Mixed-aged Classes, Too Few Kids, Frustrated Volunteers

For Small Churches looking for a Sunday School fix – start here. Maybe instead of new curriculum and better volunteers, what you really need is a new box.


Small Churches naturally have small Sunday School programs. But when the numbers are less than 5, we sometimes have more issues than just being small.

If you are lucky enough to have 5 kids on the roster, even then, every student doesn’t come each week.

  • So we cancel classes when there’s 1 or 2, because the planned activity needs at least 4
  • OR we try to hold class with only one student, which is just not fun for anyone
  • OR we combine age groups – which translates into no one getting the lesson they need

So here’s what we end up with: 

  • Frustrated teachers
  • Bored kids
  • Cancelled classes
  • Disappointed volunteers

Even with all the effort we pour in, the lack of numbers leads to lack of momentum. This transfers into kids dreading what we wish they were excited about: Sunday School! 

Learning about Jesus should be LIVE-GIVING … not draining the life out of everyone involved.


If you are frustrated with your current Sunday School program or looking for new ideas, take a step back before jumping into the next curriculum that promises “active learning” or the next new idea that claims “easy to use.”


1) Start Asking the Right Questions

Sunday School is a tool, not the goal.

If Sunday School isn’t working, we need to be willing to kill the sacred cow – or at least redesign it.

Sometimes we forget the term ‘Sunday School’ is not in the Bible.

The origin of Sunday School is very different that what we think of today. It actually started in England in the 1800s as a means to teach poor children reading, writing, and arithmetic … and catechism. So, while there was a religious component, that wasn’t the core. Parents were grateful for the free education and that their kids were becoming literate. 

The trend spread to U.S. and has morphed over time to what it is today. 

There is no manual that says in order to disciple children, we need to put them in a room for an hour before or after church. 

So, let’s change the question from “How Can We Make Sunday School Work Better?” to “How Can We Bring Kids Up To Know God and Love Jesus?”

Maybe this happens on Sunday morning, but maybe it doesn’t.

Every small church is unique from any other. Culture, demographics, economics, mission, giftedness, and more. What might work in one church might not work in yours. 

We need to change the question from “How can we fix Sunday School?” to “How do we reach kids for Jesus?”

2) Form a Team to Answer the Questions

It doesn’t matter if it’s a team of 2 or a team of 10, but gather a team. You weren’t meant to go this alone. Even if you are uber talented and gifted, you were meant to serve in community. 

Bring others in. Welcome their thoughts and ideas, as well as their skills and talents. 

Before you say, “I can’t find more volunteers!” please hear me:

I’m not telling you to recruit volunteers. I’m asking you to bring others into the process of figuring out how to best reach the kiddos in your midst.

It’s conversation and input. And people love to give opinions! Make sure to include the kids, especially older youth, in the process. 

With this team, keep asking the right questions. 

3) Assess Your Gifts, Your Strengths, and Your Resources

Forget about what doesn’t work and what you don’t have.

And start listing what you DO have.

Think of your students, the church building, the people in the church, your community. List people, resources, talents, strengths, histories.

How many kids are in your church? In the close-by community? What ages? Do they have parents? Are they involved? Do the parents know Jesus? 

What does your church have to offer? Do you have a building? Money? A closet of puppets or costumes? A playground?

What do the people in your church have to offer? Do you have builders? Crafters? Missionaries? Do you have stories? 

There is no one-size-fits-all for the small church. Your community has unique beauty! You might need to unearth it and re-connect with it – but it’s there!

4) Think Outside the Box (maybe even get rid of it!)

Sunday School is the Box. It’s not the Prize. 

Have you ever tried to shove something in a box that is really not going to fit? You may push it and twist it and smash it. But it’s still not going to fit. 

Don’t ruin the Prize by shoving it in the wrong Box.

What’s the Prize?

The Prize is the life giving gospel. Mentoring by those who love Jesus. Community founded on Christ’s love. Life-on-life learning and sharing. The unchanging Word of God.

If the Prize is not fitting in your current Box, maybe you need a new Box.


If Sunday School isn’t working, go through the 4 Steps above, with a team. This is your starting point. As you start looking at new ideas, here are a few to get your creative juices flowing.

Utilize older students to teach the youngers. 

Many older students would love the significance of being a leader and learn more in the process of teaching than being taught.

Offer Intergenerational Sunday School.

Yes, everyone together! Including grandparents on down. 

Build Spiritual Lessons Around Special Interests

Like cooking, sewing, building, car repair, robotics, you name it. Tailor conversations, lessons, scripture memory, and discussion along with the action of doing.

Welcome Guests for Interviews and Question & Answer Panels

This is a great way of including other Christians in the community and even others in your own church who aren’t your typical Children’s Volunteers. And kids love asking questions and hearing stories.

Promote Sessions or Modules (4-6 week at a time) with Breaks in Between

While you lose the routine of ‘every Sunday’ you gain the excitement of a ‘special event’. So have a special Advent Sunday School then take a few weeks off. Promote a topical “The Neighborhood” session for 6 weeks. You get the idea!

Start a Mentorship Program in Lieu of Sunday School

Life change happens through relationships. Mentoring relationships can be based around serving, special interests, clubs, book studies, and more. The options are endless. 


We serve a creative God who surprised the world throughout scripture. A burning bush, mud in the eyes of the blind man, writing in the sand. God is anything but predictable.

Could we take a risk and do something out of the box?

Remember, Sunday School really is just the Box. It’s the stuff inside that’s valuable.


SAVING SUMMER SUNDAY SCHOOL – a creative concept with a service component in “THE NEIGHBORHOOD.”