Charge a fee, but make sure it is worth the price.

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When times are hard budgets get pinched and there is a good chance that many R.E. staff will be making doo with less when it comes to supply budgets.  Certainly a tradition of the church school is the closet bursting with unique craft materials. A jar of buttons, another filled with sea shells, neatly stacked egg cartons, sterilized milk cartons cut off at the top, butter tubs and lids, a deep box of wood scraps, telescoping towers of variously size coffee cans, a bag of feathers, and another of pinecones.  I would feel guilty of a disservice to one of my mentors Ann Boynton if I did not recommend that this is a great time for our congregations to invigorate their nascent Yankee hermitage through thrifty repurposing of common items in the service of Sunday morning works of artistic fancy and genius.  So by all means start soliciting and organizing donate supplies.

However don’t be too quick to dismiss also adding a fee to your Sunday children’s program offerings.  A modest but not inconsequential fee to help augment costs could be a better approach than it might seem when first considered.  The adage that nothing worth having comes free while neither my favorite truism nor one I take to be all together true however I would say that for most of us whether we want to think of ourselves this way or not the fact is we are certainly inclined to value something more highly if we believe we hae paid some price for it whether in time or dollars or sweat.  I am not the only religious educator who can attest to the energizing effect of a modest (though not too modest) charge assigned for enrolling in the Sunday offerings.  Certainly a blanket supply fee is one approach though it could be more reflective of the needs, come across as a more meaningful sign of the added value to be had this year, and help to ensure that the charges correspond to actual return and benefit if fees are determined for each class around specific supply needs or other expenses anticipated for the program. 

Though the point has already been suggested let me be clear that if you make a move to an assigned fee I think it is important to ensure that the fee is able to be seen corresponding to real and meaningful value.  Not only do I say this for the sake of making the sacrifice seem like a worthy one to parents but I think a decision to add a fee is a good opportunity to push educational leadership to always be seeking places to improve quality and  flex innovative muscles.  Also it is important to remain committed to a welcoming environment and that in seeking to augment the toll taken on church budgets in the current economy that we not strike too hard on the wallets of those seeking the opportunity to be involved in our churches and educational programs.  I always made it known anywhere the fee was publicized that anyone needing assistance simply needed to notify me directly or on the registration form.  As for the method of assessing who received assistance and who didn’t, well it was simple.  Anyone who requested help had the fee waived.  nother worthwhile consideration is a cap for families with multiple children enrolled in the program.  One suggestion would be to cap the fee for any family at the largest amount assigned as a fee for any class.  So maybe most classes have a 20 dollar charge but the junior high program has a 40 dollar fee at registration.  So if a family had three children enrolled in primary classes each with a 20 dollar fee the most the family would be expected to pay would be 40 dollars since that is the biggest class fee for any of the classes.

I think more congregations are accustomed to fees with adult education offerings but I don’t want to neglect mentioning the grown ups here.  When I attended the U.U. church in Lancaster PA I would look forward to the latest list of upcoming courses.  They where not just community college courses offered at church for while there where things like Stained glass making, or mask making, there where courses in earth centered ritual, and Tarot, and much more.  The fees where often a bit steep for me as a college student but those classes with a higher fee attracted me in part because I felt confident that I was going to receive something of value for the time I was putting into attending for six to eight weeks.  With adult courses there is great way to empower members of the community by inviting them to  provide instruction around an area of real personal skill or commitment and also through fees assigned allow them to be reimbursed for their time.  In that way you invite professionals to lead adult educational opportunities and through providing people the chance to teach you nurture the development of professionals.

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