Evading Extinction


Is your Sunday morning routine on the verge of becoming
prehistoric? Dig into the 6 most popular Christian education models
to unearth a living choice for your ministry.

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There’s no right or wrong model for Christian education — only a
model that works best for your church. So many factors determine
your Christian education model — your facility, your volunteer
base, and your mission statement and values as a ministry. In
addition, you have unique needs, children, and volunteers that
dictate how your Christian education should be packaged.

God knows your needs and can work through your church’s strengths
and weaknesses to draw children toward the cross. Sift through our
finds to determine which model — or hybrid of models — is best
for you.


The self-contained classroom structure indicates that kids remain
in their age-specific classrooms with their teachers for the entire
Christian education time.

Kids love our Sunday School resources!

The Treasure — Age-specific classrooms are a way to
foster a safe, comfortable environment conducive to kids sharing
and growing together in their faith as they build relationships
with their teachers. A myriad of curriculum choices exists for
self-contained classrooms. Volunteers tend to be comfortable with
this type of model because they’re in control of what goes on as
they’re guided by curriculum. Parents readily understand the
structure because it’s what they’ve experienced.

The Dirt on Challenges — Self-contained classrooms
require each teacher to be a one-man or one-woman show-artist,
chef, actor, storyteller, game guru, and shepherd-whether those
things are in the teacher’s specific area of expertise or not. This
model requires a great deal of space because a church needs a
classroom for every 20 to 30 kids. Also, children in your church
may not fall into specific age groups as delineated by your
curriculum. So small churches may have to combine ages, and larger
churches may have two or three separate classrooms for the same age

Volunteer Preservation — Volunteers who consistently
teach classes feel connected and valued as they get to know the
kids and play a significant role in their faith development.
Volunteers understand clearly what you’re asking them to do, so
that’s one hurdle you don’t have to overcome with recruiting.
However, many people can be intimidated by the one-man- or
one-woman-show approach, and burnout in this model is high.

Our Archaeological Notes — Determine if this model is
best for you by looking at these key areas:

• Facility-This model is dependent on your facility having
adequate classrooms. You need to have at least 20 to 30 square feet
per child in each age-specific class.

• Volunteer Base-You’ll need two teachers to teach each age group
of children so you ensure that there are two adults with children
at all times for safety reasons.

• Mission and Values-This model is for you if you value tradition,
following a scope and sequence step by step, using age-appropriate
methods for each child, and maintaining a comfort level for
parents, teachers, and church leadership.

Digging Tips-To find the best curriculum for your self-contained
classrooms, check out www.cmmag.com for our most recent Sunday
school curriculum review.


The large group/small group model involves kids of all ages
meeting together in a large room for worship and Bible story
presentation. Then the kids meet with small group leaders to focus
on discipleship activities.

The Treasure –– Kids build relationships with their small
group leaders and one another. In this model, kids also have the
benefit of corporate worship. Small group leaders are facilitators
instead of teachers, so they do less preparation and have the
opportunity to go deeper with kids.

“Some kids learn about God best in a dynamic, creative setting
like large group,” says David Staal, Promiseland Director for the
Willow Creek Association. “Others draw closer to God while in a
more intimate, community setting. Many thrive in a mixture of the
two because in small group, they dive deeper into the Bible
lesson they just learned in large group.”

The Dirt on Challenges –– This model is volunteer
intensive. In addition to the one small group leader for each group
of 10 or less, you need a teaching team and a worship leader or
worship band. Resources for this model are scarce because few
publishing companies have created curriculum for this model.
Finally, your facility may limit this model if you don’t have a
large meeting room.

Volunteer Preservation — In some ways it’s easier to
recruit for this model because it’s not a one-man or one-woman
show. Each volunteer concentrates on one specific task. The
one-task approach makes volunteering much more approachable for
people. In addition, each person has the responsibility of a piece
of the education hour rather than the entire time.

Our Archaeological Notes — Determine if this model is
best for you by looking at these key areas:

• Facility-This model is dependent on your facility having a large
meeting space for the large group time. You also need to have space
for small groups to spread out so they don’t distract one another.
However, for security reasons, remember that you want to keep small
groups in view so you never have an adult alone with a child.

• Volunteer Base-The large group/small group structure requires
three kinds of volunteers — small group leaders, large group
teachers, and worship leaders.

• Mission and Values-This model is for you if you value
showmanship, relationship building, and assigning volunteers
according to their gifts.

Digging Tips –– Large group/small group Sunday school has
been around for some time, but it’s been refined and popularized by
Willow Creek Community Church’s Promiseland children’s ministry in
Barrington, Illinois (www.promiselandonline.com).


Children’s church is the kid-size version of adult worship with a
corporate worship time, skits and announcements, and teaching

The Treasure — Dann Lies, the children’s pastor at Grace
Fellowship in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, says that because there are
so many opportunities for kids to serve in a children’s church,
children are trained for ministry at a young age. The transition to
adult worship is easier because kids have positive attitudes about
church already. Kids who experience children’s church know what it
means to worship God, serve others, and learn through others’
teaching because they’ve experienced these things at an
age-appropriate level.

The Dirt on Challenges — Age differences can create a
challenge. “It’s hard to keep the interest of both a 7-year-old and
a 12-year-old,” says Rick Chromey, Christian education professor at
St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, Missouri. “They’re on
different planets in terms of ability, cognitive thought, spiritual
maturity, and emotional balance.”

