not always a full Sunday school program.

I use summer Sunday school to:

  • share lessons that we could not do during the regular year (too many workshop ideas for one rotation, e.g.)
  • get the kids outside - we have large lawns and a forest parcel - using activities that might be a little too messy for inside or are more appropriate for a hot summer day than our 6 months of winter (leaders like getting outside too)
  • explore lessons that are more theological than biblical - you lose the theming advantage but it makes it easier to switch lessons around if necessary (e.g. thundershowers and outdoor games don't mix)

We have found that reducing the amount of lesson prep or doing all of it in advance (thank you volunteers who don't teach) makes leading a summer lesson much less of a burden to a regular leader who needs a summer break.

We keep kids' Sunday School going in the summer and have tried different ways to make it work. We also find that if there is nothing for the kids, the parents don't come either. Attendance is more sporadic during the summer because people are away, but we do want to continue to teach the kids that are here and help them remember that church is a welcoming place they like to go to. Coming to church also keeps them in touch with their church friends, many of whom go to different schools.

Our church has a subscription to Right Now Media, so this summer we are going to watch a series of short videos on Parables, one a week. The regular teachers have signed up for a couple of weeks each to cover all the dates. We are putting all the kids together from age 3 - teen. After the videos, we will buddy the kids up and do activities, some indoor and some outside, depending on the week and the teacher.

For the youngest kids we will have the usual sand table, playdough, colouring etc. set up so they can choose what they want to do. The older ones will have an activity related to the parable of the day. I have sent everyone the link to the rotation lesson sets on Parables so they can find activities they would like to do. We also have some summer activity ideas that were sent to us by our church's mission organization and a couple of other places, and we have lots of craft supplies. So there will be a mix of things to do each week that won't take too much prep time.

Teaching just a couple of times during the summer gives people a break. Being with all ages is different for the kids and gives the older ones the opportunity to be a buddy to a younger one. Most of them enjoy this. Most of the time. Parents are also invited to come if they like, and we are hoping to find a few more volunteers for fall this way.

We are also doing a VBS later in the summer, organized by one of our regular teachers. The kids from a sister church will also be invited because they don't have one this year.

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