The Division of Adult Classes

by Pastor Jack Hyles

(Chapter 3 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, The Hyles Sunday School Manual)


When we come to the division of the adult classes and departments we find great diversion and differences of opinion. We will list several of them along with their advantages and disadvantages.

1. The Adult Auditorium Class

Many of Americaís largest churches use this plan. It is a very simple one, for all of the adults come to the auditorium and are taught by one teacher. Usually the teacher is the pastor. In some cases, it is simply a large Sunday school class with a Sunday school class atmosphere. Variations of the large auditorium class range all the way from making it like a preaching service with a choir, special music, invitation, etc., to a simple lecture-type class session. In some cases no attempt is made for organization, registration, or even a class roll. There is simply the taking of the offering and the head count. Some Sunday schools have found it profitable to divide the class into groups with group captains overseeing the attendance and growth of the class. Some of the much larger churches have paid staff members who are hired to see that each group grows and that absentees are contacted.

The great advantage of such a plan is the tremendous savings involved as far as buildings and space are concerned. In a church that runs 500 in such a class, it would be necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a building that would adequately house small departments and classes for the same number of people.

Then there is also a safety factor involved in such a setup. Certainly the class has a qualified teacher, and since the pastor usually is that teacher, he has no fear concerning what is taught to his adults. He can be confident of their loyalty.

This plan also enables the husbands and wives to be together in Sunday school. It enables the adults to stay in one room during the entire Sunday school and preaching services.

On the other hand, the plan has its limitations. Most churches have more than one teacher qualified to teach adults. Hence these talents are not utilized.

Then there is a problem concerning the social life of this class. Class socials for such a large class are difficult to plan. Many churches compensate for this by dividing the class into groups and having group socials and group activities.

Much care should be taken in the utilization of such a plan to make the stranger and the new member feel a part of the class. He does not have the closeness nor the personal touch provided by a smaller class, but this can be overcome by proper organization by the class leadership.

All in all, I feel that this plan should be given some consideration by many by many churches. The small growing church which has limited space should consider the auditorium adult class. The church that is growing so fast that its building cannot keep up with its attendance would find this plan a definite asset. The young church with a limited number of qualified workers no doubt should give consideration to this plan. Though no two churches have the same problems or needs, and though this author feels that no one solution is the answer for the problems of all churches, many great churches in America, both small and large, are finding success in growth through the use of the large auditorium class for adults.

2. The Grading of Adults

In contrast to the aforementioned auditorium class is the complete grading of the adults into departments and classes. Such a plan divides all of the adults into as many departments as space will permit. These departments are divided by age and the classes within the departments are divided by age. Some churches go so far as to have the departments with as few as fifty enrolled. In such a department there would be five classes with ten members each. This enables a large church to have many adult departments with scores of classes. Advocates of this plan would argue convincingly that the absentees can be visited regularly and more personal attention can be given to each pupil. However, this is not the only advantage to such a plan. More people are put to work. The class is more intimate and, consequently, more friendly. Most visitors do not feel as conspicuous in such a class. There is more opportunity to ask questions. It is easier to have group discussion. The members are with those near their same age, etc.

The graded adult plan also has its weaknesses. It requires the church to build nearly twice as many educational buildings and oftentimes tempts the church to give the best facilities to the adults, leaving the leftovers to the children.

There are few churches who have enough qualified workers to give one to each ten adults, and therefore, this often results in inferior teaching on the adult level. Let us never forget, the purpose of the Sunday school is to teach the Word of God. This should not be lost in the forest of social life, personal friendliness, etc. Those who oppose this plan will point to this as its most glaring weakness.

There is one more weakness, however, that should be emphasized. In the graded adult plan the person has one choice and only one concerning his class and teacher. Since he has to go to the department and class for his particular age, he has little choice. He must either (1) like the teacher, (2) not like the teacher, but endure it anyway, or (3) not go to that particular Sunday school.

Many churches have used this plan very effectively. Again let us emphasize that one church may find it advisable to use the auditorium adult class, whereas another church equally as spiritual may decide that it is best for them to departmentalize. Let every church be fully persuaded in its own mind. Just as the same style dress should not be placed on every woman, nor the same suit on every man, likewise the autonomy of the local church should give each church the right to follow her own leadership without coercion or criticism from outside leadership.

