What makes a great curriculum — and how to make it a win for families and your ministry
The cornerstone of every great children’s ministry is a curriculum that sets the stage for kids’ faith development—from babies to preteens. As one of the most important choices you’ll make for your ministry, you must be informed and methodical as you assess the wide array of curriculum choices. We asked curriculum experts from a variety of publishers to offer their valuable insights on what makes a great curriculum and how to make it a win for families and your ministry.
Here’s Why Curriculum Is Better Than Ever Today
For many of us, evaluating curriculum is a daunting challenge. Matching one of the numerous options with your ministry’s unique needs can feel like solving a giant jigsaw puzzle. The great news is that while there are many choices, children’s ministry curriculum has evolved through the years—for the better.
Here are five ways today’s curriculum choices are stronger than ever.
1. Rooted in Scripture
This is the most important quality to look for in a curriculum. Noticeable changes have been happening in curriculum development in recent years pointing to a commitment to solid theology and deep biblical truth in the content of children’s curriculum.
2. Wise Discipleship Plans
The next most important quality is a wise plan that disciples the whole child—from babies to preteens. A solid curriculum ensures that once kids leave the children’s ministry, they’ll have been biblically trained with wisdom, hopefully leading to a transformed heart through Jesus.
Ministering to children means reaching families with resources that equip them to own the discipleship of their child. Family resources are trending, and many curriculum providers champion this opportunity to provide dynamic resources that help parents. These resources include family apps, newsletters, take-home pages, and social media templates that help ministry leaders communicate with parents about each week’s content. Take advantage of these great opportunities to connect the church to home.
4. Increased Media Offerings
Children are multisensory learners. Much of today’s curriculum has a variety of media provided, including life-app and Bible passage videos, worshipful music, motion videos for movement, and dynamic apps that continue the learning throughout the week. This is an ever-changing facet of children’s curriculum, but it’s one that can increase kids’ retention of Bible truths and takeaways each week.
5. Improved Teaching Tools
Many resource providers are creating incredible visuals through Scripture posters offered in multiple translations, teaching pictures, biblical timelines, and engaging teaching packs with games, storybooks, and other activities for children. These valuable materials take the guesswork out of preparing volunteers to teach multiple age groups.
Jana Magruder serves as the director of LifeWay Kids, a children’s ministry resource provider of Bible studies, camps, VBS, and training events such as The Gospel Project for Kids, Explore the Bible: Kids, and Bible Studies for Life: Kids. To learn more about these resources, visit lifeway.com/kids.
Write It or Buy It?
Children’s ministers have a lot of choices to make to ensure ministry provides the best spiritual experiences for kids—while staying within the limits of time and budget. A curriculum is one of the most important choices you’ll make.
When selecting a curriculum, every children’s minister eventually faces one core decision: Do I buy curriculum from an established publisher—or do I write my own? Both options may have advantages and disadvantages, but the primary advantages of buying from a publisher include time efficiency, team input, overall teaching plan, and supplemental resources.
Whether you’re full-time staff or a part-time volunteer, there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. Writing lessons each week is a very time-consuming process. A published curriculum that’s well written and fully developed provides a complete lesson plan, that’s ready to go out of the box. Naturally, these curricula can still be modified to fit your needs, and many include multiple options to adapt lesson content.
2. Team Input
Most published curriculum is the end product of a large team of individuals working together to produce the best results. These teams may include writers and content developers who bring a diversity of experiences and backgrounds to the project. They include proofreaders and editors to ensure the material is clearly written, easy to understand, logical, and follows a thought-out and tested scope and sequence. Designers ensure content is presented clearly on the page and that handouts and visual aids are useful. Songwriters, artists, and many other talented contributors add additional content elements and provide layers of expertise and strength to the finished product. Together these individuals create a final product that’s far richer and more comprehensive than any one person could create alone.
3. Teaching Plan
In many instances, a published curriculum is part of a larger scope and sequence that ensures the core teachings of Scripture are adequately covered. Developing a comprehensive, age-appropriate discipleship plan requires a significant amount of time and research and assessment.
4. Supplemental Resources
In addition to the curriculum itself, many publishers provide an array of supplemental resources to support the material and provide a more complete user experience. Products such as wall posters, banners, membership cards, theme art, or special music can play a big role in enhancing the overall learning experience. Many also include weekly take-home pages to keep parents informed of what kids are learning about and to provide opportunities for extending the learning experience at home.
When Your Team Loves the Curriculum—But Parents Don’t
Rolling out new children’s ministry programming or curriculum with your team can be stressful. But when the people you serve aren’t on board, it can be downright painful. Leaders all face obstacles, but how do you deal with the gap between a thrilled team of kid-influencers—and frustrated kids and parents? In my experience, it’s never too late to build an “ABC transition team.”
