Why Not Write Your Own Sunday School Curriculum?


Thinking about writing your own Sunday school curriculum this year? Read this first.

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Lisa Burney didn’t think she’d be able to find a vacation Bible school curriculum that would work for 350 kids. As minister to children and families at Highland Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, Burney found that her congregation had always written its own curriculum in the past; so she decided to try it herself. And why not? Burney has a master’s degree in curriculum instruction and 10 years’ experience in children’s ministry.

“It was taking a lot of time,” she says about writing the massive program. “We wrote it—I had a few people helping me—but going into that first day of vacation Bible school was nerve-racking as to whether or not it would go over.” Burney says she never had a chance to try it out beforehand.

What would you have done in Lisa’s shoes? If you’re like the 18 percent of churches that write their own curriculum, you probably would’ve done exactly what Burney did. Would it have been the right decision, though?

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Not according to Children’s Ministry Magazine.

And, yes, the magazine creators are part of a company that publishes curriculum series for all kinds of church programs and all ages. They have a bias. That’s why they hired me—a freelance writer—to dig into this touchy topic.

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Those same folks, though, are also passionate about ministry to children, and that makes them ask these questions: Is writing your own curriculum the best use of your gifts, talents, and time? Is it the most effective way to reach today’s kids?

Take a look at the six big reasons you might not want to write your own curriculum—from people who’ve tried it.


Publishers have checks and balances to spot gaps and problems in curriculum.
Burney says while writing their program, she and her team worried about potential misses.

“You wonder about the content: Did I get those principles into their heads to make a lesson work? Is it age-appropriate? Will the teachers be able to apply it?” she muses. “Is there a good enough balance between the children experiencing the lesson and getting the head knowledge they need? Will they be able to interact with each other and the instructor? In short, who’s giving the litmus test here?”

Kimberley Rowan, director of Elementary Kids Ministry at Cumberland Community Church in Smyrna, Georgia, points out that issues also arise when theory isn’t tested before put into practice. Without field-testing, it’s difficult to know which ideas won’t work.

“We discovered that a lot of the lessons looked great on paper and didn’t work as well in the classroom,” Rowan says. “It took a lot of extra work to get it all fleshed out.”

Publishers employ a variety of knowledgeable writers and childhood experts with years—often decades—of research and experience. They also provide curriculum that can be “tweaked,” says Katie Peterson, children’s ministry leader at Third Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. And tweaking is a great option.

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“We’ve sometimes found it necessary to add some of our own materials because our church does have its unique mission in raising up child disciples that plugs into the overall theme of our church,” says Peterson. “Finding the right mix of curriculum is crucial.”

Another issue is whether what you’ve written applies to your teachers’ teaching styles. Rowan discovered this when her ministry team members found they weren’t happy with the curriculum they were using and decided to write their own.

“I was writing curriculum that went along with my husband’s and my teaching styles and didn’t think about the fact that other teachers weren’t going to be able to adapt this to their own teaching styles,” Rowan says. “I’m a writer and graphic designer and thought this would be simple.” It wasn’t.


Most children’s ministers aren’t trained to write an effective curriculum.
Just because you’ve worked with children for years, or you’re a parent, or you’re a good writer, doesn’t mean you can write a curriculum that’s orderly, systematic, and workable.

Jonathan Fletcher, children’s pastor at Manna Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, found that out when he worked with a team to write a curriculum for his church’s Sunday school classes.

“I can’t communicate enough that there are teams of professional people trained to write, trained for education, trained to understand learning styles, and who can create something linearly laid-out so that it follows a framework you’re trying to build overall,” says Fletcher. “Otherwise you might get a week of baptism and then a week of Daniel in the lion’s den.”

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“I can read the Bible and find something that’ll be applicable for a child,” he says, “but making it systematic, making it work from week to week can be a problem. It was a big mistake for us.”

Think about it: Would you want every history teacher in your schools writing their own textbooks? That’s best left to professionals.

Even people like Burney, with education, experience, and training in curriculum writing, say writing their church’s curriculum was a mistake.

You may enter into copyright issues-even unknowingly and with good intentions.
Rowan says copyright issues also raised their ugly heads during the process. After writing a 12-week series called Faith Olympics, she learned that someone else had already written a curriculum by the same name.

“I was naive and thought this would be easy,” she says. “Then I realized that a lot of what we were doing could violate copyright issues.”

