If you've been to a ministry conference in the last 10 years, you've probably heard the term "siloing." Siloing referred initially to the educational practice of creating strict divisions between types of students and types of content. Gone are the days of the one-room schoolhouse. Most students in the U.S. today learn one subject at a time, taught by one teacher, with students their same age and focused on the same educational goals.
As siloing became popular in secular education, it likewise became common in Christian education, and, eventually, in many ministry settings. Our ministries became self-contained, self-sustaining entities, often disconnected from the rest of the congregation's life. So, how do we decide when "siloing'' is appropriate, and when do we want to cultivate intergenerational and inter-ministerial relationships? We can begin by asking, "What do we want participants to get out of this time?" when planning lessons, meetings, and events.
There are some times when I believe it is important to plan content that is siloed. The first is when our answer to the question above is "help people in vulnerable communities feel seen/affirmed in those identities," and the second is when the answer is "hold people with power accountable." LGBTQIA+ people need and deserve safe spaces to discuss the interactions between those identities and their faith. Non-men need spaces to discuss how to exist in patriarchal faith traditions, and so on. Likewise, there will be times when the men of the congregation need to focus on how they can do better by the non-men in the congregation. Or the white folks will need to focus on how they can do better by the people of color, etc. On these occasions, it makes sense to bring specific types of people together to have specific conversations. Another time it may make sense to "silo" our content is when we're focusing on a specific developmental goal, like youth differentiating their identity from their parents' identities, or adults planning for life as empty-nesters.
The last occasion where I find it's sometimes important to offer siloed content is when our central goal is educational in nature. However, it may not be necessary as often as we think. If we are looking at a first grade vs. a tenth grade math class, it is reasonable to assume that the students in the second class have nine more years’ worth of knowledge. The same is not always true when the subjects at hand are things like church history, dogmatics, or biblical content. When deciding if we need to have separate groups, it's important to consider if the groups in question have markedly different knowledge bases. If not, we can often offer the material in the same space, and simply provide multiple ways of engaging the material that take into account varied developmental stages and learning styles.
In planning our ministry content for the parish, it can be quite a shift to begin operating from a stance of "Let's offer this to everyone unless we have a good reason not to." But in doing so, we offer the chance to become better connected to the rest of the body of Christ and to focus on the reason we engage in these ministry pursuits in the first place—to "proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’" (Matthew 10:7).