When you implement a new curriculum, it’s more complicated than stopping the old and starting the new. Change is a process, not a switch, and it affects everyone involved differently. Having an ABC transition team can help you navigate the temporary confusion, disappointment, and sense of loss that upset kids and parents may be feeling.
So what’s an ABC transition team? Successfully dealing with change requires Advisors, Bricklayers, and Champions. Including each of these groups before, during, and after a major change can save you a lot of heartaches.
You need candid input and feedback from as many angles as possible. Your immediate team, other ministry leaders, parents, and kids are all worth listening to. Get them in the same room to hear concerns and encourage conversation. You’ll be surprised how the Holy Spirit brings unity through diversity. You’ll also get a front row seat to surprising solutions.
Establishing a firm foundation requires faithful, equipped, and skilled workers. It also takes apprentices who come alongside to complete the task at hand. Spend time studying Ezra 3. God used all kinds of people to rebuild His temple. Some experienced this as joyful while others wept. Honor transition while laying the groundwork. Invite your leaders, parents, and kids to put the new program in place together. Not everyone will jump on board immediately, but you can create opportunities for loyal bricklayers to bring unsure apprentices along.
Identify a handful of trusted leaders, parents, and kids who are eager to try out what’s new and tell others about it. In doing so, their stories will serve as an encouragement to build up the body. They’ll also find ways to help kids and parents overcome obstacles to the new curriculum. You need more than cheerleaders in the face of opposition; recruit champions who capitalize on moments, build momentum and wave banners that invite everyone into the adventure. Kids and parents are looking to you, your leaders, and your church to point them toward a promising future.
It may be tempting to put on a superficial smile in the halls or hide away when kids and parents are obviously unimpressed with your new program or curriculum. Everyone in your ministry deals with transition differently. If you’re convinced the change is the right thing at the right time, press ahead with your ABC transition team. God will use it all for his glory and good in the end.
Dan Lovaglia is an author, speaker, and children’s ministry catalyst at Awana. He is passionate about propelling lifelong relational discipleship forward with kids, families, and leaders through the local church.
New Curriculum? Turn Your Volunteer’s Frown Upside Down
It was my first education committee meeting at a new church, and I was ecstatic.
Months prior to officially joining the staff, I’d consulted with a few key leaders to select Sunday school curriculum. I listened as they talked about their hopes for the children’s ministry, the ethnic and socio-economic demographics of the congregation, and what kinds of activities had worked in the past. I digested their input and dove into a ton of research. After all, I wanted to make a great first impression with my new volunteers. After weeks of prayer and study, I landed confidently on the resource I was sure would be the perfect fit.
This first committee meeting following its implementation was going to be my moment of glory. Once everyone had gathered and exchanged pleasantries, I sat up straight and arrogantly asked, “So, what do you think of the new curriculum?”
Silence. One teacher’s blank stare finally gave way to a single tear streaming down her face.
Suffice it to say, they didn’t love it.
Thankfully, we were able to move forward in subsequent months. But it wasn’t easy. Here are strategies I recommend to avoid a disconnect between your volunteers and the curriculum you’ve chosen.
1. Involve volunteers early.
What do you look for when considering the ocean of quality resources available to you? Which companies or products are you inclined to look at first? How does the overall product system, ease of use, and total cost factor into your decision? Giving volunteers a glimpse of the “how” and “why” behind the “what” will help them enter their classes with confidence that their resource was chosen with care and faith.
2. Acknowledge the truth about curriculum.
I’ve been a writer, editor, and developer of over a dozen products. I’m proud of all of them. And yet none of them meet 100% of a congregation’s needs. The best resources equip leaders with core theological concepts and quality activities for kids. They’re visually impressive and utilize media better than the average person could create on his or her own. But the people who create curricula don’t know your teachers, kids, or community. Ministry is contextual. Engage a new resource with the knowledge that you’ll need to tweak it to be most effective.
3. Stay flexible and available.
You may have a teacher who simply can’t work with the curriculum you’ve chosen. Invest time helping him or her prep the lesson. Provide creative alternatives to the activities. Let your ministry colleagues in other churches, the Internet, and your theological acumen be your guide to crafting a learning experience that’ll work for the teacher and kids.
I’m grateful for that difficult first committee meeting. We all learned about the importance of flexibility, communication, and trust among ministry leaders. Our team also discovered that engaging any curriculum requires a willingness to enhance some activities and scrap others. No curriculum is perfect, so embrace the one you’ve chosen and make adaptive changes when needed.
Erik Ullestad is a youth minister with more than 15 years’ experience. He’s a curriculum developer for Sparkhouse and a youth and music minister at Capitol Hill Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Iowa.
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