To name or not to name…or rename…that is the question

Should groups have names? Browse any church website and it won’t take long to find groups like “The Berean Class” or “The Joy Class.” Another real scenario is that a group that was once labeled as “Young Adults” has aged out and is no longer full of young adults, but they are not fond of changing their group’s name because they’ve been “the young adult class” for so long…and they have to admit they are getting older!

Mondays on the blog are reserved for taking a quote from a book and presenting it to you. Today’s quote addresses this real issue some of you are facing. Should you name classes and groups? Should you rename them? What’s a person to do?

Here from his book Missionary Sunday School is friend David Francis (follow that link to a free PDF of the book), former Director of Sunday School at LifeWay. David says this in a subheading of chapter three titled, “The Clearer the Better.”

Robert Raikes (the father of the Sunday School movement) knew exactly what people group he wanted to impact: poor illiterate kids. The fact that the movement spread beyond that group is undeniable. But without initial focus, Raikes’ Sunday School likely would not have been successful. Recently I asked a group of adult Sunday School leaders to describe the people group their class was assigned to reach. Most gave variations of this answer: “All the lost people in our country.” That’s a worthy goal and a possible eventual outcome. But a clearer focus provides a more effective ministry strategy. One leader said, “Parents of teenagers, specifically parents of troubled teenagers.” Another said, “Young couples who have just had their first child.” I asked the group wher a missionary might go make contact with that people group. We laughed as we talked about imaginary conversations at the baby food or diaper isles of the local grocery store! That’s how a missionary thinks…I recently asked a colleague to describe the class he teaches. Without hesitation he said, “Couples from 44-55 who have at least one kid in college.” Would his class welcome someone who did not fit that profile? Of course they would! But they also know what people group comprises their mission field; they’re clear about who they are assigned to reach and teach. Classes with that kind of clarity are well-positioned to be a missionary Sunday School!”

So let’s get back to the question about groups and names of groups. Should groups have names? Should groups be renamed from time to time?

  • Yes…it is fine to label a group and give it a description.
  • It is best not to use “generic” terms like “Joy Class” – the name needs to reflect the people in the group and their mission – who are they supposed to reach?
  • From time to time, you’ll have to rename a group that had a designation that fit them at one point, but no longer does.

Look at the following group names. Which one is best?

  • Junior High students, or 8th grade boys?
  • Young adults, or Adults age 18-25?
  • Silver Saints, or Married Adults age 60-65?
  • Preschoolers, or Bed Babies?

It is always best to use a designation that is narrow in scope…the group’s name determines it focus. It defines who that group is supposed to reach. It helps them become “missionary” in their mindset.

What about the group that had a narrow focus, like Young Adults age 30-35, but now the members have aged up and are in their early 40s? Technically, they are now median adults. Should you rename this group something like “Adults age 40-45”? Or should you let them keep the young adult designation?

The answer is: change the group name. The name of the group defines its mission. At one point this group was a group designed to reach young adults. Mission accomplished. Now they are supposed to reach people in their early to mid-40s. The last thing you want to promote is a group of young adults who are actually median-age adults. Can you imagine a guest’s consternation when they are delivered to what they think is a younger adult group, only to find people 10 years older than they are?! It just doesn’t work.

Group names and designations are important. Make sure the name of your group is narrow, not wide. Make sure it is specific, not generic. The name defines the mission.

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