Attract Volunteers Through Fun RE Teaching
Religious educators have always known that making Religious Education (RE) programs fun is the best way to attract children. Some have also discovered that it's the best way to attract teachers, too.
Finding enough volunteer teachers to fully staff an RE program can be a major headache for program directors. Those who do well at it apply a lot of time, energy and public relations skills. They also look in places that others might not and they tend to have high-energy, high-visibility programs.
In three years, Francis Morehouse has built the religious education department at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship of Frederick, MD, from fifteen to seventy children. The congregation has a hundred adult members. "Being in a growing area outside Baltimore and Washington, D.C., helps, but the key is having parents and others who are committed," says Morehouse, director of religious education.
"From the moment someone joins, especially parents, we tell them they will be expected in some way to be involved with the RE program, whether by teaching, buying snacks or driving on field trips," Morehouse said.
And there's plenty to do. The list of recent activities includes field trips, working at a food bank and soup kitchen, helping the homeless, Halloween and Christmas parties, and a Jamaica-themed overnight.
It also helps to have a kid-friendly church. Children take an active part in each "adult" service at Frederick, from sounding the chime before the prelude to lighting the chalice.
When minister of religious education Greg Stewart arrived in August at Neighborhood Church in Pasadena, CA (582 members), he needed twenty teachers in two weeks. He and others tried telephoning and got three. Then he did what he has done at his two previous churches—put on a media blitz, including an RE "opportunity table." He had someone stand up in each Sunday service and give a brief "RE reflection" about what religious education meant personally. It was intended to be temporary, but the feature has proven popular and is continuing. It's a great way to maintain RE visibility.
He also initiated "Sundays in September." Childrens' classes met as one large group for the first three Sundays of September for a round of active play, learning and neighborhood social service designed to bond the children with each other and their teachers but also to get the attention of other adults in the church.
The Rev. Makanah Morriss, director of the Unitarian Universalist Associations (UUA) Religious Education Department, recommends team teaching as an aid to recruiting. "Having teachers teach in teams so that they have colleagues to work with also makes it easier to recruit others to join a fun and well-supported team."
Ginger Luke, director of religious education (DRE) at River Road UU Church in Bethesda, MD, which has almost three hundred children and youth and 572 members, recruits teachers year round. "I have my antennae out all the time, in the hallways, at meetings. I pick up on what people get excited about, whether it's conflict resolution or art."
She also recruits specific parts of the congregation. "I go to social justice people and look them in the eye and say, 'If you're looking for a social justice project you won't find a better one than teaching these kids.'"
REACH-L is an electronic discussion group, where RE professionals and volunteers meet to discuss educational issues.