Thanks to Dan O. for today’s post.
As many have noted, our Sunday Schools provide the most fertile and responsive soil for the Sower’s seed. Each week we have opportunity to water and nurture the seedlings that grow within our midst, and as such I believe that the organization and running of Sunday School is deserving of time, resources, and creative thought. And this shouldn’t just be left up to the individual teachers, or begin after students are dismissed to their classes.
There are many ways to run a Sunday School; below we share some ideas and systems that we’ve found to be helpful and effective in giving purpose and energy to our Sunday School. We hope this provides you with some ideas, and also serves as a catalyst for others to share what’s worked for them!
Preparation Is Key
I’ve found that spending some time up front to plan out your year ahead of time can be extremely helpful – everything from a week-by-week lesson breakdown, to assigning student jobs, to maybe even choosing relevant hymns in advance. This allows you to ensure that all members of a Sunday School have a job to perform, and by handing out a schedule to each student on the first Sunday School of the year, each scholar feels important and understands the principle that the body only works when we all take our jobs seriously. Students are encouraged to highlight their names and be prepared for their jobs each week! It’s also great preparation for future participation in the ecclesia.
Some Sunday Schools have presiders rotate each week. We’ve found that having one designated brother to hold the position of ‘Sunday School Superintendent’ allows for continuity and developing a vision, and also lends itself to developing relationships with the children.
A Job for Everyone
From ‘Readers’ and ‘Coin Collectors’ for the boys, to ‘Snack Helpers’ for the young girls, and ‘Hymn Book Collectors’ for each class in rotation, everybody has a role in the Sunday School. In order to include the girls in our Sunday School more, we created a ‘Snack Helpers’ list, where an older and a younger Sunday School scholar are paired together to head downstairs before the closing hymn and assist the adult sister who’s setting up that week’s refreshments. Besides being great preparatory work for future ecclesial service, it’s wonderful to see the beam on a young student’s face when it’s her turn to help put out the snacks! Students are welcome to bring their own special contribution on their ‘Snack Helpers’ day.
Our Sunday School begins at 9:15 sharp each week, and classes are in session from 9:30 to 10:25, at which point we re-gather for a closing hymn and prayer. That gives 15 minutes each week to invest in creating a Sunday School culture and community before classes even begin! This is where a bit of creativity goes a long way.
Besides ‘the usuals’ – opening hymn (young pianists whenever possible), prayer, reading, coin collection, and weekly announcements – we rotate through a number of activities designed to enhance the students’ learning, develop a family-style bond, and encourage everyone to focus on needs outside of their own.
Card Making and Giving
On the first Sunday School of each year we have a ‘pancake breakfast’ startup. This is always an exciting start to the year. Sometimes all the Sunday School teachers will get together to organize, other years other brothers and sisters may volunteer to cook the breakfast. This year inexpensive brown paper was rolled out onto the tables for the attendees to draw photos/write verses from the lives of different people we will be studying this year in Sunday School. It was neat to walk around after breakfast and see all the depictions of Biblical stories.
After the pancake breakfast everyone makes cards from the myriads of card-making supplies shared by an elder sister. These cards are collected and stored, and each week throughout the year the children, teens, and adults sign and send a handmade card to someone within the brotherhood – whether for illness, celebration, or ‘just because’. It’s the job of a teen in the teen class to mail the cards out each week. Often throughout the year we’ll have a visitor from another ecclesia, and I’ll typically seek them out before SS begins and ask if there’s a member from their home ecclesia who’d benefit from a card. This is announced to the group each week, and they’re encouraged to think of something thoughtful to write in the card during the refreshment break between Sunday School and Memorial Meeting. In doing this week by week, we’re hoping to teach the children that, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:26 ‘whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.’ Students often come up to me in- and outside of Sunday School with suggestions of people who they think might benefit from a card.
Weekly Memory Verse Board
To give even more purpose to the already important weekly memorization and recitation of memory verses, usually done in their respective classes, every 2nd week students are given opportunity to share their memory verse with the entire Sunday School, while the coin collection is going around. Students as young as 3 look forward to sharing their verses! Students who wish to participate recite their verse and reference from their seats (so mum and dad can help the little ones), and then come up to the stage to add their contribution to a year-long memory verse board project.
On a piece of paneling or light plywood, we’ll paint a background image related to that year’s study (we follow the CSSA program) and then provide matching foam cutouts or stickers (see pictures to see what I mean!), on which students write their name and the verse they’ve recited. These are then attached to the board, and as the year progresses, the board and scene is filled out! It’s a great reminder of all the verses students have memorized, and adds an interactive component. It is helpful to have an extra pair of adult hands to help stay organized as children are coming up to collect their pieces for the memory board.
Some Boards we’ve done:
Stage 1 – 7 Days of Creation; Abraham’s Stars
Stage 2 – Samson’s Hair; Promised Land Grave Vine;
Stage 3 – Build Nehemiah’s Wall; Ezekiel’s Temple
Stage 4 – 153 Fishes; Parable of Sower;
Stage 5 – Re-Construct Paul’s Shipwreck; Map of 1st Century Expansion
I believe that hymn-singing is an integral part of Sunday School, and there is much benefit in providing hymns and songs which meet a variety of levels of understanding and vocal abilities. God loves to hear children sing, but children’s voices lack the range and precision of adult voices, so providing music designed for their singing and thinking level helps them praise God as they are able. As such, we have created out own SS Hymn Book from a variety of sources, and as we are still learning all of the hymns, we dedicate one Sunday per month to learning 1-3 new hymns, depending on difficulty.
We’ll have the pianist play these songs over and over for the opening 5-minute voluntary, and ask the congregation to open to the particular hymn and follow/listen along. When it’s time to learn it, the pianist will play it again, and we’ll give it a try – or two, if it doesn’t work the first time through! This has broadened our repertoire to the point that we’re able to pick almost any of the 133 hymns and the kids are familiar enough to make it through. If/when we get to the point that we have no new hymns to learn – that’s the goal! – students will be allowed to pick their favourite hymns for a ‘hymnsing’ once per month.
Please come back next week to read Part 2 of Developing a Dynamic Sunday School!