Because children’s church focuses more on corporate worship than
relationship building, children may not develop close discipleship
relationships with Christian adults other than their parents.
Additionally, some critics believe that kids who experience the fun
and exciting dynamics of children’s church may have difficulty
making the transition to a more somber adult service.

Volunteer Preservation — In many children’s church
arenas, a person with a call to pastor kids leads the teaching
time, and volunteers take care of other aspects of children’s
church — greeting, puppets, music, object lessons, or
behind-the-scenes jobs. Because you need fewer volunteers,
recruiting is easier for this model.

Our Archaeological Notes — Determine if this model is
best for you by looking at these key areas:

• Facility-This model is dependent on your facility having a large
meeting space, such as a small sanctuary or a gym with a stage. You
don’t, however, need classroom space.

• Volunteer Base-To pull off children’s church well, a church
needs people with talent in the areas of drama, worship, teaching,
and preaching. You also need a few people to serve as crowd control
monitors (a 1-20 ratio). This model requires far fewer people to

• Mission and Values-This model is for you if you value
showmanship, bringing the worship and teaching of an adult church
service to a child’s level, and helping children minister to one

Digging Tips — Primarily, two publishing companies
create curriculum specifically for children’s church. Check out
KidsOwn WorshipTM from Group Publishing, 800-447-1070, (970)
669-3836, www.faithweaver.com; or KIDS Church from
CharismaLife, 800-451-4598, (407) 333-0600, www.charismalife.com


Rotational Sunday school involves students traveling each Sunday
with leaders to a different established theme-based room — such as
an art studio, music and worship area, computer lab, or drama room.
Kids spend four to five weeks exploring the same Bible story.

The Treasure- –– Because kids spend a number of weeks
studying the same Bible story, they know the stories well. Kids are
also involved in hands-on learning that taps into their areas of
intelligence-verbal, logical, visual, physical, naturalistic,
musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

The Dirt on Challenges — Kids may become bored with
experiencing the same story over and over again even if it’s
presented in a unique way each week. Space is a definite issue for
this model. To do the model well, a church must devote time, money,
and energy into transforming rooms into theme rooms or learning
labs. Parents, teachers, and church leadership don’t often
understand the values driving the model, so vision casting becomes
a constant task.

Volunteer Preservation — Mickie O’Donnell, one of the founders of
the model, says that volunteers are key. Volunteers help in their
areas of expertise and feel they have something unique to offer. On
the other hand, recruiting for specific rotations comes more
frequently — every four or five weeks — and each workshop leader
needs training in adapting his or her lesson to the cognitive
abilities of different age groups. Also, a development team that
works on space and curriculum design is integral to this

Our Archaeological Notes — Determine if this model is best for
you by looking at these key areas:

• Facility-Rotational Sunday school seems best suited for churches
that are able to devote rooms to themes for the long term. For
portable churches or churches that share space, doing this model
well is nearly impossible.

• Volunteer Base-Rotational Sunday school requires two types of
volunteers. Workshop leaders sign up for a short-term commitment to
lead the same project each week over the course of the rotation.
You may need four or five leaders per unit. Shepherds travel with
an age group and assist the workshop leaders. You’ll also need a
team that finds rotational Sunday school lessons, writes
curriculum, or adapts existing curriculum.

• Mission and Values-This model is for you if you value teaching
kids according to their multiple intelligences, exploring Bible
stories in a variety of ways, and reinforcing concepts over the
long haul by going deeper into each story.

Digging Tips-Check out www.rotation.org and
www.childrensministries.org for sample lessons, information, and
expert advice on rotational Sunday school.


The learning center model provides centers for kids to engage in
various activities related to a Bible story or theme in the context
of one Sunday (rather than over several Sundays). Kids explore a
specific theme or Bible story through child-focused activities that
help them discover Bible truths. Preschools are widespread users of
learning centers, but the model can be expanded for elementary as

The Treasure — Learning centers are similar to
rotational Sunday school without the permanence of theme rooms. As
in rotational Sunday school, kids have the benefit of experiencing
a variety of activities presented by people who are experts in
specific areas. The learning center model offers various levels of
choice. According to Scottie May, assistant professor in the
department of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College
in Wheaton, Illinois, choice is a key factor in keeping kids’
attention and giving them ownership of the learning process. The
changing pace allows kids to experience a variety of

The Dirt on Challenges — If kids are rushed along to the
next center with no time to process their discoveries, the
activities may not be as effective as they could be. Learning
centers work best with about 15 kids per center, so if you have a
lot of children, you’ll need a greater number of centers to make
the learning environment effective. Unless centers are tightly
integrated with a theme and introduced and debriefed with the Bible
story or point in mind, the activities become disconnected and less

Volunteer Preservation-Volunteer needs depend on your method for
implementing the learning center model. For example, you can
recruit groups of volunteers with expertise in crafts, games, and
worship, and then you can rotate those leaders around to groups of
children for your learning centers.

Our Archaeological Notes — Determine if this model is
best for you by looking at these key areas:

• Facility-This model is one of the most flexible when it comes to
your facility. You can set up learning centers in a large room or
in smaller classrooms.

• Volunteer Base-You need a volunteer to run each center and an
adequate adult-to-child ratio.

• Mission and Values-This model is for you if you value giving
children choices, providing self-guided discovery, and having a
variety of activities.

Digging Tips –– Any self-contained classroom curriculum
is easy to adapt to learning centers. Each lesson component becomes
a different learning center: storytelling, craft, game, music,
prayer, and more. To find the best curriculum to adapt for learning
centers, check out www.cmmag.com for our most recent Sunday school
curriculum review. You’ll also find a listing of learning center

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