INCLUDING SERVICE PROJECTS FOR KIDS IN A MIXED-AGE SETTING
Looking for Summer Sunday School Ideas for your small church? Filled with hands-on service projects for kids, THE NEIGHBORHOOD might be the summer solution you are looking for!
When June rolls around, kids are excited – Summer Vacation is here! For Small Churches though, summer can feel a bit more like a deflating balloon.
Depressing Summertime Facts for Small Churches:
- Summer attendance is low and unpredictable
- We lack critical mass in kids’ classes (games and discussions tend to flop with only 2 kids!)
- Our regular teachers need a break
The lack of critical mass (numbers!) leaves Children’s Sunday School in a quandary.
Many small churches wonder if they should cancel Sunday School in the summer. Or just limp along with 1-2 kids in an age group.
But the truth is that Summertime presents us with some unique opportunities!
Happier Summertime Facts for Small Churches:
- We still have kids who need to stay connected to the church
- We still have students who want to make an impact with their lives
- We still have amazing adults in church who have much to give
Instead of thinking of low attendance and mixed ages as a liability – let’s recognize them as striking opportunity.
It’s an opportunity to light a spark and exercise some creativity …
An opportunity to put some new volunteers in the mix …
And an opportunity to make a difference in our neighborhoods!
For the concept I’m about to share with you, low numbers and mixed ages aren’t just desired. They are necessary assets.
So, let’s do what the big churches can’t do!
Instead of cancelling Summer Sunday School, try implementing this buddy-loving, congregation-sharing, and impact-making “NEIGHBORHOOD!”
THE NEIGHBORHOOD is for you, if you want to:
- Develop leadership skills in older students as they serve as “buddies” to the youngers
- Build new relationships across generations with a special guest Q & A
- Gift your regular volunteers with a break from teaching
- Impact your physical neighborhood with the love of Jesus
- Create excitement in your congregation as adults & kids engage in hands-on service throughout the summer
THE NEIGHBORHOOD: A Creative Alternative to Traditional Sunday School Curriculum
Relationally-Driven and Service-Oriented, just like a Neighborhood should be
THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a concept, not a curriculum.
Each Sunday holds 3 unique elements:
1) SHARE: Get to know someone from your congregation.
2) PAIR: Buddy-time. Pair an older youth with a younger student.
3) CARE: A mixed-age, practical service project or Random Act of Kindness for your neighbors.
Where does THE NEIGHBORHOOD idea come from?
THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a great example of how the Core Beliefs of your Kids’ Ministry should drive your programming and your ministry.
Small churches need to quit grasping at straws and, instead, practice intentional ministry. If the ideas out there aren’t working for you, create some new ones! But before you can program intentionally, you need a vision for your Kids’ Ministry. Core Beliefs will come out of that vision.
While all 6 Core Beliefs for Small Churches are at work in THE NEIGHBORHOOD, these 3 Core Beliefs drive the overall concept:
- We believe in Relational Ministry
- We believe in Congregational Involvement
- We believe in Building Student Leaders through Service
None of those Core Beliefs are dependent on the number of students that walk in the door. They all can be implemented with 2 kids to 20+.
Watch how all 3 come in to play …
THE NEIGHBORHOOD Overview
As the name implies, it’s all about THE NEIGHBORHOOD! Who is your neighbor? What does it mean to be a good neighbor? Let’s get to know our neighbors. Let’s serve our neighbors.
The Story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37
Other Key Bible Verses
Mark 12:31, 1 Peter 3:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 1 Corinthians 10:24, Galatians 6:2, Galatians 5:14, Hebrews 13:1-2, Matthew 7:12, Philippians 2:3, Romans 15:2, Isaiah 1:17, Romans 13:10
Scripture Memory Verse
Galatians 5:14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Sample Sunday Schedule
Each Sunday School time slot offers the 3 unique segments SHARE, PAIR, and CARE plus an Opening & Closing Time.
- OPENING: (5 minutes) Prayer, Neighbor Topic Question, Memory Verse
- SHARE: (5-7 minutes) Q & A interview with a member of your congregation
- PAIR: (5-10 minutes) Buddy-time! Older students paired with younger for Would-You-Rather & Get-to-Know-Me Questions.
- CARE: (35 minutes) Hands On Service Project
- CLOSING: (5-7 minutes) Clean up, Highlights, Closing Prayer
A Core Value: We Believe in Congregational Involvement
We recognize every person in our small church as a significant influence to our kids. Our kids’ ministry is part of the Whole Ministry of the Church, not an entity unto itself. We seek opportunities to Partner With Parents and other Church Ministries. We believe our kids should be seen, heard, valued, and loved!
The truth is that every adult in your congregation has something to offer the kids in your church. There is incredible value in building relationships outside the children’s ministry team.
Although every adult is not a kid-magnet, every life story has incredible value. Stories have the power to change lives.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD Share Time is an opportunity for kids to get to know other congregational members in a new and fun way.
It is also a great opportunity for congregational members, who would never volunteer to teach or lead games, to be involved with your kids as well.
Starting each Sunday with stories from your church family might just be the highlight of the whole summer.
So, while I firmly believe every person has an incredible life story, let’s address some challenges.
CHALLENGES for SHARE TIME
- Some adults are boring, and even painful to listen to.
- Some adults don’t want to go near the children.
- Many adults don’t want to speak in public.
- Many adults can’t manage classroom behavior.
SOLUTIONS to the CHALLENGES
1) Have an energetic kid-friendly person lead the interview time.
This person manages classroom behavior, keeps the story flowing, highlights the best parts, and puts the sharing adult at ease.
2) Prepare the Sharing Adults Ahead of Time.
