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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