I wrote several months ago that Tiny Church has done away with Sunday School as we know it. Many of you were interested in our Upper Room ministry, so much so that the post went viral... as much as a post about churchy stuff can go viral.
So how's it been going? I wanted to check in about this, since I know others (especially those in small congregations) are considering alternatives to Sunday School. As we think about "what's next" in our churches, we need to share not only the ideas, but the successes and failures of those ideas, and they ways they get tweaked. Tangent: check out the Paracletos Project through NEXT Church, in which two congregations engaged in revitalization will work with a coach and share their learnings.
Well, it's been mixed. Regarding the Upper Room: We are very fortunate to have a member of the church who's offered to come up with a simple craft option most Sundays, but coordinating that is a challenge---ideally the activity would tie in to the sermon or theme for worship. And it also has to be as silent as possible! (Check out my Upper Room Pinterest board.)
The Upper Room is also a victim of its own success: a few Sundays ago we had 11 children up there. Wow! How wonderful... but that's really too many with only one adult, especially considering that some of them are on the young side. We need a backup adult there too.
We also have a few new extroverts in the mix. What to do with them? We're trying to educate parents and kids that this is not communal time---that children are there to listen to the Spirit through the worship and through "their own work"---but it's not easy.
My original post also mentioned a few other ideas. We're trying to figure out how to equip parents as faith educators. I've been previewing the Vibrant Faith materials; I get the weekly email and wonder whether it would be something we could share with families. I absolutely love the stuff at the Practicing Families website.
My time with the children during Sunday worship has been more thematic. In September I was guiding the kids through the different parts of the sanctuary and what they mean. Next I think I will try a stewardship theme (including stewardship of creation and the body), then it's time for Advent and Christmas.
In our meeting with the parents last spring, we talked about having "pullouts" from time to time. Instead of Sunday School every week, which has been hard for a church our size to sustain, we're looking at, say, four to six weeks in the fall and again in the spring for a specific purpose. Our choir director has offered to prepare a choir piece with any children who are interested. I'd like to give that a look in November and/or early December, so the kids can present something in worship during Advent. This also gives children a break from the Upper Room, which keeps it from getting stale.
We're still feeling our way. The day we had 11 kids in the Upper Room was a little rowdy. As I preached I would would hear these random sounds and shushes from up there and think, Maybe this is a crazy idea.
I wondered again during the sharing of joys and concerns, when one of our folks who works at the Navy Yard was sharing a prayer request about that situation. As he spoke I saw one of the younger children come to the balcony rail and drop a piece of paper over the side. I watched as it fluttered down and landed directly behind the man, in the lap of a quiet older woman whose husband we'd just buried a few weeks before. The horror.
I'm sure my facial expressions were a complete non-sequitur to this poor guy, who had no clue what kind of "death from above" antics were going on behind him. I braced myself for a backlash after worship along the lines of kids today need to learn how to behave.
Instead, later in the service the woman raised her hand, held up the paper and said, "I just have to tell you all. This landed in my lap a moment ago. It's a picture of Jonah and the whale, and here's what that means to me today." She concluded, "'A child shall lead them' after all!"
Well I'll be. I guess that's right.