Effective Age Group Ministry
John W. Adams
Much of the Sunday school’s effectiveness is a direct outgrowth of how it is organized. Age grouping the people your church seeks to reach, teach, and assimilate is an important part of that organizational plan.
Since Sunday school is the largest organization in most churches, it can be the means to mobilize a great percentage of your membership in ministry and outreach to people. To do so, you need to develop an organization that is capable of relating to any age group in your community. By grouping people within age groups your church has a logical structure in which prospects and members can build relationships with people whose life experiences will be somewhat similar.
While the variety of organizational patterns continues to grow across the nation, grouping people by age and gender is still the most logical and effective structure. For example, let’s imagine a possible scenario at your church and think how your Sunday school structure could help you to follow up with a prospective family.
Imagine that John, Jane, Jack, Jimmy, and June Doe show up at the beginning of the Sunday school hour at your church next Sunday. John is the 35 year old father of Jack age 14, Jimmy, age 10, and June, age 5, and the husband of Jane whose age is similar to John. Jack is a freshman in high school. Jimmy is in the fourth grade this school year and June is enrolled in a half day kindergarten in your local school system.
To complete the picture, let’s talk about ways you might organize the teaching units in your Sunday school. We will call each class a teaching unit, a term that bridges the various titles used to describe the small groups in a standard Sunday school.
In the preschool division of your Sunday school, you might have one or more teaching units divided as follows: under age one; one year but under two; twos, threes, fours, fives, six year olds not yet in first grade. In smaller churches the organization is commonly a much wider age span. For example, under age three; fours through pre-kindergarten. Let’s assume in our scenario above that you are organized like a smaller Sunday school and that the teaching unit where June will be the guest this Sunday is organized for ages four through pre-kindergarten.
In the children’s division of your smaller Sunday school you will likely have one of three possible organizational patterns. The least effective pattern is to group grades 1-6 together in one teaching unit. A second more effective pattern is to group grades 1-3 and 4-6 together. A much better approach would be for the smaller Sunday school to group the children’s division into three teaching units, grades 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. Larger Sunday schools will need to group by grades and by gender (i.e., a first grade boys teaching unit and a first grade girls teaching unit, etc.) as they grow in prospects and members. Let’s assume that your church has two teaching units each with boys and girls together and that Jimmy will be in a teaching unit called Fourth through Sixth grade.
In the student division (The term “student” is the current name for youth, grades 7-12, and in many churches for college students as well, especially if the church has an active ministry to a nearby campus or several college students who attend or potentially could attend if the church intentionally reached out to them.) In smaller Sunday Schools you can find situations where all students are together in one unit, where grades 7-9 and 10-12 have their own groups, and in some cases where the grouping is grades 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12 with a couple of college students who are a part of the grade 11-12 unit.
Larger Sunday Schools will likely need to expand their organization first by grades then by gender as well. (i.e., seventh grade boys and girls then progressing to a unit for seventh grade boys and one for seventh grade girls, etc., or possibly developing two gender based 7-8th grade units then progressing to 7th grade gender based units and 8th grade gender based units.) We will assume in our scenario above that you have a teaching unit for 7th through 9th grade boys and girls to which Jack will be taken this Sunday.
In the adult division your options are limited only by your imagination but a word of caution is in order. You should organize in a manner that meets the needs of those presently attending and those you hope to reach, teach, and assimilate into the church family. A simple question can help you evaluate your readiness for growth. Is there an adult group into which any kind of person could be placed this Sunday morning?
Using the family above as an example, would your church have a men’s class for people who are similar in age and life situation to John. What about Jane? Or have you organized a class for married couples in their general age group? If not, where will you place them to try to meet their needs for relationships, learning, and ministry? We will assume that you have a couple’s class for ages 30-54 where you will place John and Jane this Sunday.
If your Sunday school is effective at its various tasks, how you organize it can make all the difference in the world. Here’s the rest of next Sunday’s scenario as it could be lived out in your church with some intentional planning and training on your part.
