This article was originally posted by Neil MacQueen for rotation.org. It has been updated with additional ideas and observations gleaned from member comments.
Workshop Rotation in Small Churches, Few Kids
Though originally a model implemented by mid-to-large size churches, thousands of smaller churches have proven the scalability of Rotation Model concepts and practices. The Workshop Rotation Model can easily be adapted in small churches that have few students, or few classes, or little space.
Small churches adopt or adapt the WoRM for the same reasons as larger churches, with "attracting families" an even more important need.
"Small" and "few," of course, are relative terms. Some "small" congregations have lots of kids, and some big congregations have very few kids.
To some, 20 kids is "small," where as, that's what some churches aspire to!
So for our purposes here, I am defining "small" as fewer than 15 regularly attending elementary age children.
The optimal class size for one Sunday School teacher is arguably about six children of similar age. Larger class sizes or numbers of classes/workshops are easier to scale up to in Rotation because they simply require more helpers, materials, and space. Furthermore, it's pretty easy to figure out a schedule of workshops if you have two or more age groups/classes. Six kids works well for discussion, drama, art supplies, etc. Any fewer than six, and you'll inevitably have Sundays with only 2 or 3, and sometimes dramas and games are better with more.
Where it gets challenging is IF you only have ONE class of 4 to 5 children with a wide age range, or TWO classes with fewer than 4 regular attenders in each. And this is exactly what defines some "small" churches.
(Undoubtedly, there is someone reading this who has just TWO elementary age students total! That's a unique challenge, to which I would suggest applying Rotation "concepts" if not actual workshop designs. Repetition is the cornerstone of all learning regardless of how many children you have.)
If you have just one or two classes that have small numbers, seasonal and family attendance fluctuations can leave you with some Sundays that have just 1 or 2 kids, or sometimes NO kids in a particular class. Such fluctuations tend to bother the teachers more than the kids because they've prepared. See some of the tips below for how to go with that flow!
I'm often asked, "should we split our 3 younger from our 2 older elementary age kids?" I tell folks that the answer is entirely dependent on the kids themselves, the attendance patterns, and your church's ability to handle two classes instead of one. IN GENERAL, I prefer maintaining a CRITICAL MASS of kids per class so that we have a sense of "group." It is easier to teach 5 kids of various ages, than to split into two and hope every kid will be there each week for the lessons we have prepared just for them.
Below is some more advice.
Important Considerations for WoRM in the Small Church:
"Workshop" refers to the way you teach, and not necessarily to "how many rooms" you have. I can do four different workshops in the same room if I needed to. Not preferred, but could.
Any space can be designated a "workshop." Any classroom can be converted into a unique workshop space. It's just a lot EASIER if you have different spaces you can leave SET UP from week to week. Leaving a room set up to teach drama, or with computers or using art—is one of the "GREAT INNOVATIONS & PLANNING RELIEFS" that Rotation Model brings to any size Sunday School. "Workshops" are as much for the creative teacher as the kids.
(See more suggestions below on limited space.)
"Rotation" refers to the way individual students need to learn, REGARDLESS of how many students are in a class. Students need to learn same story over a period of weeks through different media. That's non-negotiable. So it doesn't matter if you have 3 kids or 30—they each need to learn the story through several different learning approaches.
Small Church Rotation Models still "rotate in" different teachers each week to lead the workshop. I consider this rather non-negotiable as well. In order for teachers to maintain creativity and prepare truly creative workshop lessons, we can't burn them out by changing the lesson on them every week.
Thus, in a small church, if you have a four week rotation on Jonah, for example, you might have 2 teachers each take 2 weeks of the rotation. I might do Art and Drama, and you might take Video and Computer. Depends on how many teachers you want to involve. Or you can have 4 different lead teachers, and 1 shepherd who stays the same each week. Depends on how many adults you have in your small program.
