Pastor Ben, one of the people who subscribe to this blog, recently contacted me about a post I’d written on the pros and cons of limiting a group’s age range. See the post by clicking here.
Pastor Ben said, “I agree with Dr. Parr and you that this is the right move. Can you elaborate on why it works? I’ve had people argue this point with me, and I gave them some thoughts and showed them some data, but I’d love to hear your argument as to why.”
You asked, I heard. Here is what I’d say about why it’s a good idea to limit a group’s age range and to have an age-graded Sunday School:
My practice over the years has been to organize the Sunday School around age-graded classes. Here are the reasons why it is wise to do so. I’d say these very words to anyone at my current church who does not see the value in an age-graded system:
- Age grading the Sunday School builds on the earliest practices that have made Sunday School a success. Sunday School pioneers like Arthur Flake (Building a Standard Sunday School), Gaines Dobbins, Harry Piland, David Francis, and Alan Taylor are all proponents of an age-graded Sunday School. I could add my name to the list, and a host of others. If this was not a great idea, could so many people be wrong?
- Age grading the Sunday School defines each group’s mission. If my group is broadly graded, a “come whoever wants” type class, then who are we supposed to target as a group? Everyone? If my group is branded The Twenty-somethings, then our mission as a group is to identify and invite prospects who are in their 20s. I don’t have to worry about seeking people in their 30s, 40s, or 50s…that’s someone else’s responsibility. My mission, and that of my group, is to reach 20-somethings.
- Age grading the Sunday School takes into account the homogeneity principle. Dr. Ken Hemphill, in his book Revitalizing the Sunday Morning Dinosaur, communicated that the best approach to assimilate people into the Sunday School is to place them in groups with people of similar age and life stage. This creates a homogeneous group where people can naturally form close relationships because of the things they hold in common.
- Tightly age grading the adult Sunday School enhances fellowship. If I teach a group that is broadly graded, say, with an age swing of 30-40 years (a multi-gen class), how do I approach the need for fellowships? Do we all go bowling or hiking, leaving out the older members of the class who cannot or will not be physically able to keep up? Do we do nothing, because we don’t want to offend a segment of the class (yes…that is probably the reality).
- Tightly age grading the adult Sunday School means that I can teach my group in ways they like. If I teach a broadly graded group, how should I teach them? I have many choices, but not all will be appealing to a senior adult. Not all of the methods I might choose would be appealing to a Millennial, either. If my group is more tightly graded, say a maximum age swing of 10 years, I can more readily apply teaching procedure that appeal to the entire group, not just a part of it.
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