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Tony Brooks: Sunday School Can Be a Bridge Between Generations

Posted: 5/15/18 at 8:20am. Post by Tony Brooks.

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 five living generations—four f them working together with growing differences in needs, preferences, values, and types of organizations they associate with.

Here’s a question to consider:

Are we sufficiently attentive to the needs defined by the generational differences among our churches?

Are we sufficiently attentive to the needs defined by the generational differences among our churches?

Here’s an example I often use in training sessions for teachers. It was used by Leonard Sweet 15 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 my age (end of the Baby Boomer generation) and younger enjoy experiences even in our candy choices. 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, because everyone has a cell phone.

What I am saying is that Bible study must focus on imagination and be experiential for people who are my age and younger. If I was teaching elementary-aged 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 to use. I would want them to experience God creating something beautiful out of their frailties. Sunday School for younger generations must be experiential in nature and focused on a learning model, not a teaching model.

Millennials want older adults to be their mentors.  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 stories 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 adults’ stories. Take a Sunday to try this and see what happens. Understanding between generations is the beginning of becoming a community of faith.

Older classes can share their passions with the younger generation. What do I mean? If your folks had a free day without a to-do list and could choose anything to do, 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 were still considered grandparents in their adulthood.

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

Brooks-TonyTony Brooks is our Sunday School/Discipleship Specialist and Field Strategist for the Southside Region. You may email him at tony.brooks@bgav.org. Follow Tony on Twitter: @TonyBrooks7