"Adults flock to Sunday School, but seldom at church" - the 2004 headline grabbed my attention. Written at the height of The DaVinci Code popularity, the author claimed "today’s adults are seeking extra knowledge in fresh ways" and quotes one college administrator who says that "people are used to quality in education, but parishes don’t always have the desire or funds to deliver." The article goes on, "for some adult learners, the social contacts are as important as the course content." (See this website) This last statement supports fellowship hour and church suppers as part of a total educational effort!
The key to building adult education is to focus on the learner first, then build the components of the schedule, teacher, a class space, and curriculum. In 2008, we start by asking: Who are the adults we might reach and what are these specific adults seeking? For many years, congregations focused on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening options at the church building. Plans are developed to attract adults who attend worship, but are not part of a class. Increasingly, congregational leaders are thinking outside the church building and reaching adults in the world. Here are some ideas to help you think about your own context.
- The pastor of a small church visited the local coffee shop at a fixed time each week, observing the customers and initiating friendly conversation. Eventually one person, and then others, joined her for an hour of reading and discussing Scripture.
- In a retirement community, the church rented the community center for a weekly coffee and conversation for new residents. Several small groups developed as people expressed social and learning needs. Some groups meet at the church, others meet in the community.
- A large church launched "home huddle" groups during Lent. They publicized locations in host homes by zip codes and the church member hosts made personal invitations to others in the zip code. Several groups continued in homes after Easter.
- A children’s minister noticed that neighborhood moms were gathering in the church playground with preschoolers. She started to hang out and discovered they were interested in a Bible study while their children played.
- A congregation partnered with a local college to offer community religion classes on a regular basis. The church provided space and hospitality while the college sent an expert teacher!
Congregations that want to build excitement for adult education pay attention to the adults inside and outside the church, carefully listening to their interests and needs. Today, many adults participate in a class for a season and move on as their needs and interests change. As you plan learning opportunities, give special attention to the setting, the teacher, and hospitality. Each detail should be top quality as a way of showing your interest in the people you hope to reach.
If you have read this far, you are really interested in building excitement for adult classes. Consider these questions to take your next steps.
- Who, in addition to you, can lay a prayer foundation for extending adult ministries?
- What passions and gifts do you and others have to create new opportunities for adult learning?
- Where do you see God already at work? Can that be expanded or developed for more intentional adult learning?
- ho can brainstorm and plan with you?
- Who is good at generating excitement for learning among adults?
- What strategies can you include that will help adults move to classes or groups with increasing faith maturity so that they grow and do not just attend for a season and move on?
Look at the world with the expectation that God is already there! Building excitement for adult learning is a journey, not a destination!
For Further Reading:
Visit SeeAllThePeople.org to download additional resources and join the conversation.
Betsey Heavner is retired from the staff of Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, TN. This article originally appeared in the May 2008 edition of the iTeach newsletter.