Sunday School and Generational Challenges Revisited

One of the Six Marketplace Realities that has changed in the past 25 years is a Generational issue. This is the first time in history in which there are 5 living generations, 4 of them working together with growing differences in needs, preferences, values and types of organizations they associate with. A question to consider: Are we sufficiently attentive to the needs defined by the generational differences among our churches?

Let me share an example I often use in training sessions for teachers. It was used by Leonard Sweet fifteen years ago about the challenges churches will face, but I personalized it this way: When I was a child, the first chocolate candy bar I enjoyed was Hershey’s. Later I delved into Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, many others and my favorite, Almond Joy. These were all about the taste. (I love chocolate!) When I was about eight or so, mom gave us all permission to buy one candy at the grocery store. I did not choose chocolate to her amazement. I chose a superhero Pez dispenser! Suddenly it was not about the taste. It was about using your imagination, and having an experience! People want an experience of the Risen Savior!

People my age and younger (end of Baby Boomers and younger) enjoy experiences even in our candy choice. Ten years ago the favorite candy/bubble gum was dispensed in a toy cell phone that made all the noises of a cell phone. Today you can’t find it…everyone has a cell phone!

What I am saying is; Bible study must focus on imagination and be experiential for people my age and younger. If I was teaching elementary age children and the lesson was on Zacchaeus, I would take the children outside and have a teenager or young adult dressed as Zacchaeus in a tree and telling his story about being isolated and rejected until Jesus came to town.

If I was doing a lesson from Jeremiah about the Potter’s House, I would have Play Doh for everyone. I would want them to experience God creating something beautiful out of our frailties. Sunday School for younger generations must be experiential in nature and focused on a learning model, not a teaching model. (See my blog on Learning Model versus Teaching Model)

The younger generation (Millennials) want older adults to be their mentor. I actually got this idea from Bo Prosser. He had a young adult class go to an older men’s class one Sunday to hear their story about what it means for them to be a part of their church. These men inspired the younger generation and vice versa. A few weeks later the older men’s class wanted to hear the young adult’s story. Take a Sunday to try this and see what happens. Understanding between generations is the beginning of becoming a community of faith.

Challenge the older classes to share their passion with the younger generation. What do I mean? If your folks had a free day without a “honey do list”, and could do anything, what would they want to do? Get people to turn their passions into a ministry. The younger generation may want one of them to be a mentor in that passion.

Considering how mobile we have become, many young parents do not have grandparents nearby. Get older persons to adopt children in the church. In the meantime these older adults will connect with the parents and develop a friendship that leads to a spiritual family. I had two such families for our children, and they are still considered grandparents to this day. (My children are twenty and twenty-two.)

Added: Consider intergenerational Bible studies. One of the growing needs is for some intergenerational Bible study times. Consider the blog: Children/Parent Event and Sunday School in the archives for an example. Grandparents, adoptive grandparents great grandparents could join in.

Yes…there are challenges as we consider worship and the needs of each generation, but Sunday School can become a bridge between the generations!

About tonystopic

Seeker and connector to the abundant life as a husband (to Katrina), father (to Tara & Joseph) and Field Strategist/Sunday School Specialist for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
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