Gather with All Ages

A decade ago, my wife and I moved to a new city. We were three years into our marriage and didn’t yet have children.

After months of visiting, we decided to attend a large Bible church and wanted to get involved in Sunday school. We picked a class, asked directions in the lobby, and found the classroom.

We opened the door to a class bursting with twenty-somethings. When everyone asked about our children, we were surprised by the confused reactions. Finally, someone filled us in—this class was for married couples with young children. Perhaps you’d fit better in another class.

We soon learned this church segmented their Sunday school offerings to the extreme. Please report to room 205 if you are young, single, born in the Midwest, and have at least two older siblings. 

There is an understandable impulse for Christians to gather according to age and life situation. Especially when children are involved, it is refreshing to share experiences, exchange suggestions, and pray knowingly for each other.

But the cost of this age segregation is high. Within these confined interactions, our view of God’s world and his church can become dangerously narrow. Two sand crabs can only shrug when they ponder life beyond the dunes.

The Benefits of Age-Diverse Gatherings

Consider some of the blessings we miss when we ignore portions of God’s family.

1. An alternate perspective — From saints with varied backgrounds we hear diverse testimonies of God’s faithfulness and love. God rescues, saves, comforts, and provides for his people in surprising and creative ways. We glorify him when we point others to our little facet of his diamond.

2. Young people learn from their elders — Mature believers have traveled roads that lie ahead for the young. They have raised children, faced job layoffs, suffered cancer, ached for wayward sons, and buried spouses or close friends. Younger people need to hear the lucidity that comes from being closer to death than to birth—along with the accompanying warnings about the entrapments of the world.

3. Older people learn from the young — Helping and teaching is a two-way street. “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” (Proverbs 20:29, ESV) Young men can share their physical strength to help older friends, but their energy and spiritual acceleration can invigorate as well. God uses young friends both to challenge long-standing patterns of sin and to encourage good works and deeper faith in Christ.

4. Affirmation — Through multigenerational gatherings, a church affirms the value of every believer. As Christians age and are less physically able, they must know they are no less loved or important. This is no humanist fiction—when you talk honestly with believers of all ages, you benefit from each other.

My wife and I had a much different experience when we were first married and visited a Sunday school class of 40- and 50-year-olds. The group told us about the popular class for graduate students down the hall. But when they heard we were there on purpose, we began a wonderful season together. This class became one of the sweetest circles of fellowship we enjoyed in our twenties.

Meeting with Christians of all ages is not a cure-all, and there is undeniable value in relationships with people of similar age and experience. But we must not despise the wisdom, experience, and friendship of all the people God places around us.