The Center for Youth Ministry Training has a youth ministry library full of more than 700 resources and books. We created the library because we wanted folks to be able to see the curriculum and try it out before making a large purchase for their church. But we have observed that those who utilize this library as a resource choose what looks easy or simple, or they choose it because someone else said they were using it, too. Finding good curriculum is challenging. How are WE responsible for making the curriculum less effective and what can WE do to improve our overall curriculum process?
1. What are YOU trying to accomplish?
You’ve got to have a plan. Not a curriculum plan for the week, a curriculum plan (discipleship plan) for the entire time students are in your youth ministry. When Youth Ministry Architects leads a curriculum retreat with their clients, they ask them to identify what they hope students know, feel, and have done when they graduate from the program. “Know” is the knowledge students have gained. “Feel” is what they have felt in relationship to God and the community. “Do” is what they have experienced. What do you hope the the Average Joe and Jane looks like when they graduate from your ministry?
Student Life Bible Studies, Groups new LIVE curriculum, and a few others have created curricula that have tried to think through what THEY believe a student should learn. Click here for LIVE’s six year curriculum template. When you choose this curriculum you have given them the power of deciding what your students learn to someone else. If you have thought through that process and like what they have decided, then great! But you could choose to invest the time to decide what YOUR church believes is important to teach and outline a strategy for helping YOUR students know, feel, and do what you think. Even if you use a curriculum like LIVE, thinking through the know, feel, do process will help inform your other programming (see my intentional discipleship articles: Drivers License Myth, Training Fleas, and Programming the Gaps).
Don’t pick curriculum because it’s easy or cool. Pick curriculum that helps you make disciples for Christ!
2. Who are you teaching?
The LIVE curriculum is divided into two sections: junior high and senior high. Why? Some topics are better covered at different ages. One of the challenges that most youth ministries face is that all youth are being taught at the same time. You have 7th graders in the same room with 11th graders. Most churches are forced to choose curriculum that works for the median attendee.
Who you are teaching greatly influences what curriculum you choose. Do you have an active bunch of 8th grade boys or a group of serious senior high girls? Are they just starting their journey or are they becoming strong disciples?
Choose a curriculum that meets the needs of your group as it relates to your purpose.
3. What do YOU need from the curriculum?
Know thyself! Educator Parker Palmer reminds us that knowing our strengths and weaknesses is essential to being a good educator. Are you strong biblically but really need help with creative teaching ideas? There is good news for you. There is a lot of curriculum with creative ideas that needs theological fleshing out. Find a curriculum that can help supplement your biblical strength with creative learning. Are you good at coming up with creative ideas for teaching, but need a good solid Bible study? Then put down the creative ideas curriculum and find one with some meat.
Need both? Unfortunately this is where finding curriculum can be challenging. Many non-denominational publishing houses have curriculum that is more creative than meaty, wanting to keep the theology in the middle so that a broader audience can use it. Denominational publishing houses’ materials have not been as strong.
Keep in mind that most curriculum comes in one of two approaches: topical and biblical. Most curriculum is topical, meaning dating, relationships, stewardship, etc. that pulls in a biblical emphasis. The other type begins with the Bible and then looks for real life application.
We must teach with integrity. Fun activities with light biblical interaction do not build disciples, nor does verse memorization without implementation. Having solid lesson plans that work towards the overall goal is a must.
4. Can the leaders invest the time?
Whether it is you or volunteers who are teaching, the amount of time that the teacher has to invest also influences your curriculum choice. Do your teachers look over their lessons during church or even pick them up for the first time during the Bible study? We often choose curriculum that requires the least teacher preparation. I understand why we do it, but WE should know that it is backward. Under-prepared teachers make for uninteresting lessons.
WE as leaders have to set the expectation for how much time is required for teaching. What we are teaching is important, and we should treat it that way! Choose curriculum that will accomplish your goals for the program and then recruit and train teachers who will invest the time in bringing the curriculum to life.
5. Willing to go from Good to Great?
Most of our volunteer leaders will not be able to add creative ideas to a biblically focused curriculum or have the training for deep theological reflection to go with creative activities: therefore, WE must help them. It is clear that there are very few if any great curricula, but there are tons of good curricula that you could make great. Are you willing to put in some time to deepen the theological reflection of a creative Bible study or provide creative ideas for a solid biblical study?
WE have the opportunity and responsibility to help the curriculum we use move from good to great! We can look for great curriculum for years or we can take good curriculum and make it great!
Creative Lessons: Creative Bible Lesson from Youth Specialties and Spice Rack by Mark DeVries
Biblical Lessons: Barefoot’s Lectionary Series; don’t forget to look to Adult Bible Studies if you are bringing the creative component. I have used some of Max Lucado‘s series in this fashion.
What curricula have worked well for you?