A Brief History of the Workshop Rotation Model

by Neil MacQueen

The Rotation Model wasn't "invented," so much as it was "put together" out of pieces we already understood, --and that's part of its strength. The Model taps into what Sunday Schools already know how to do --teach creatively. Workshop Rotation Model isn't a curriculum, it's a design philosophy that seeks to respond to the problems many of us face in our programs while unleashing in a practical way the creativity already present in congregations. At its core, the Rotation Model says "we must and can do better." Rotation educators understand that you can't teach kids who aren't or don't want to be in Sunday School. The Rotation Movement has taught us to look to each other as sources of inspiration both within congregations and between them, rather than relying merely on publishing companies. The Rotation philosophy says "what teaching materials do we already have that we can reuse."

Sunday Schools have for decades been teaching creatively and experimenting with various "rotating schemes." The Workshop Rotation Model owes much to the Vacation Bible School and learning center movements. What differentiates the "WoRM" from these others is a few details and the concentration on one Bible story in each workshop for a period of weeks with the teacher staying put. I've run in to people all over the country who've told me, "We did something like that back in ____." Actually, there is one more thing that differentiates the WoRM from previous models.....the times we live in. WoRM pastors and educators are rather militant about the need for change! Rotation fans are declaring the traditional model D.O.A. Some of us wonder if it ever worked at all for most churches.

The name "Workshop Rotation Model" was coined by Melissa Hansche and Neil MacQueen in 1990 at the Presbyterian Church in Barrington Illinois. We named it that to describe the Sunday School model we had fashioned one day in June of 1990 to solve our problems. We never really liked the name, but it seemed to be the most descriptive when talking about it with other educators. Our congregation called it "that great Sunday School." Like all good cooks, we "created" our model from a lot of things we had learned over the years as educators. We also added a few of our own touches.

In the early 90's, Melissa and I wrote a few articles and ran a series of seminars in the Chicago area about our creative Sunday School. We found several other churches in our area who had been experimenting along similar lines, most notably, The Village Presbyterian Church in Northbrook Illinois and Southminster Presbyterian in Arlington Hts., Illinois. The Workshop Rotation "Movement" began as other churches adopted our basic design and found it worked for them too --or borrowed elements from our basic design to improve their own creative design. We've since found churches who were doing something similar to the model "way back when," usually with a few differences and always calling it something else. Old Solomon was right when he said, "There's nothing new under the sun." If we Chicagoans created anything, it was a wave of "militant hope" for Sunday Schools looking to break free of the traditional model.

By 1995, several Chicago area churches using the model began networking among themselves. Many of us openly shared curriculum at that time and still do. Melissa and I produced a Workshop Rotation manual which "sold" for the cost of copying and postage. It was produced just in time for two large seminars on the model held during the annual meeting of the Association of Presbyterian Educators which just happened to be meeting in Chicago in 1996. Over 50 participants spent the day at the Barrington church. Another 50 took the workshop the following day down in the hotel. From those two seminars WoRM churches sprang up all over the country.

In 1996, a more formal Chicago network was established with the name "The Opening the Doors Network." The Opening the Doors newsletter, ably editted by volunteers Jack and Peg Gilmore (Park Ridge Pres. in Chicago) became the official communications piece of the network. At that time the Network also began sponsoring annual conferences on the model. (Some members of that group went on to publish their Rotation curriculum and create an organization called Children's Ministry of America.)

By early 1997, the Model was spreading faster than anyone could imagine. Local networks began popping up around the country. The largest concentration of Rotation churches --it might surprise you to know-- is no longer in Chicago, but in the Dayton Ohio area! New churches are taking on the responsibility of conducting regional seminars, and the joy of freely sharing their materials.

The www.rotation.org website where you've printed this article is the pet project of a number WoRM pioneers who saw in the Internet the potential to expand the free distribution of materials and information about the model. Barrington's updated manual has been available for free at this website since 1997. That manual is being revised and will be published sometime late Fall of '99 by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

My personal involvement with the model changed quite a bit in 1996 when I launched a full-time ministry called Sunday School Software and moved back to Ohio. I have a particular passion to dig deeper into the use of computers for Christian education. While travelling the country talking about computers in C.E., I am frequently asked to hold-forth on the WoRM --and glad to do it. Melissa continues as the D.C.E. in Barrington where tours and seminars on the Model are still occasionally held.

Since 1996 many other Rotation leaders have come to the forefront of the movement. They include pastors, educators, denominational staff, and Sunday School volunteers coast to coast from all the major denominations. While concept of free materials still lies at the heart of the model Melissa and I emphasize, there are now companies which sell Rotation curriculum and provide training. There are even rumblings from denominational publishing houses about Rotation curriculum.

As the Rotation Model moves into the future, we hope that whoever or whatever is involved with it will remember the original motivation and core of the design:

         Being willing to risk change for the sake of our children, teachers and Sunday School.

         Creating a program that is attractive, practical and gets results!

<><Neil MacQueen, June 1998 (Revised May 1999)