Teaching: Age Appropriate Teaching
I grew up in a small junior high/high school group. In my Sunday school class we had 7-12 graders. In my first ministry (at the same church), I worked with the same age gap. I certainly experienced the frustration that comes with being in a class with people way older (or younger) than me.
It is so essential to use age-appropriate teaching. A twelve-year-old processes things way differently than an eighteen-year-old. A seventh grader learns at a different level than a senior in high school.
Furthermore, it is hard to keep older students interested if they are grouped up with young teens. Add to that the older teen’s busyness, independence, etc., it can be hard to keep them involved. It is important to give them their own space, own stuff, own group.
I would recommend the most common split, that of junior high and high school. If your church takes youth ministry all the way through college, I would furthermore recommend a college-age group independent of the high schoolers. If you have the critical mass to divide it even more, a 7th/8th, 9th/10th, 11th/12th grade division would be even better. I know of some churches that sub-divide grades by gender. Each group has its own unique needs. Each needs attention at its level.
One reason churches often have to resort to larger age-groupings is because of classroom space—there simply isn’t room for multiple groups. If this is the case, I suggest thinking creatively.
|• Can creative spaces be used? Once, while leading a college-age group, we met at a local coffee shop on Sunday morning for our Bible study. It was casual, age appropriate, and inspired some great discussion as a result.|
• Is there another public space near the church that is teenage-friendly, a restaurant, a recreation center, etc.?
• Is there a member’s home nearby that is available and functional?
Additional space is so important because I believe space should not be an obstacle in dividing your age groups. It’s crucial to being the most effective you can be with your time.
Another fundamental reason for piling all the teens in together is resources—teachers, volunteers, curriculum, etc. If this is your problem, consider the following:
| • Are there adults in your congregation that could potentially be recruited to help? (Parents of teens are a great untapped resource because they have a vested interest in the success of the ministry.)|
• Can older students teach younger students? Perhaps you have a college-age student who could lead a junior high class.
• Is there a Bible college or ministry training school near your town? Perhaps your congregation could recruit someone to come and help on weekends.
• Find the right curriculum. Everything on teensundayschool.com is written with teens in mind, but could easily be used for post-high school as well. As a general rule, remember that younger teens are squirmy with smaller attention spans and brains which only allow concrete thinking. It’s good to get them active and aim to teach them basic truth. High school students can think more abstractly, and some games can come off as forced or corny. College students are most likely to enjoy a lot of discussion, thinking deeply about truth and how it applies to their ever-expanding view of the world.
Strive in every way possible to overcome limitations in space, volunteers, and resources. To keep large age groupings together is a real challenge if you are aiming for the most effective ministry. Separating those ages into groupings that are more appropriate will double your effectiveness—and probably your attendance, too!