3. The Single, Adult Department Plan

This plan is a combination of the two already mentioned. For the opening assembly time all of the adults meet together. This allows for some of the advantages of suggestion 1 -- the auditorium adult class. At the opening assembly special music is presented and a brief program is offered. After about a twenty-minute assembly the department divides into small classes where usually the men and women are divided. When this plan is used, the classes normally are a bit larger than when plan 2 is used. When I was pastor of the Miller Road Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, we had one large adult department with 22 classes. Eleven of these classes were for men; eleven of these classes were for ladies. (We also had one couplesí class.) Each of these 22 classes would have from 20 to 60 enrolled.

This plan, too, has its advantages and disadvantages. It offers the bigness of plan 1 and the intimacy of plan 2. It offers the utilization of more workers than does plan 1, and needs less workers than plan 2. It eliminates the need of many assembly rooms as did plan 1, but it does call for much more space than plan 1 since many classrooms must be provided for the adults.

4. The Class Plan

This provides a number of different classes with little or no age consideration. This provides a choice for each adult. There are several couplesí classes -- some large and some small. There may even be several menís classes -- some large and some small. A man can choose a menís class which is small or a menís class which is large. He can choose to attend a couplesí class which is small or one which is large, or he may even choose a class taught in the auditorium by the pastor. A lady, likewise, can choose a ladiesí class -- large or small -- or a couplesí class -- large or small -- or the auditorium class.

Where there is no definite age grade in such a plan, there does, however, tend to be a gathering together of people in the same age bracket. In my present pastorate, for example, we have a young married ladiesí class. Most of these ladies are in their twenties or early thirties, and in most cases their husbands do not attend Sunday school. However, some ladies older than forty find this class to their liking and attend it. This class would have perhaps sixty enrolled. There is also a small class for adult ladies with about twenty-five enrolled and has an average attendance of less than fifteen. In general, these ladies would be middle-aged or younger, though a lady of any age would be welcome. We then have a large class for middle-aged ladies. Perhaps seventy-five or eighty are enrolled in this class. Though nearly all of them are in their middle ages, it is not surprising to see both young and elderly ladies joining this class. Then we have an elderly ladiesí class with about twenty-five enrolled.

This means that a lady coming to the First Baptist Church Sunday School would normally migrate with the class near her age. She would, however, have the choice of any of the aforementioned classes. Her choice might depend upon the class where her friends attend. She might want to go to a class with her mother or daughter, or she might just like a particular teacher better than the others. It might be that her husband attends Sunday school and they would like to go to a couplesí class. If they so desired, they could attend our young-married couplesí class, which is basically attended by couples thirty-five and under, but which welcomes couples of all ages. On the other hand, the couple might prefer to go to our New Life Class, which is basically a class for middle-aged people, though some young couples do attend. There is still another choice -- the Pastorís Class in the auditorium, where several hundred people attend. Hence, a lady whose husband attends with her could choose one of seven classes, whereas a man could choose either the menís class or any one of the coupleís classes.

Furthermore there are many individuals who attend the couplesí classes alone. This is certainly not discouraged.

On the adult level there is never a promotion day. The young couplesí class will some day become the older couplesí class. The young ladiesí class will some day be the older ladiesí class, etc. This means that we are constantly trying to find new ideas for new classes.

There are several advantages to such a plan. As aforementioned there is a choice of classes and teachers. There is a choice concerning the size of class one would want to attend. There is also a choice as to whether to be taught by a layman or the pastor. Since we have only about a dozen adult classes, we are able to utilize our qualified teachers of adults and yet do not find it necessary to use people not especially trained to teach adults. Then, too, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been saved by having hundreds of people meet in the auditorium. A Sunday school building to house the pastorís present class into departments and classes would cost a half million dollars in the Hammond area.

This plan also incorporates many of the ideas in plans 1, 2, and 3. It has the auditorium class of plan 1, but it has some classes as small as those in plan 2. It utilizes a desirable, yet not excessive, number of teachers as does plan 3.

This eliminates completely the departmental system. There is no adult department. Neither is there an assembly of all the adults. The adults go directly to their individual classes where they have their music, announcements, and lesson. The only unit is the class, and each class is directly answerable and responsible to the Sunday school superintendent or pastor or both.

Following are the names and descriptions of the present adult classes of First Baptist Church of Hammond:

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