What's the best way to plan for low and irregular Sunday School attendance?

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Our Sunday school has low and irregular attendance (from about one child to eight or more). The leaders are currently using the Kid Connection curriculum, which seems to be a good fit for a small Sunday school. However, not knowing whether two or ten students are going to be there makes planning, even with this curriculum, a challenge and it is disheartening. The leaders asked that I solicit any suggestions or advice. Any thoughts?

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I've been there too, Nick! One thing I find encouraging is to hang photos of all the kids that attend my class. I just used the little camera in my phone to take pictures of the kids. Whenever someone new arrives I snap their photo too. I print the photos out and cut them into a little circle just framing the child's face, and I stick it to the palm of a traced-hand cut out. Then I stick the new hands on the wall each week. Even on weeks when our group is small we can look on the wall and see all the kids that have been a part of our group throughout the last year. It's encouraging! And when the kids do come back they feel more like they belong because there photo is there with everyone elses. I don't list the kids names with their photos, even so, I think the photos have helped me remember kids names.

If you're wondering why we attach the photos to hands, that's something we started when we were using the Hand in Hand curriculum on Embracing Diversity. I cut out hands in a variety of hands in various colors to represent some of the diversity in God's kingdom. I tape the kid's and leaders photos to them in a random way so that the hands don't reflect the skin tones of the people in the photos--Instead they are there to reminder us that God make us alike and different in many ways and that we are all welcome in God's kingdom and in our class.

You could easily think of another way to display kid's photos in your class, if it was something your teachers would like to try.

Community Builder

At my church we used to fluctuate between 1 and 9 kids each week. I always prepared for 12. Sometimes God surprised me with 15, other weeks God sent 1. The biggest thing I tried to remember was that kids are always taking their cues from me, their leader. So, I tried to teach that one child with the same energy and enthusiasm I would have used with a full house. After all, kids show up ready to hear about God and spend time with you---and you can provide that no matter how many of them there are!!!

Of course, the great thing about having 1 or 2 kids is that you can spend more time in one on one conversation--sharing faith stories, wondering aloud together about how the characters felt, or how and why God did something. You can also take time to get to know your kids on a personal level, praying together and building a relationship that may last a lifetime! Don't be afraid to drop some activities in order to do that. Use the goals listed at the beginning of each 'Step' to frame your conversation.

Something else that's helpful---at the back of each Kid Connection session there is a section called One on One Fun. It's filled with ideas on how to adapt each step when you're working with one or two kids. In your church, Nick, the leaders may find it helpful to check out those ideas as they plan a session so they'll have some options in mind for those weeks when there are really small numbers.

Hey Nick.....

I often think that in most things in ministry, when our numbers drop or fluctuate highly, we need to look at ourselves first. One of the key elements in growing churches is a vibrant children's ministry. Geoff Surratt, in his GREAT book "10 Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing" says that our aim should be to make the hour we have with the kids "the best hour of their week". If you do that, I think kids will come. If not, it begs the question, "How do we get there." I tend to think we let ourselves off the hook a little too easily in maintaining high levels of quality and substance in our children's ministries because they are people who aren't on councils and don't have as large of a voice as other age segments of our population.

To that end, we start with a "no excuses" policy for quality - rather than see ceilings, we look for innovative ways to get our intended result. Also, resource and staff your children's ministry for the size you WANT it to be. If you resource and staff your ministry for 5-10 kids, that's the most you'll ever get. We learned that the hard way when we immediately doubled our attendance and weren't ready to deal with it from a resources/staffing standpoint. Finally, identify some churches who do children's ministry REALLY well in your community - likely young, modern-style churches, even plants. Send your volunteers there for a Sunday or two. Most churches will let you do this and pick their brains for innovative and creative ideas to hit those high quality of programming levels that make that hour "the best of the kids' week".