- Choose them intentionally.
- Schedule them on the calendar for a Sunday they are available.
- Walk them through the Life Story 20 Questions Worksheet.
- After receiving the 20 Questions Worksheet back, choose the top 4-6 questions to ask.
- Remind them to come on their scheduled date.
3) Keep the Interview time SHORT.
- 5-7 minutes max.
- You will NOT get through all 20 questions.
- Always leave them wanting more!
A Core Value: We Believe in Relational Ministry
We believe Relationships (not Programs) change lives. We train Volunteers in relational ministry. We design our Events to build and deepen positive relationships, both Student-to-Student and Student-to-Leader. We strive to cover every student with care, celebrating significant occasions and pursuing when absent.
What does every elementary student want to be? (a junior higher!) What does every junior higher want to be? (A senior higher!)
The PAIR time is a traditional “buddy time.” It sets aside intentional time to get to know each other on a deeper level.
The goal here is a little life-on-life mentoring as well as some leadership building for the older student.
Pair one older student with a younger, for groups of 2. If there is an odd number in attendance of course there would be a group of 3.
Utilize “Would Your Rather” cards and Get-to -Know-Me Questions.
A CHALLENGE for PAIR TIME
The main challenge with any type of buddy-time is some students participate more than others.
Some are shy. Some are bored. Some were forced to come.
The SOLUTION to the CHALLENGE
Even though the kids should be acting together as partners, an adult leader needs to circulate, motivate, help, and keep the Buddy Pairs on task!
A Core Value: We Believe in Building Student Leaders Through Service
We recognize that kids need a place where they can make a difference and feel significant. We develop gifts, responsibility and leadership through service to others.
The bulk of your Sunday School hour will be spent in active service projects. The Buddy Pairs should stay together (older helping the younger) but may combine with other teams for the service element.
Explain the project for the day, always referencing the memory verse, a neighbor-focused scripture, or the story of the Good Samaritan.
Talk about needs in the church. Needs in the neighborhood. Needs in the world.
Some projects may be extended for more than one Sunday, especially if the kids are loving it! Stay flexible and responsive to your students.
A CHALLENGE for CARE TIME
With summer weather and spotty attendance, how I can I plan the correct service project? Some are outdoors, some inside, some require more people.
The SOLUTION to the CHALLENGE
Plan for all your projects before you kick off the first day. Gather all supplies needed for the full term before you even welcome kids to THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
This allows the flexibility you need to choose the project the day of, considering the weather and that day’s attendance.
Summer Project Ideas
Caring for the church, your church family, your neighborhood, your city
Brainstorm specific needs in your community. You may have causes and organizations that could use your help in immediate ways.
Here’s a list to get you started.
Service Project Ideas & Random Acts of Kindness
- Wash car windows in the church parking lot.
- Clean up your neighborhood.
- Paint individual flower pots with fake flowers to deliver to a nursing home.
- Create a gift & deliver to neighbors near the church property.
- Design thank you cards for Veterans (week before 4th of July).
- Make no-sew fleece blankets for a children’s center.
- Assemble care packages for homeless (you will need to collect or purchase items ahead of time).
- Care for your church facility: Organize the kids’ ministry cupboards. Paint the outside benches. Weed the church property.
- Bead bracelets and give away.
- Make thank you cards for the adults who shared their stories in class.
3 STEPS TO GET STARTED
1) Find Your Leaders
You need a champion leader to head the charge for the summer. Plus one facilitator for each class of up to 12. For many small churches, this just means just one leader throughout the summer.
Your ideal leaders will be fun, flexible, and able to think on their feet. This is different than a teacher.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a dynamic concept, not a curriculum. It’s primarily relational and active. You don’t need a “teacher” – you need a “facilitator”. Think of it more as an emcee and a coordinator.
Loop in responsible core teenagers and young adults to serve as leaders too. (An adult needs to be present, but let teens lead as much as possible. This also will keep their attendance higher in the summer.)
2) Determine Your Time Frame
THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a flexible plan. It could be 4 weeks, 8 weeks, or anything in between.
For best success, take a few weeks to dream, assemble your team, and get the ball rolling.
A clear start and end date will set THE NEIGHBORHOOD apart as a special series. Promote THE NEIGHBORHOOD as a special event that no one will want to miss!
3) Set the Scene: Decorate Your Children’s Space
To create extra momentum and ramp up the fun, set the scene with some decor. Decorating conveys intention and value!
If you take the time to Set a Scene, you will communicate Summer Sunday School as exciting! Fresh! And New!
Ideas to Set the Scene:
- Make doorways to classrooms look like doorways to homes on a neighborhood street.
- Get sheets of cardboard. Cut a triangle for the roof and hang above door and extend out.
- Use a few rectangles of cardboard the height of the door, on each side. Paint with windows and shutters.
- Line your Sunday School walls with road signs, light posts, a picket fence and a neighborhood cat. Maybe a swing set or a park bench.
- Add flower planters by classroom doors for a front porch look!
- Place a WELCOME mat outside each door.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
You can totally do this!
Take a risk this summer. Instead of doing what’s always been done, try something new!
Whether you choose to develop THE NEIGHBORHOOD, or something else, recognize this season of mixed ages and lower attendance as an opportunity to build relationships, to develop leaders, and to practice creativity.
Summer doesn’t have to be a Bummer in Small Churches!
Set it up to SIZZLE instead.
Let me know what creative ideas you have implemented in the summertime. I cherish your ideas, your feedback, and your questions!
For more on developing your Kids’ Ministry, check these out:
Developing your Vision for Kids Ministry (Incuding Core Beliefs)
Decorating in a Small Church – 3 Big Impact Elements for Transforming Your Space!