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There was one time, a long time ago, somewhere between mid- to late-1990s, I went to a church with family at night. I thought the adults would worship on the first floor, while the children were taken to the basement, where there would be a cafeteria that led to both the kitchen and the classroom. There was only one classroom. No room for another. All the children went to that classroom. There was a chalkboard, books, posters, a big desk for the teacher, and some smaller desks. For a while, that greatly influenced my perception of church layouts. The narthex-like hallway that led to the sanctuary or nave on the first floor, everything else in the basement.

Fast-forward many years to the early second decade of the 21st century, I visited a Baptist church, a Methodist church, and a Lutheran church, and they all seemed to have many classrooms, arranged by grade levels. Only the tiny family-oriented non-denominational church had a kids room, which was called a "nursery", empty and outgrown. And for the Catholic church, I couldn't find a classroom anywhere except the detached but affiliated Catholic parochial school nearby, presumably filled with many classrooms. In the basement, the Catholic church had a gift store. There were children but they participated in worship with adults.

Anyway, since when did churches begin to categorize religious education by grade level? And in which denominations is this so?

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2 Answers 2

My experience has been that this is not so much a function of denomination as church size.

To wit:

  • I've preached at Baptist churches where there was one room for all kids - because there were fewer than 5 kids on a given Sunday. (Remember, there are a lot of churches out there with less than 40 people!)

  • I've preached at an Episcopal church with 3 classes - one for under 5s, one for 1st - 3rd grade, and one for 4th - 6th grade. Again, with a regular attendance of about 100, that was the best grouping that preserved both critical mass (you need more than one kid!) and some age separation (don't put 4th graders with 4 year olds. Neither wants to be with the other.) Indeed, when an influx of children warranted it, we rejiggered the age boundaries.

  • I've taught Sunday School in a Baptist church that insisted on one grade per age, and on those Sundays when your one kid didn't show up, well, it was rather demoralizing.

  • I've been part of a mega church that had three or four classes for each grade. There, we used the highly biblical model of looking deep into the child's soul, and assigning them a class based on the first letter of their last name.

In short, this isn't a doctrinal thing, it's a practical thing. You need enough kids to get an actual class, but you want to keep them about the same age too. That's a function of church size, not theology.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has Sunday School separated by ages. For Children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years they have what is called "Nursery". For Children between the ages of 3-7 years old they have what is called "Junior Primary" with each age group (3, 4, 5, 6, 7) separated out into their own classes. For children who have turned 3 the previous year, at the beginning of the year begin attending the 3 year old's class called "Sunbeams".

From the ages of 4-7 the children are separated into classes depending on the size of the class and the ages and are called CTR (Choose the Right) classes. Once the children turn 8 years old (the age of "accountability" where children know enough for themselves to choose right and wrong) they may choose to be baptized as members of the church.

Once the child turns 8 years old they may begin going to Senior Primary (Ages 8-11) and the classes are called "Valiant Classes" (Valiant 8, Valiant 9, etc.). Around age 10 depending on the size and needs of the classes, there may be a separation of boys and girls.

Once the children have turned 12 they are considered to be "Youth" and there are Sunday School classes for Youth separated into age groups depending on the size of the classes but are generally separated by 12-13, 14-15, 16-17.

When the young man or young woman turns 18 they may begin to attend Adult Sunday School which consists of different classes including Gospel Principles, Gospel Doctrine, Family History, and others depending on the needs of the congregation. For more information visit:

http://www.lds.org/manual/primary?lang=eng

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"Once they are baptized" They may attend those classes whether they are baptized or not, the sentence suggests that baptism is a requirement for advancing to those classes. The classes are divided by age, but two or more classes may be combined if attendance is small. They generally receive the same instruction on the same schedule (there are only a few manuals for the entire primary), but individual teachers will present the lessons differently based on the age group. In this way the instruction is largely repeated every two years, but with additional detail and insight as they age. –  Adam Davis Jan 22 at 21:13

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