Engaging Baby Boomers in Learning (September 2015 iTeach)
Baby Boomers (adults born between 1946 and 1964) have changed just about everything in which they’ve been involved. It should not be surprising to leaders that they want to participate in Sunday school and other small groups in their own particular ways. Boomers, indeed, learn differently, and they have different expectations, styles, and focus than their parents.
Unfortunately, many churches have continued the traditional model of Sunday School as the primary setting for faith formation. This has resulted in smaller groups of Boomers choosing to participate. According to several pastors of large membership churches, this decline in participation has occurred even when Boomers are participating regularly in worship. If we want to change this dynamic, we must understand Boomers and how they learn.
First of all, we need to remember that Boomers are accustomed to options and personal choices. They expect to have a choice related to topics, format, leadership, and time. Teachers can survey Boomers to discover what they are interested in learning and then offer several options. The survey can also include choices related to format, day of the week to meet, time to meet, and how long to meet (number of sessions and length of each session).
Boomers are often results oriented. Adult learning theory emphasizes that adults want to know that what they are learning is relevant for their daily lives and can be applied quickly. Boomers are frequently over-booked in activities and need to determine how much time they will devote to church activities. When selecting curriculum resources, teaching methodology, and format, teachers should ask what practical results will be realized through this learning experience. When inviting Boomers to participate, the invitation should emphasize the results, relevance, and application that Boomers can anticipate.
Boomers prefer to learn in an informal setting with shared leadership. While traditional lecturer/student format can be offered, other formats may be more effective. Consider movie and video discussions, debates, role playing, projects, and retreats. Boomers enjoy hands on participation and facilitated discussion. (Note: Many adults do not think they have adequate biblical knowledge. If your small group or class is focused on Bible study, select a curriculum resource that includes a presentation related to the biblical content.)
These are a few of the principles that describe how Boomers learn. As teachers, our best approach for understanding how Boomers will continue to change faith formation is to understand Boomers themselves. The resources listed in the sidebar should also help teachers understand better how to tailor learning experiences for Boomers.
Questions to Ponder:
- What are Boomers greatest needs as they age? How will these needs impact their faith formation?
- Which above principles are incorporated into your faith formation design and in what ways? What other principles do you take into consideration when planning for Boomers?
- What percentage of Boomers participate in your congregation’s learning experiences? What can you do to increase participation?