The Ministry of Summer Sunday School
By Dr. David R. Drain
In my home church, when I was growing up, Sunday school continued throughout the year. Those of you who knew my dad, “Cholly” Drain, and his dedication to Sunday school, can readily believe that. But many congregations no longer offer that opportunity. In fact, when I arrived at my present congregation in 1980, I found that Sunday school ended in May or early June – something that did not make me very happy. I was told that if someone brought a child (it was clear that was not very likely), someone would be there. True enough, there was one dedicated lady who went to a kindergarten Sunday school room every week and welcomed anyone who might come.
Although our church leaders (Elders) and I were interested in more Sunday school, it was clear that many of the families were not and that the teachers were weary and looked forward to the rest. In fact, since our church continues to grow through attracting young families who had grown disconnected, the idea of Summer Sunday School was uncommon, if not unknown.
In light of this situation, we began a separate Summer Sunday School program under our Christian Education lay ministry. Given the need to attract the children and their parents and the erratic attendance patterns that were likely during the summer, we felt we needed something different from the School Year Sunday School curriculum. We decided to use more of a Bible School approach which provides separate, distinct lessons each week. The lessons involve Biblical instruction, simple worksheets, games, crafts, as appropriate, and often music from CD’s and tapes that relate to the story. For example, if the story of Esther is told, it is reinforced with a picture to color or a coded message sheet. The craft for young children might b e a crown. Older children would make a grager (noise maker) to use for an abbreviated Purim celebration. This more active approach appeals to both the children and their parents.
The classes were held during worship with youth exiting after a children’s sermon. As the program grew, we created more classes, currently serving three levels (through Juniors). Ninety plus children were served this past summer, with average attendance about 40. Because each lesson can stand alone, a different volunteer can teach each week. A volunteer coordinator oversees the teacher sign up, which takes place in May. In our case, a very talented volunteer creates the lessons for each week, but Bible School type materials could also be purchased and used. We recruit teachers on the basis that the materials will be ready for them one week in advance and that elaborate preparation time will not be required. They usually teach for only one or two Sundays each summer.
While much of this began simply because we were convinced of the importance and value of Sunday school, we have seen many specific benefits. First, our youth have gained additional, much needed Biblical knowledge of our Savior and God’s Word. Secondly, many adults were willing to volunteer to try teaching, just one Sunday, and when they have a positive experience, are willing to begin teaching in the fall. Third, new families move into our community and try out a church in the summer. They often come to our congregation first because they hear of our summer program and when visiting us, note our commitment to helping disciples learn God’s Word.
There are several items that may be specific to our situation, but I am convinced this is still a wonderful opportunity for many congregations. We have three pastors and all are actively supportive of Sunday school – yet this is all done by volunteers, including the writing and preparing of the lessons and recruiting of the leaders. We have found that it is important to encourage and value the workers, some of whom are teaching for the first time, so the pastor writes a letter to thank each week’s teachers. God has used this work to strengthen the entire Christian education ministry of the church.
The world gets our children for so many hours of the year, it is sad to lose the opportunities for the few hours afforded Christ’s Church. We have found that Summer Sunday School is not only a ministry to the children, but also to the Winter Sunday School, in addition to attracting new members. We commend the possibilities of the ministry of Summer Sunday School to you. May God bless you as you are “diligent in season and out of season.” (II Timothy 4:2).