The Reinvention of Sunday School

Here is an online review I did for Kidology.

Judge It By Its CoverOkay, so I finally did it. I judged a book by its cover. I have been so consumed with all the new resources that publishing companies have been releasing that it has been extremely easy to overlook anything of relevance. In the midst of my daily blog checks and publishing house resource updates I ran across Aaron Reynolds’ book The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School. Not only did the cover and graphics that enhanced the online preview catch my eye – I knew that Reynolds was a fabulous storyteller from the Willow Creek group. I was pumped to get my hands on this new resource. I was excited that Reynolds was potentially going to impart some awesome ideas, however, I was a little fearful that the book was going to be a little heavy on Willow Creek programming.After quickly reading through the book (no kidding – it is a thick book but a super-fast read), I was relieved to finish a book that gave me so much energy to transform the way I do ministry to kids. Not only did I feel like I had been to a conference, but I was also actually thankful to read a Children’s Ministry book that did not tell me how to recruit volunteers (I have come to the realization that finding volunteers is a constant battle and there is no perfect equation or formula for every church). The book, broken up into three distinct parts, transformed my thinking and encouraged me to evaluate what I am doing now to impact the kids I am reaching.

Memorize It Or Forget It

The first part in Reynolds’ book talks about forming an atmosphere of excellence for kids to learn in. His focus throughout the book is to look at the way you are teaching the Bible and make sure you are being relevant. Part of being relevant is memorization. Reynolds starts the book by saying, “If you asked me to name the one thing that has the power to take the teaching in your ministry to the next level (we’re talking purely practical things here, putting aside prayer and the presence of the Holy Spirit and that awesome stuff for just a sec), I would say “memorization” every time.”

At first, this might sound like a very overwhelming task when you think of the many services you have to deal with each week, but Reynolds lists many different strategies to help put the art of memorization into practice. Jennifer Galley, Elementary Ministries Director at Oak Hills Church in Eagan, MN, said, “I guess what I’m hoping (my) teachers take away from this is a desire to truly prepare. To memorize lessons and really tailor their lesson to the kids that they know they will have in the room – not just to read the teacher book word-by-word.”

Not only will memorizing help in making the learning atmosphere suitable for powerful teaching, but Reynolds also offers a few other ideas to creating an ideal setting. He says that practicing, or rehearsing, how your services will flow each week can contribute to how your message will come across to your group. Reynolds also points out that evaluating your teaching and service each week will help you learn from your mistakes and that this should be something you do often. Finally, Reynolds points out that scheduling your workers to serve on a rotation will also help your team becoming effective communicators.

Reinvention Of Tradition

Don’t let the words “Sunday School” in the title throw you off. The whole point of the book is transforming the way you teach and making unforgettable moments happen at church. In the second part of the book, Reynolds begins to explore some different techniques in enhancing the service and message each Sunday. Kenny Conley, Children’s Pastor at the Argyle Campus at Cross Timbers Community Church in Texas, writes, “(The book) covers everything from setting a stage, great prop ideas, lighting secrets, rehearsal plans, critique forms, sound ideas and so much more. As a speaker who constantly wants to get better, Aaron gave me great new ideas of what to do with my hands, where to be when I’m making my big point, and what to do when those infamous 5th grade boys start a secret conversation of their own in the back.”

Reynolds, who already is a great storyteller, shows us some very specific methods that will make your 30-minute teaching time unforgettable. Remember, that even though this book does not specifically cover ways to recreate Sunday School into an amazing program, it does offer great insights on how to take any message or lesson and make it an amazing “experience” for an audience. Reynolds encourages us to stay relevant for the sake of engaging kids on a weekly basis. He says that the use of technology should go beyond a simple CD player and PowerPoint, but use video games as part of the object lesson or activity for the day.

Textbook Teaching

I have decided that if I ever get the chance to teach a college-level kids ministry class, this book would be required reading. This book stays true to its back-cover claim by not offering you a book full of new crafts and activities, or conversation starters for kids and leaders, or even a booklet of reproducible activity sheets. It truly goes beyond the step of giving you formulas and ideas (although the entire third part of the book does this very well – more on that in a minute), this book helps you truly bring relevance to timeless messages in a way that every child will understand.

If you have been in Children’s Ministry for even 30 minutes you know that kids learn in and from different settings. Reynolds notes that kids learn in primarily three different ways – Auditory (or lecture-based), Visual (the ones who perk up when the video starts), and Kinesthetic learners (ones that need movement). The entire second part of this book teaches you to maximize your time and help you reach every child in your group. It is made very clearly that for some, you have to leave your current ways of teaching and start using new approaches.

The Top 20

The book promises 20 “tried-and-true methods for teaching the Bible creatively” and Reynolds begins to unleash his talent on us. From audience-participation lessons to around the room teaching techniques, any kids pastor is bound to learn something new. “The section on the power of silence was great,” Pastor Marc Romero, Manassas Assembly of God Children’s Pastor, said. “Dead air is usually such a no-no, especially in front of kids, but when it’s done correctly it can have the powerful effect of driving home a point. What a great reminder Aaron gives us to not always feel like we have to keep the noise and energy up the whole time.”

The most exciting thing about this book, the second time I read it, was that I noticed that Reynolds secretly added so many more methods to teach the Bible throughout the other pages of his book. Not only does the book essentially handout 20-weeks worth of teaching material, but it over delivers with at least 20 more.

Cool Flows Down… Way Down

It seems another underlying theme besides transformational teaching is the concept that “Cool Flows Down.” Reynolds points out that if you can reach the older kids in your group – you are most likely going to be able to reach them all… except the Preschoolers. But wait! Reynolds does not leave them out either. He includes an entire chapter of his book on relating to even the youngest in your group. He compares what churches do to what Sesame Street does and points out that if Elmo can reach them and grab their attention, then we should be able to as well.

An Appendix That Is Actually Valuable

I don’t know how many times I get to the back of a really good book, excited to read more and all there is, is a thing called “The Appendix.” When I reached the end of The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School, I was thrilled to see that there was more useful stuff for me to soak up. Included, there is a copy of the evaluation form that Reynolds mentions a few times and even an example of how to fill it out, a personal development plan for teachers – a resource you can hand out to your staff, a great training guide so you can use the book to coach your volunteers – or actually teach that college-level class, and a list of where and how to get some of the things Reynolds talks about in the book. For the first time, I could honestly say that I got more out of the Appendix then I did the introduction! I Want More

It really takes a lot for me to get pumped about teaching in front of groups. The great thing about this book is that it gives not only practical advice on how to lead a group of kids, but it also prepares anyone to teach or lead any group.

I was really excited to see a book written by a professional storyteller. I think if there is one area that many kids ministry programs are lacking in, it is solid and creative teaching. This book does more than just give you ideas and techniques for your ministry, but it gives you everything you wanted to know about how big churches grab and keep kids’ attention – and so much more. If there is one book that will be an annual adventure for me – it’s this one… or at least until Aaron Reynolds releases The Fabulous Reinvention of VBS AND EVERYTHING ELSE!

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