For many years, most fundamental churches followed the pattern of having one large adult class taught by the pastor in the auditorium. Such great churches as Akron Baptist Temple, pastored by Dallas Billington, popularized this approach. Recently, the trend has been to offer multiple adult classes. There are numerous ways to divide the adults into small classes, and I believe that it is wise for a church to offer several different adult classes as it grows.
The Purpose of Multiple Adult Classes
Fellowship—the larger a church gets, the more people will feel like they are unnoticed and not included. Properly conducted, an adult class provides a church within the church: a smaller gathering where everyone knows everyone else, where your absence is noted and people care about you as an individual.
Familiarity—Whether it is done by design or by accident, people will tend to gravitate toward other people with whom they have things in common. People like to be with people who are like themselves.
Follow-up—While the pastor may not be able to give adequate attention to a class roll containing several hundred names, a teacher can certainly give good attention to a roll with 70 or 80 names on it, 20 or 40 of whom come on any given Sunday.
The Problem of Multiple Adult Classes
No matter how gently the concept of multiple adult classes is approached, there are some who don’t like it. They want to go into the auditorium, speak to no one, hear a good lesson, go on to the church service, and then go home. For this reason, I suggest retaining the auditorium class and allowing it to dwindle gradually while other classes are built.
The Procedure of Building Multiple Adult Classes
Start slowly—After many years of having only one adult class, we started a couples’ class. It was exciting, it was popular; the young couples loved it. After a couple of years, we started a second couples’ class, then a senior citizens’ class, a ladies’ class, a men’s class, a college class, etc.
Do not require anyone to attend any particular class—while some classes may have requirements for those attending, no one is required to attend a certain class. For example, we have a ladies’ class. The requirement is that your husband not be with you (we think it’s good for husbands and wives to go to Sunday school together!), but no lady is required to attend a ladies’ class. We have two classes now for senior citizens, but no senior citizen is required to attend either of those classes. We have a couples’ class for which the initial requirement was that you be married five years or less. Newlyweds could choose that class or several others.
Build the class on common interests—it may be age, family status, level of maturity in the Christian life, or another matter, but find a niche where needs are not being met in your church body, and start a class to meet those needs.
Make the primary goal connection rather than instruction—I know this sounds like heresy, but I believe my people get good Bible preaching during the church service. If I have a teacher who can encourage the members of his class to love each other and to feel involved with and connected to the church as a whole, I do not mind if he does not give them a deeply detailed lesson each Sunday.
In my class, we begin by sharing blessings, then by sharing prayer requests, and then by telling jokes. Then we pray for the requests mentioned and teach the lesson. Though I invest 20 of my 50 minutes of class time in the blessings, prayer requests, and the jokes; by the time I am done my folks have shared their hearts with one another and come to know and care for each other in a way they never could in a regular church service.