First, you could have people in place at the main entrances of your church building(s) to greet John, Jane, Jack, Jimmy and June Doe. These “greeters” will need to know the organization of your Sunday school and where each teaching unit is located. They will see that the Doe family is properly registered as guests at a table or desk somewhere conveniently located to the parking and entrances of the building. Once the family is registered and has received an information brochure about your church’s vision and plans for the future, the greeters will escort the family to the teaching unit that can best relate to each family member.
June will go to her preschool teaching unit. Jimmy will go to his grade school teaching unit. Jack will be placed in the student area described above. Once the parents have observed where their offspring will be studying, they will be escorted to their couple’s class. At each stop along the way, the greeter will take the time to introduce the family to the workers in the teaching unit. Within their individual teaching units the teacher or another worker will take the time to register them as guests and to introduce them to others in the unit.
By the time the parents reach their group, they will have already had several positive impressions of your church. During the class time itself, they and their children will have several more opportunities to meet people and begin the process of developing relationships.
At the end of the teaching experience, other students in each teaching unit other than the preschool unit should offer to escort John, Jane, Jack and Jimmy from the Sunday school area to the next logical stop on their journey of discovery.
Parents always want to know how their preschooler is handling the new experience. Normally, older preschoolers accompany their parents to the worship service, at least until they transition to a children’s worship experience. So parents will appreciate help finding the preschool room where their child is housed.
It can also be helpful in some facilities for fellow members of the teaching unit to show guests where bathrooms, water fountains, coat racks, and the worship facility are located. All such contacts are additional means of leaving a good impression on those who are guests at your services this Sunday. But there is much more to be done and the right Sunday school organization can help you get the job done.
Guests at your church always appreciate offers of help from people they met while they were attending church services. But who should make the follow up offers of help? The answer is simple. The teaching units that the family attended as guests last Sunday should reach out to them with home visits, phone calls, emails, and letters or cards, within a short time after their visit, preferably within 72 hours.
Many churches intentionally practice a planned outreach ministry similar to the following model. Note that it cannot work effectively without a Sunday school organized as I have described above.
First, the pastor makes a phone call to the home of the family on the Sunday afternoon following their morning visit to church. Monday night the teacher(s) for the parents drops by their home with a fresh loaf of bread or with cookies baked by someone in the congregation. Tuesday night the preschool teacher calls to talk with the parents to let them know what a pleasure it was to have their child in class. Wednesday night, the Sunday School student department goes to the home of the visiting youth and “kidnaps” them for an hour, takes them out for a cold drink or pizza, and returns them to their home by 8:00 p.m. Thursday night the children’s teaching unit calls to talk to the parents about the honor it was to teach their child last Sunday then asks if they can talk to the child as well.
When this type of saturation outreach is practiced, prospective families are able to meet a good assortment of church members in a very short amount of time. A high percentage of those visited and otherwise contacted will want to come back because the level of caring exhibited by this type of congregation is rare in today’s busy world. In many cases, no additional home visits will be necessary to meet the needs of first time guests. They will find their other answers as they continue to participate in church life or as they request interviews with the pastor regarding salvation or church membership issues.
The scenario above demonstrates how your Sunday school’s age grading system helps you assign responsibility for outreach. The same approach applies to ministry and assimilation needs. When a prospect is assigned to a specific teaching unit, that unit becomes responsible for reaching out to their new member, for teaching in a manner that is appropriate for his/her age group, for insuring that the new member connects with new friends in the teaching unit, for planning ministry actions that the teaching unit does together to help the new member or others in need, for planning fellowship activities that build a sense of family and belonging for everyone in the teaching unit, for insuring that the plan of salvation is explained repeatedly as one aspect of the teaching/learning experience, and for discipleship mentoring that will lead to learners becoming future leaders and true followers of Jesus Christ.
Without a clear, logical organization designed with the needs of people in mind, churches limit their effectiveness at outreach, evangelism, nurturing, fellowship and assimilation of people into the Body of Christ. Age grading is crucial to church health and growth.
For additional information about the four age groups – adults, students, children, and preschoolers, – try the link menu at right for the age group for which information is needed. In addition, look at the website, www.lifeway.com, for additional training resources and teaching resources.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
This article “Effective Age Group Ministry” by John W. Adams was excerpted from: www.lifeway.com web site. August 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.