One kindergarten student. One first grader who comes only occasionally. Then there is one fourth grader. Two fifth graders. One sixth grader and two eighth graders.
You look at your fingers on which you've been tallying the roster of children attending your Sunday School, then glance in despair at the curriculum catalogue in front of you. How can you follow the guidelines of the curriculum with this hodge-podge of kids? Your heart breaks for that first grader. No wonder she comes so seldom. Every time she comes, you put her in with the fourth, fifth and sixth grade kids and her inability to read and use a pair of scissors slows everyone down.
What class divisions should a small church use?
Some promote the multi-age classroom. One room schoolhouses did it successfully all the time a century ago; why can't the small church too?
We don't really know how successful the one-room schoolhouse was. Schools and parents did it out of necessity for the same reasons a small church must group kids together - not enough children and not enough teachers. You do what you must do, making it work the best you can. If you must have a one room approach, here is how you can make your teaching more effective:
Use older students as helpers. Older children can set out snack, take younger children to the bathroom or perform skits with you.
Use the learning center approach. Younger children can do an art project while older students do Bible research. You can help the younger children while the older children work independently or you can have a helper/apprentice work with the younger children while you work with the older children.
Choose activities that appeal to all ages. I've watched kids of all ages enjoy such activities as singing, carving pumpkins, dying Easter eggs and blowing bubbles. Older kids enjoy adding more complex details to the activities they loved when they were younger.
Think outside the box. I like the age divisions Rosann Englebretson and Marlene LaFever suggest for small churches in their book, "Reach Everyone You Teach," published by College Press.
Birth through two year olds - Toddlers and Twos
Three through six year olds - Pre-K and First Grade
Seven to ten year olds - Second through Fifth Grade
Your first graders will feel like big kids with the little ones and won't have to struggle with the daunting task of reading like they would if they were with the older kids. Likewise, your sixth graders will enjoy being part of the youth group. Most schools across the nation are putting sixth graders with the seventh and eighth graders; why shouldn't the church? As your church grows, the group I would divide first are your Middle School and High School group.
Regardless of age classification, identify the unique needs of the children that attend your church. Let go of what you've "always done" or the way "everyone else does it;" instead, sculpt your classes to meet the learning needs of the children you serve. Your desire to meet their needs and give them the personal attention they crave and deserve will in the long run be far more effective.