Christian Education in the Small Membership Church
Karen B. Tye
Chapter Three Review by The Mustard Seed
“When we think about where and when we educate in the church, our mode seems to be the hour on Sunday morning we have labeled “Sunday School.”…Assuming that Sunday School is the primary educational context prevents us from seeing other possibilities for the where and when of education in the church.” (p. 41)
As we learned in earlier chapters, Christian education in the small membership church often occurs in various times and places other than traditional Sunday School. “Christian education happens whenever and wherever the church meets, eats, worships, works, learns, plays, cares, and serves.” (p. 42). So, let’s discuss three contexts, including Sunday School, where education is happening in the small membership church (and hopefully in churches of all sizes): Sunday School, Worship, and events in the life of the church and community.
In Chapter 2, the author mentioned that the small membership church must creatively structure Sunday School to accommodate smaller numbers of students. How do we approach this? Keep in mind that lack of numbers or limited space does not have to be a problem, especially if we imagine school in different ways, such as the one-room school and homeschooling. “Older children learn by helping the younger ones. The younger children learn by observing the older ones…The likelihood of personal attention increases as the teacher has more time to move among the students and interact with the children who need it.” (p. 43)
The one-room school model requires space, but not a lot of space. The space needs to be open and have flexibility, be colorful and visually interesting. Teachers are necessary, but consider forming a teaching team rather than a single adult overseeing everything. Older children can be paired with younger children as a “faith buddy” (p. 43) and work together in class. When it comes to resources, continue to think creatively. In a church, no matter its size, “there is a wealth of gifts and talents waiting to be tapped. There are storytellers, artists, musicians, good cooks, carpenters, jacks- and jills-of-all-trades…Once we stop thinking about what we don’t have and begin to see what we do have, we will find the resources we need!” (p. 44)
By using a homeschooling model for Christian education, we are reminded that “parents are the primary religious educators of their children and that we need to help them with this privilege and responsibility.” (p. 45) Often, existing curriculum can be adapted into take-home packets for parents and grandparents to use with their children when discussing our Faith at home.
Worship and education cannot be seen as two separate functions. “Because worship is sometimes the only time a small membership church gathers, being aware of the educational opportunities in worship and how to make the best use of them is critical.” (p. 46) An important task for educators in a small membership church is to help our students understand the symbols (often seen in icons or inside the altar) and gestures they will see in the worship space, and what these symbols and gestures represent. Next, educators should recognize that “the way we worship is teaching us, too.” (p. 47) Students need to understand why we participate in the Liturgy in the ways we do so that they will intentionally participate based on firm knowledge of the Faith. For more information on how to encourage student participation in the Liturgy, visit the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Department of Education's blog, Orthodox Christian Parenting, for a full article and additional resources. “The Orthodox Church considers all of its members, including children, to be an important part of the Church’s life. Therefore it follows that even the children are needed to do this work/give this offering. So, if it is important that every member of the parish participate in this work/offering, but if it is a challenge even for adults to be fully present and engaged, what can be done to help the children?” https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/on-helping-children-to-participate-in-the-divine-liturgy/
“Core events [represented in the Liturgical calendar], unique congregational events, transitional events, and wider community events are all places in the life of the small membership church where education is happening, whether we realize it or not. Taking advantage of these natural gatherings and groupings, we can be more intentional about these contexts as places of education.” (p. 52) We can teach formally and informally during these events. It’s important to note that these events naturally allow inter-generational involvement, which we have learned is a strength of the small membership church. Being aware, being mindful, and being intentional of the educational opportunities present at these events will offer many possibilities for meaningful and creative Christian education.
Further Reflection (p. 54)
Pick an event important in the life of the congregation.
- In what ways are you currently educating through this event?
- What might be done to enhance the teaching and learning?
- What steps need to be taken to help this happen?
- We must look beyond Sunday School as the only time for Christian education to take place and instead see that the where and when of Christian education in the small membership church is everywhere and all the time.
- Yes, we should strive to improve our Sunday School, perhaps by considering non-traditional models such as the one-room school and homeschooling, while at the same time becoming aware that other natural settings in the context of Christian education in the small membership church are worship and parish events.
Are you now wondering in what ways we can apply the what, who, where, and when for a result of how to correctly and effectively do Christian education in the small membership church? There are many factors to consider and the next post will introduce new, necessary components of successful Christian education and discuss how these components build upon what we've already covered to produce a Christian education model that can be fine-tuned for your parish's unique and individual needs.