Sunday School IS very important. But come summer, at churches large and small, faithful superintendents and directors face two major problems:
- Student attendance drops dramatically.
It starts as soon as school gets out, and by mid-summer, attendance may only be 10 percent of the normal level.
- Consistent teachers are hard to find!
- Students need consistency to build relationships with their teacher. Little ones especially need to see a familiar face, but adults often only want to volunteer for one or two weeks.
- Families are on vacation or involved in other activities over the weekend.
- Teachers will teach, but do they understand how important it is to prepare before Sunday morning?
- At most, one training session is squeezed in before volunteers launch.
So what are some things churches are doing to address these problems?
1. Some cancel Sunday School completely for the summer and have a big kickoff in the fall!
It’s school, some say, so why not have a “summer break”? Beware, though, because you could get accused of “Killing Sunday School!” And definitely don’t try this without a good deal of discussion as well as pastor and elder approval first.
There are two major downsides to this approach. First, visitors to your church may come looking to have their child participate in Sunday School and there won’t be one. Second, if you keep adult Bible classes going, you have now excluded everyone with kids. One church I served tried offering Sunday School just for parents in adult Bible class with children. We had a group opening, then the Sunday School teachers picked up the kids and took them to Sunday School. It didn’t work. Honestly, some adults sneaked out after the opening.
2. Offer “Sunday School To-Go Bags" for families to take with them every week.
At Zion Lutheran Church in Belleville, Illinois, we have tried variations of this approach. The theory is that if you give families the story, the instructions, and the supplies to make the craft in a “To-Go Bag," then perhaps they will take it with them to do on vacation or at home during the week.
It took a lot of assembly time to get the bags ready, and we had an older and a younger version. We had to guess at how many bags to prepare for each week, and these were placed in the narthex after worship for families to pick up. We also provided a place for families to gather on Sundays to work on their bags together with the help of a host.
We also held a contest. We purchased a gift certificate, large enough for a family to eat at a local restaurant, and challenged everyone who took a “Sunday School To-Go Bag" to take a selfie of themselves working on it and post it on our church’s Facebook page. At the end of the summer, everyone who posted a photo was entered in the drawing for the gift certificate. We posted the winner, and celebrated all who had participated.
An unexpected positive surprise happened with our “To-Go” project. Grandparents took bags to do with their grandchildren. Families took bags for kids to do with friends in the neighborhood or visiting family.
3. Keep regular Sunday School going but combine classes.
Many churches do this. The large age range can be a challenge, but there is a place for summer visitors to come. And combining classes and grades provides a great time to experiment with a site-rotation model. Try having the small group move from a story center to a craft center to a snack or game center all related to the story. Just be careful about food allergies.
4. Have adults volunteer for one or two Sundays.
Give them the lesson, the supplies, and everything they need for that lesson in advance and available for early pick-up. Sometimes, it is actually easier to recruit a teaching pair rather than an individual. Consider using a free website like www.SignUpGenius.com for online sign-ups. You’ll still have to recruit in-person, but you can post a link on your church's website and send it out through your newsletter, email, or Facebook and Twitter accounts. SignUpGenius also sends automatic email reminders. The downside is that there is no consistent relationship built with a child from week to week.
5. Have Sunday School on Wednesday.
Emily Sagissor, DCE at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minnesota, shared that last summer they tried a month-long family "Sunday School" on Wednesday nights because of the large number of families who go to “the lake” on weekends. It included dinner and a family lesson (Bible lesson, science, craft, and, sometimes, a game). Involvement was still low, but it was well received.
6. Involve children and families in a Summer of Service.
Lauren Bates, DCE at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Eureka, Missouri, shared that they developed a schedule for their summers that includes a Bible study on service, preparation for outreach projects, and service “field trips.” Their activities involve things such as “Random Acts of Kindness” for first responders, cookie baking and delivery to a senior center, shut-in visits, a food pantry shopping trip, and roadside trash pick-up. At the end of summer, they have a service celebration party.
7. Change Sunday School to Summer Camp.
Amy Hubach from Grace Lutheran Church in Caldwell, Idaho, shared that they give the teachers the summer off, combine grades, and do what they call Camp Grace. Volunteers make a one-Sunday commitment. Some churches who do something similar use VBS materials for their camp, complete with decorations, lessons, music, food, games, and craft ideas to create a Sunday morning camp experience on a smaller scale.
Whatever your summer brings, keep on keeping on! Don’t be discouraged. Sharing God’s Word with children and families might be challenging, but He promises that His Word “shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 ESV). Blessings as you prepare for your successful summer Sunday School.