A few weeks ago I led a time of training for a group of adult teachers and class leaders. I made a comment about how much more effective a Sunday School is if it’s organized by age or life-stage grouping, where the participants have no more than a decade of difference in their ages. Narrower than 10 years is even better if possible, but there was one lady in the group who seemed to disagree with the idea of assigning an age grouping to a class. “Why not just let ‘whosoever wills’ come to any group?” she asked.
I came across the following quote from Steve Parr of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Here is what Steve, a recognized expert in Sunday School and groups ministry, says about this issue of narrowly defining the class by an age range in his book Sunday School That Really Works:
“You will find it difficult to experience sustained growth if you organize based on those who are attending…The adult Sunday School functions best at reaching and assimilating new people when organized by life stage or more narrow age groupings. Do not be afraid of assigning an age grouping to each adult class. Remember that a class name does not communicate who the class is intended for. Include age targets with class names or name classes by life stage such as Parents of Preschoolers, College, and New Career…Your members may think that it makes sense for everyone to go where they are comfortable. The reality is that a commitment to reach the lost and to connect them to the congregation requires that we organize in a way that assists in reaching and assimilating them” (Sunday School That Really Works, p. 106).
That’s almost exactly what I told my sister in Christ at the training event. I could tell that she, and possibly others, struggled to grasp this. But when we think like “missionaries” who are trying to reach the unreached, narrowly defined groups help both us and the unreached person know exactly which group contains people most like them.
When deciding how to divide groups, consider the following:
- Examine your church’s group options.
- Identify groups that have a “multi-generation” approach.
- Look for groups that have an age range for the members greater than 10 years.
- Talk with your church staff leader about defining your groups and adding new groups where you find “gaps” (if you have no group for single moms, perhaps you should consider starting a group for those people).
So think of it not as limiting your groups by categorizing them by age; instead, think of it as expanding the potential for common ground, vulnerability, and growth between like-minded group members.
Ken Braddy is manager of Lifeway’s ongoing Bible studies. He leads a weekly Bible study group at his church, and blogs daily about Sunday School at kenbraddy.com.
I see it differently. Homogeneity in groups makes comfort and compatibility an implicit value more than spiritual growth and formation. I am grateful to be in a church in which the learning communities are not limited by age. Corporate worship is open to all ages; there is soft-age grading in learning settings in which children and youth are separate. But adults of all ages and stages of faith development are welcome in any of the variety of classes that are offered–from millenials to octogenarians. That creates such a rich, healthy environment in which the generations strengthen each other. Age-grading of adults is a western, modern approach flowing from “insights” from stage development theory.
Ken, that is my experience as well. When we say our class is for everyone, we don’t know who are supposed to reach and care for. Our target becomes unfocused, and usually reaching slows or stops.
The class I attend has a person in her 70s and two couples in their 20s, but the majority of class members are in the 45-60 year old range. That is who we are most effective in reaching, caring for, and teaching.
Where is the biblical support for keeping same ages together in small group adult biblical instruction? It seems to me that the Bible is clear (Titus) that the older should be mentoring the younger and we should not be separated by age.