In my 35 years of working with Sunday Schools, one of the hardest things to do is to take a church that has not age graded their adult Sunday School classes and move them into an age graded organization. I can remember in one church I served being cussed-out by a lady for simply posting the age grouping for her class on the door. (No it was not my mother nor my wife!) For some reason people respond in a negative way to the topic of age grading.
One of the reasons why our members respond in such negative ways is because we have failed to help them understand why we need age graded adult classes. Age grading helps to simplify the organization. When we have age graded adult classes it really does assist our guests in finding a place that fits them. Did you know that age grading also helps us to close the back door; age grading helps us to assimilate new members into the family of God.
The adult age graded class also has an enhanced educational/developmental environment; the needs of an eighteen year old are different from an eighty year old! Remember that age grading simplifies but it also helps in providing a system of accountability for outreach and ministry. When there is no age grading we all assume that everyone is doing the outreach and ministry. When communicating the need for age grading always remind your members that we do not age grade based on who attend, but rather on whom we want to reach!
I like to use a board age grading approach. What does it look like? Classes will be labeled like this…
- Young Adults (College – Early 20s)
- Young Adults (Singles Mid 20’s – Early 30’s)
- Nearly or Newly Weds (Couples Early 20’s – Mid 30’s)
- Young Families w/ Preschoolers (Coed Mid 20s – Early 30s)
- Young Families w/ Preschoolers & Children (Coed Late 20s – Mid 30s)
- Young Families w/ Children (Coed Late 20’s – Late 30’s)
- Ladies (20s & 30s)
- Men (20’s & 30’s)
- Median Adults w/ Children & Teens (Coed Mid 30’s – Early 40’s)
- Median Adults w/ Teens (Coed Late 30’s – Mid 40’s)
- Median Adults 1 (Coed Early 40’s – Late 40’s)
- Median Adults 2 (Coed Mid 40’s – Mid 50’s)
- Ladies (40s & 50s)
- Men (40’s & 50’s)
- Empty Nesters 1 (Coed Early 50’s – Late 50’s)
- Empty Nesters 2 (Coed Mid 50’s – Early 60’s)
- Senior Adults 1 (Coed Early 60’s – Late 60’s)
- Senior Adults 2 (Coed Mid 60’s – Late 70’s)
- Senior Adults 3 (Coed Mid 70’s & Up)
- Senior Adult Ladies 1 (60s)
- Senior Adult Ladies 2 (70s & Up)
- Senior Adult Men 1 (60’s)
- Senior Adult Men 2 (70’s & Up)
There will be some that say, “I don’t want to organize based on age!” Well, my question is how do you want to be organized? Let’s group our adult classes by weight so when you walk in the church you step on a scale to see what class you will attend. Better yet let’s group our classes by I.Q. When you join the church you have to take a test to determine what class you will attend. Or how about shoe size or hair color? Wait a minute, if its based on hair color some will not have a class! There will be some who say, “Let’s just allow everyone go where they feel comfortable.” With that approach you will not grow!
The above organizational structure was the adult Sunday School organization in one church that I recently served. It was nowhere near this when we first started. How did we get there?
The first thing you need to do is a study of the ages of those presently attending, enrolled and those on the prospect file. One simple way to do it is get the ages, then a legal pad. Write 18 through 99 on the left side and for each person place a tally mark next to their age. After completing the study circle groups of 20-30 tally marks this will identify what age groupings you need for your Sunday School.
You will also be able to identify gaps where your church is presently not reaching adults. Start a new class for those age groups. Use a loose age grading system similar to that in the example church. Begin to communicate these changes to Sunday School Planning Team members first, teachers second, and then finally to the entire membership. Don’t forget to change the signs on the classroom doors! Conduct a realignment Sunday for adults. This is nothing more than a good old-fashioned promotion day for churches that have not done it in several years, decades, or centuries! In the future assign all prospects and new members to the age appropriate class. Make sure to do a realignment/promotion day every year!
Dr. Tim S. Smith serves as the Specialist of the Sunday School and Open Group Ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Visit their website at ssog.gabaptist.org for more information and other resources to aid your Sunday School.