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.
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 summer.”
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, California.
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.”
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 school.
“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 Sunday school.
“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, Pennsylvania.
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 Point, Wisconsin.
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, Nebraska.
-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.