Gonna say it again: One teacher trying to teach one story through a different medium/workshop each week will eventually wear out that teacher. They'll keep teaching, but their workshop lessons will become less creative over time.
Share the load.
It's not uncommon for small Sunday Schools to be run by two teachers who split up the workshops. Those teachers need to bring in special helpers (teens and other adults) to stay creative. They should also plan breaks in their schedule.
Four weeks per story is still considered a "minimum" number of weeks for most stories/passages regardless of the size of your program.
Small churches usually have BROADLY GRADED classes. Any model, including the Rotation Model, will find it challenging to come up with a lesson that works for BOTH a 1st and 5th grader sharing the same class. It gets a little more complicated depending on the age distribution of your church's particular students.
Take for example the church that has one kindergartner, two third graders and one seventh grader. I would turn that seventh grader into a teaching assistant and have them help me with the 3 younger kids. In some workshops, I would ask them to be the Kindergartner's "buddy" to help them with reading and following instructions.
Your solution should depend on who your kids are, their capabilities, talents, and attendance.
IF YOU HAVE VERY FEW KIDS...
Don't give up and don't "go back to boring." You want the kids you DO have to love learning God's Word, improve their attendance, and attract new attenders.
How to find more students immediately....
As mentioned above, most groups work best when you have a sense of "critical mass." The difference between 2 kids and 4 kids in a class is dramatic. Not only does it feel better to the kids, the level of energy and activity is different, and what you can DO is different.
So....If you only have 2 or 3 kids, invite some teens or older adults to form an intergenerational class with the kids. You might just get much more than you hoped for!
Older kids, especially, don't like to be "one of the few" as they equate number with "cool." Inviting a Jr. High or grandparent, pastor or parent on a regular basis can help the kids feel like they are part of a community.
You can also gain extra students by asking couples and entire families to "teach a workshop together."
Plan special workshops and activities that INVITE the friends of your children. For example, encourage the younger kids to have a friend sleepover the night before and bring them to a special Breakfast Cooking Workshop or Seder Meal.
Promote, promote, promote. Tell your story. Always ask grandparents to bring their grandkids. Always welcome friends and make sure you send something home about your program.
Begin to view "few" kids as a special opportunity to do some special things for those kids! Never make "the few" feel like "not enough."
For example, many churches with large classes might never attempt a "carpentry" project because of the tool and material requirements, but with just 2 students, you can have an AWESOME hands-on carpentry workshop led by a woodworker in your congregation who wouldn't otherwise teach.
If you have just three or four students, and sometimes only ONE or TWO of them shows up, having a computer laptop ready with some Bible game software, or a special service project ready to go—is a great way to shift gears and save the full workshop lesson for the next Sunday.
Have a creative back-up plan for those Sundays when few of your "few kids" show up. (See more suggestions below.)
Small Churches with Very Limited Workshop Space
Small churches with limited classroom/workshop space have found the following to be helpful:
1. Definitely schedule a Cooking Workshop so your church kitchen can be one of your workshops.
2. Drama and Games and Video do well in OPEN spaces, or using the same room. To set up your space or room for video, bring in stackable adirondack chairs or director's chairs that can be removed for the Game Workshop next week. Hang Drama workshop costumes and on the wall or in a cabinet to clear floor space. Have a taut wire across the ceiling to hang a fun curtain on Drama Workshop week.
3. Set up an outdoor space or a tent at the end of a low-traffic hallway.
4. Use laptops, instead of desktops, so your computers dont' take up space in your classroom that needs to be used differently the following week.
5. Come up with creative and QUICK WAYS to transform your single room every week into a new space.
6. Look for other types of space if you don't have enough classrooms. I've heard of computers and drama spaces set up at the end of hallways, games in parking lots, and videos shown in the Pastor's Cindy's Cinema (which she taught once a month in her office).
See the posts below for more GREAT IDEAS for SMALL WoRMS!
Your replies and suggestions welcome.