Grocery stores are great at grouping things. Walk through the produce section and fruits and vegetables are neatly organized into separate bins by type. Stroll through the cheese isle and you’ll find blocks of cheese together, shredded cheeses together, and different flavors of cheese like American, Pepper Jack, Mozzarella, Colby Jack, and more, all arranged neatly by type.
Churches have several options for grouping adults. Here are some of the ones I’ve either used in churches where I directed the Bible study ministries, or ones I’ve seen used effectively:
- By Age – This is likely the most popular way to group adults for Bible study. Groups are recommended to have no more than a 10 year age span among the group members. This helps to ensure that those adults have things in common. Dr. Ken Hemphill wrote about this in his book Revitalizing the Sunday Morning Dinosaur. He called it “the homogeneity principle.” It was his contention that “like attracts like.” In smaller churches, the age span might be more than the recommended 10 years; in larger churches, the age span might be as small as 5 years or less. I was a member of a large, growing church that had age spans of 2 years among its groups.
- By Gender – Some churches find advantages to grouping adults by gender, then by age. Gender-specific classes also help people find common ground, which accelerates the growth of relationships. Groups of men and groups of women can feel more freedom to share their feelings and insights with a group of their peers. There is a disadvantage to grouping adults by gender, and it happens when a guest couple visits the church and is told they must split up for Bible study. Some guests will not be comfortable with this approach. With the growing conversation about gender identity, it will be interesting to see if churches continue to provide gender-specific groups. What will churches do when a person who is born one sex but identifies as another wants to attend a group? Will the church suggest that the person attend a group that is identical to their sex at birth? Interesting times are just ahead.
- By Life Stage – Providing groups by life stage makes it easy to connect adults to others who are at a similar point in life. Groups in this scenario might include college students, young married adults, parents of preschoolers, parents of middle schoolers, parents of high schoolers, empty nesters, retirees, and the list goes on. Friendships usually form organically in these groups.
- By Affinity – A less common way to group adults, but a more creative one, is by some kind of affinity. A group for golfers, motor cycle riders, people who love to travel, and about any other affinity you can think of are sometimes used to group adults with others. Members of affinity groups tend to spend lots of time together outside of class because of their affinity for something they enjoy.
- By Bible Study Topic/Curriculum – Another way to group adults is based on the topic they study or the curriculum they use. For instance, in some churches that use Lifeway’s ongoing Bible studies for adults, groups might be arranged by the curriculum series used by the group: Explore the Bible, Bible Studies for Life, and The Gospel Project could be ways to group adults. Some groups might be arranged by a topic like parenting, end times, or a book study like one in Revelation or Daniel.
Whichever way (or ways) you choose to group your adults, be sure to “mind the gaps.” In England when you board a train you’ll hear a recorded message encouraging passengers to “mind the gap.” There is a gap between the train station and the train, and the operators don’t want people to trip and fall. In the world of Bible study, minding the gap in your organization simply means making sure that you don’t cause people to “trip” when they look around for a group to join, but none exists that fits their needs.