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Sunday school evaluation process

A report of a Sunday school evaluation I carried out at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, Illinois, in January, 2005. The process described could be adapted for use in other congregations. The raw data gives an idea of the kind of results that will probably be typical.

Additional evaluation processes dating from 2002 (including an evaluation process for youth groups) may be found here.


I recently completed a simple mid-year evaluation of UUSG's programs and ministries with children. While this report may give you far more than you want to know about the evaluation process (including all the raw data), I believe it is worth looking over. I used a process which is designed for evaluating religious education programs for children, as well as for assessing what children have actually learned. (Note that the same process could be modified and used to evaluate programs and ministries for any age group.)

Let me define "evaluation" and "assessment," and say a little about how these are a part of congregational life. Evaluations are typically a part of a larger planning cycle that includes setting goals, implementing goals, evaluating progress towards the goals, reflecting on whether and how goals might need to be modified, and then back to reviewing (and possibly modifying) goals. In addition to evaluation, religious education programs/ ministries also need to engage in regular assessment. "Assessment" refers to assessing how much persons have learned through the religious education programs and ministries. Assessment is also part of a larger planning cycle that includes setting learning goals and objectives, implementing educational programs and ministries to meet those goals and objectives, assessing how much progress persons have made towards the goals and objectives, reflecting both on goals/ objectives and progress towards goals/ objectives, and then back to reviewing (and possibly modifying) goals /objectives.

I believe all congregations should engage in regular and open evaluation of their programs and ministries. Regular evaluations help leaders and others in the congregation to know what is working well, and what may need improvement. I believe regular, open evaluations help congregations to stay focused on their core mission, and help congregations to keep core ministries and programs happy and healthy. With that in mind, the following pages offer one approach to evaluation.

-- 18 January 2005

The process used for this evaluation

The entire church school, from preschool through grade 6, met together during each of the three sessions of church school.

The basic format for each meeting was as follows:

Meeting held in south end of Common Room.

Preparation: Social hour table and chairs moved out of south end of room.
Carpet squares for children to sit on are arranged in a circle on the floor.
One chair for minister to sit in, chairs available for other adults to sit in behind children.

Materials: Chalice, matches, flip chart and easel, markers

I/ Opening and attendance
Welcome, quick statement of what we'll be doing today
Go around circle, every child says name, minister writes down each name

II/ Chalice lighting
Read opening words, light chalice
Teach song: "Gathered Here" (from hymnal)

III/ Assessment process -- assessing what children remember from church
A. Brainstorm a list of everything we have done at church this year -- ask children to "remember everything you have done in church since church started up in Sept." -- generate list by going around the circle, each child can say one thing they remember (when preschoolers are present, begin with them -- after they have had a chance, their teachers take them off to their own activities). Choose one or two children to be Scribes and record what is said on the flip chart. Go around the circle at least twice to give a little more time to those children who need more time to remember, and because what is said might spark memories in other children
B. Stretch break -- stretches and simple yoga exercises

IV/ Evaluation process -- evaluating what children like best about church
A. Ask the Scribe(s) to read off everything recorded on the list. Then ask children to decide what the best thing was that they have done at church all this year -- allow a minute of silence.
B. After the minute of silence, go around circle, and each child gets to vote for favorite church activity -- then second go-around, vote for second favorite church activity.

V/ Ask for any other comments, concerns, suggestions children might have

VI/ Finish session with a game of "Duck, Duck, Goose"

Analysis and some recommendations

Problems with the data include:

(1) The older children tend to remember more, and tend to be more articulate, than the younger children, so the data are skewed towards the memories of older children.
(2) Recent activities and events are more likely to be remembered than are activities and events from early fall.
(3) Attendance rates were fairly low on this weekend (it was a three-day weekend, and many families were away), so many voices were not heard.

The kinds of things children remembered:

The number of times the types of activities/events were remembered is as follows:

church school activities: 43 times
worship services: 19 times
social events: 17 times
age-specific overnights: 9 times

The largest category of activities/events actually remembered is, of course, church school activities/events. **This would tend to indicate that children do remember church school.

Worship activities/events were remembered 19 times. Considering that children are in church school two to three times longer than they are in worship services, this seems to indicate that children remember worship services about as well as they remember church school. **This in turn implies that the change to having children attend worship services has made some impact on them.

While it is clear that memories of the 5th/6th grade overnight are over represented (because the overnight had happened literally hours before the Sunday 9:00 a.m. session), the overnight does seem to be well-remembered. **UUSG should probably do further exploration of overnights as an instructional method.

Social events were also remembered reasonably often, considering that there were not many social events this church year that have included children. Because social events can help foster an individual's identification with the institution, i.e., remembering church as a fun place to be. **UUSG should probably explore additional ways to include children in social events.

Content that children remembered -- assessment

Children did mention the content of some church school classes or worship services. There are 16 such memories, with 12 from church school, and 4 from worship. Note that worship services appear to be an important way children learn such content at church. But the process used for this evaluation/assessment session does not appear to be the best way to assess the learning of individual children. **UUSG should explore other ways of assessing what children have learned.

What children liked best -- evaluation

The number of votes the types of activities/events received as being "best" or "favorite" are as follows (children could vote twice, so totals are higher than number of children):

church school -- 24 votes
worship services -- 5 votes
social events -- 19 votes
age-specific overnights -- 17 votes

Worship services are underrepresented here. But note that all reports of a worship activity/event as "favorite" or "best" were when children were participating actively in leading worship (e.g., singing in children's choir, helping with "For All Ages"). **UUSG should probably explore ways to have children participating actively in worship, to help them appreciate it more.

Raw data

My editorial comments are in square brackets [ ]. In a few cases, I have silently expanded on what the scribe recorded, to more accurately reflect my recollection of what was said in the meetings. Spelling errors have been silently corrected. In two cases, redundant activities have been removed (where a child happened to attend both sessions on Sunday morning).

Remembered activities and events can be broken into three main areas: church school, worship services, and social events. We could also separate out age-specific overnights as a subset of social events. Activities/events from the "What was actually remembered" lists below are coded for these four main areas as follows:

church school = cs
worship services = w
social events = se
age-specific overnights = ov

Also, memories where children spontaneously reported some awareness or memory of content are coded with an asterisk ( * ).

Raw data from Saturday 5:00 p.m. session:

4 children in attendance (preschool through age 10)

Hannah B., scribe

-- What was actually remembered by the children:

-- Evaluation list, what the children liked best (number of votes in parentheses before activity):

Raw data from Sunday 9:00 a.m. session:

27 children in attendance (7 were preschoolers who left partway through for their own class)

Claire Z., scribe

Note: There were ten 5th and 6th graders in this session who had spent the previous night in the church. Many of the activities listed below are from the overnight, and are so noted.

-- What was actually remembered by the preschoolers:

-- What was actually remembered by the rest of the children:

-- Evaluation list, what the children liked best (number of votes in parentheses before activity, preschoolers did not vote):

Raw data from Sunday 11:00 a.m. session:

21 children in attendance (no preschoolers)

Doria S. and Alex S., scribes

-- What was actually remembered by the children:

-- Evaluation list, what the children liked best
(number of votes in parentheses before activity):