To can or not to can? Children's ministers explain
the choices they've made.
In: "We should never take a vacation from God's Word."
Out: "The teachers deserve a break."
An overwhelming majority of churches keep their Sunday school
doors open in the summer, but some feel it better serves their
churches to shut down Sunday school when kids' regular schools are
out. To better understand each position and to help you make the
best decision for your program, we asked 50 Children's Ministry
Magazine readers to talk to us about their approach to summer
SUNDAY SCHOOL'S IN
A desire to keep kids in the groove of attending church motivates
many summer programs. "Consistency is important so people don't get
out of the habit and have a chance to do something different," says
Debbie Reiniche, a children's minister in Manteno, Illinois.
"Having summer Sunday school is important for the sake of
continuity," agrees Frances Browne of Kernersville, North Carolina.
"We don't want to send the wrong message by stopping for
The wrong message, according to Jo Ellen Axthelm of Kirksville,
Missouri, is that Christianity is a seasonal affair. "Year-round
continuity is important since we don't stop being Christians in the
summer," Jo Ellen says.
"We should never take a vacation from God's Word," affirms
Katherine Cooley, a children's minister in Hollis Hills, New York.
"In fact, since there's more time, perhaps more can be taught and
learned since children are out of regular school."
And that's the second issue that drives summer Sunday school-the
increased free time on kids' hands. In the lazy summer heat,
slumbering schedules can often awaken families' interest in church
activities. "We're a neighborhood church so it's important to have
Sunday school in place in case someone brings their children," says
Julie Ann Davis of Chicago.
"Our kids would have a fit if we didn't have summer Sunday
school," says Cindy Griffo of Springboro, Ohio. "Our attendance
really doesn't go down, and the kids want to be there."
But do adults feel the same way?
"We have summer Sunday school because if we lose the children,
we'll lose the parents," says Pat Tubbs of Sunnyvale,
The adults in Debra Handkins' church in Cincinnati would be lost
without summer Sunday school. "Our church members would have a
revolt," says Debra. "Our worship services are concurrent with
Sunday school-with three sessions each."
"Even though attendance drops, we don't want to turn off people
with very young children," says Deborah Anne Kolacki. "We do it for
the adults, so they can worship, as well as the children attending
SUNDAY SCHOOL'S OUT
One children's minister says he actually gains more volunteers for
his fall program by recruiting new teachers for a special 10-week
summer program. Adults get a small dose of ministry to children and
want to come back in the fall. But this isn't true for many
churches. Getting volunteers is the biggest challenge for the
majority of programs that do take a vacation from summer Sunday
"If we're going to have summer Sunday school, I have to run it
myself. My teachers are usually away," says Nancy Munck, a
children's minister in Clifton, New Jersey.
Colleen Volstad of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, says of her church
that "resources are pretty much 'tapped out' and additional staff
is not available in the summer."
"With our congregation, a high percentage of leaders are gone,"
agrees Carol Peterson of Grand Island, Nebraska.
And even if volunteers are around, Janet Lyman of Rahway, New
Jersey, says, "The teachers deserve a break."
Churches often shift into survival mode when summer hits. For Mimi
Larson's church in Wheaton, Illinois, and Carisa Curtis' church in
New York City, anemic attendance motivates them to can summer
"A lot of our kids go to overnight camps and are often gone for a
month at a time," says Carisa. So Carisa's church strives to take
the pressure off volunteers and parents by putting summer Sunday
school on hold.
But just because Sunday school is canceled in the summer months it
doesn't mean ministry to children isn't happening.
"We anticipate having a lot of absent people on our staff in the
summer, so we'd like to use the summer for field trips to give
everyone a break," says Todd Crouch of Scenery Hill,
Rather than drop Christian education entirely, Olivia Karr's
church in Albertville, Alabama, has improvised. "We have a
storefront church, and we don't have the workers to volunteer,"
says Olivia. "We run Super Church every Sunday with combination
classes (ages 2 to 10 and grades 6 and 7)." Having this kind of
program uses fewer volunteers and gives kids the advantage of being
with children of varied ages.
Some churches take stock of their attendance and determine to run
programs for the most populated age group on Sunday mornings.
"We're in an area where attendance drops to one-third, so we hold
summer session for preschoolers only," says Jennifer Carlson of Fox
Dismissing summer Sunday school is often motivated by an overall
need for long-term volunteers. "Summer is a good time to rejuvenate
and give staff a rest," says Rondalyn Roach of Whittier,
California. "Our children's program runs like a children's church
format-movies, activities, and combined classes. From August
through Labor Day, we take five Sundays of rest." ™
SUMMER SURVIVAL TIPS
€Design your program to be a combination of Sunday school and
VBS-Kathryn Birchfield, Woodstock, Illinois.
-Give the teachers the summer off and have a combined K-6
group-Candi Cain-Borgman, Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
-Have monthly family events-Carol Peterson, Grand Island,
-Have more evangelism, be less structured and go into the
neighborhood more-Lynnette Diller, Portland, Oregon.
-Create a non-traditional environment, such as Wild and Wacky days
where kids interact out of the normal setting and relate to
teachers on a different level-Gene Chapman, Trenton, Florida.
-Group teachers together to plan for the summer session-Patti
Aspling, Duluth, Minnesota.
-Combine classes, such as pre-K, grades 1-5, and grades
6-youth-Mary Burman, Laramie, Wyoming.
-Use substitute volunteers from your church community-Julie Ann
Davis, Chicago, Illinois.