How We Deconstructed Sunday School & Tripled Attendance
By The Rev. Canon Glenn Spencer
Rector, All Saints Anglican Church
We deconstructed Sunday School at All Saints seven years ago! We did more than that – we eliminated Sunday School altogether and moved our Holy Communion with Hymns to 9:00 a.m. giving us about 30 minutes to get ready for the 10:30 a.m. Choral High Eucharist.
But we have not eliminated Christian Education because we moved all of what used to be Sunday School to Wednesday School and married it to an Agape Meal with the whole Church Family. Our folk, some of whom were reluctant, gave it a shot and the result is that we have never had more people in education classes in our history, and we have never had so much good fellowship. I cannot imagine how we would spend more good time with one another just hanging out and being there. We realized last year that 1 hour or 2 hours on Sunday during Coffee Hour simply was not enough time to build community, to build trusting relationships and to prepare ourselves to “manfully fight under His banner, against sin, the world and the devil!”
Here’s how we do it at our parish: We use MailChimp and create a weekly e-newsletter with parish news and reminds parishioners to RSVP to Agape. The men’s prayer breakfast sets up the tables and chairs after their meeting Tuesday morning. We begin serving dinner at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday with a meal prepared by a parishioner or clergy volunteer and their family. During the first year, we had two different cooks who did most of the meals. They were dedicated and helped Agape flow smoothly the first year. By the second year, they were ready for additional help, and we used SignUpGenius to get other parishioners to volunteer to prepare a meal. The second year there are approximately five families who cooked a couple times each semester. We are now in our seventh year and Agape has grown so that a new family cooks each week of the semester.
The dinners have varied from Chicken & Barley Soup, to Lentil Curry, to Hoppin’ John and Cornbread. Our children clear the tables. At 6:30, dinner is over, and we go to our classes (a 45 minute window for dinner allows people to come late after work). We have five classes for kindergarten through adult. At 7:15 p.m. the classes are over, and folks are preparing to drive home. Some families voluntarily linger to help put the tables away and chat. We have families with children that travel close to 40 or more minutes, so we want to get them home as early as possible. Our attendance has ranged from the mid-40s to the 70s.
Over the years, we have found that each fall and spring semester can run 12-16 weeks (it varies because of the liturgical year). We try to fit in two or three different adult education topics a semester. We also will have Evening Prayer and dinner two or three times a semester -- this allows for a break in classes and more fellowship time. The final Agape of the year is only fellowship time and a special BBQ dinner. Education is important, but the fellowship at the Agape is just as important!