Ministries often employ the method of “beg, borrow, or steal” when it comes to crafts, games, lessons, video clips, and more. Internet searches for topical material may provide a wealth of information, but almost always that information is copyrighted and intended for readers’ personal use, not repackaging in a church’s printed curriculum materials. Some available materials are denoted with permission to reproduce, but this is an area where writers must tread carefully.


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Children's Ministry Magazine

Children's Ministry Magazine is the most read magazine for people who minister to children from birth through sixth grade. We're partnering with you to make Jesus irresistible to kids.


  1. Pingback: It’s Messy—But Worth It | cokesburycommons

  2. Wow. I certainly agree some of these points are worth considering, but I struggled with some of the logic presented. My bias: I have written curriculum for our church for more than 20 years. We purchase and adapt our weekly curriculum and write for VBS, other special events and some mid-week.

    Here’s what I wonder:
    1. Is there even one success story to balance this article? I have seen quality materials from several churches that have “done it themselves” and shared the result for others to use. Feeling a bit one-sided…. it’s not all bad news. I know they’re out there.
    2. Multiple lines on a job description. My senior pastor is in ministry. He is expected to preach: to sit in solitude, connect with the Lord, research and write and then present a message 40+ weeks a year. He is also expected to lead: encourage and mentor leaders, build relationships within the congregation, cast vision. One does not preclude the other. In fact, each role often strengthens the other. Is this really any different for a children’s minister?
    3.Spiritual gifts & God-given abilities. If God has gifted me with a background and passion for education and writing, must it be shelved so I can use other gifts in isolation from this one? I have always suspected my writing and lesson plans have improved because I am knee-deep in ministry and my ministry is stronger because I labor through the creating process with the Lord.
    4. No ability to pre-test. This one always scares me too. However, just because I have purchased my curriculum from the pros who pre-tested it has not always meant that plan worked well in our classrooms. For me there has been an element of risk either way. Plus if you use your own curriculum, find a way to do a small pre-test. It’s both do-able and necessary. Also let the teachers experience it first-hand in training.
    5. An ability to enjoy work in solitude may mean I need to rethink my calling? No way! I firmly believe I had better be in some solitude before I am able to be all He needs me to be in the field. If I never close my door, I will be constantly pouring and never filling. Not every writer enjoys only solitude. Many are more multi-dimensional. In children’s ministry. my instinct says perhaps most aren’t that one-dimensional. I think if you interviewed the pro writers, you might find agreement. Many likely work within their own church ministries too. I can’t spend all my time writing, but I sure have loved being able to spend some time writing.
    6. Uniqueness is sometimes a calling. We created our own VBS because of all the great pre-written sources out there, we often found ourselves drawn to the same one that 6 other churches in our area advertised that same summer. Allowing God to unroll a unique plan through our team is scary, yes, costly, but rewarding too. To see Him help us bring something from nothing feels like a miracle, a gift. It inspires our team and helped our small church grow our VBS to more than 300 children because we were unique AND effective.
    7. Role confused? Sometimes. Time and energy challenged? YEs! Even when I am not writing! End result: pricelessly faith-building.
    8. Copyright Issues? Point well-raised. Is there nothing new under the sun in games, craft and snack ideas? The newest idea on Pinterest?–Hey we did that when I was a kid! Keep waving the caution flag.
    9. Next big thing? Nah. Who has time for marketing : ) ?
    10. All Christian publishers have something of value to offer churches? Yes and Amen! And some children’s ministers do too.
    11. Caveat: I would NEVER get this done closing my office door. It gets done closing my bedroom door for chunks of time. And nothing begins until the family first green lights the time commitment.
    12. Bottom line: if it is a task or expectation imposed on you, get out your credit card and place an order now. You do not have time for that. If God is impressing on your team that the “do-it-yourself-plan” is right for your upcoming event, start dreaming, planning and finding a time to close that door and write. Then come on out and minister!

    • Dawn, McLendon on

      This is a strong reply. I agree with your response. The most important being to embrace the gifts that God has given you. If you have the gifts to write with integrity – do it. If that isn’t your skill set, find a curriculum that fits your church. Our church has purchased curriculum in the past, that even though it came from a respected publisher, really was not a very good curriculum. Tried and tested didn’t apply to a few of those. It is hard when you rely on a publisher and the fall short.

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