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To Summer Sunday School?
or Not to Summer Sunday School?
Some musings and advice from Neil MacQueen
To Summer? Or Not to Summer Sunday School? --the debate has been around for as long as Sunday School itself.
Back in the day, many churches closed down the Sunday School hour at the end of the school year. In churches where I grew up and served in the 70's and 80's, it wasn't uncommon for families at the end of the school year to say "see you in the fall."
Some churches have a long traditional of not taking breaks. They keep offering "regular" Sunday School no matter what the attendance is, or they combine classes and do "Sunday School lite."
Reasons 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 attendance gets on "regular" Sundays, the less likely I am to "cede" any Sundays.
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. In an era when "regular" means only twice a month, I'm not giving up three months for vacation.
But 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.
- 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.
- Unlike fellowship and VBS, Sunday School is directly related to worship attendance.
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 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 Rotation.org's resources and ongoing discussions.