Fifteen years ago, God unexpectedly changed my vocation. I went from being elementary school teacher in a public school to serving as the children’s ministry pastor at our church. This also meant I went from having a curriculum handed to me to having to choose which curriculum to use.
Every children’s ministry pastor I came in contact with I would ask, “What curriculum are you using?” This was my go-to question for about six years until I was “put in my place” by a fellow children’s ministry pastor who challenged me to stop asking “what” and start asking “why.” Frustrated at his response at first, I soon learned to appreciate his challenge.
There is not a “one-size fits all” rule in children’s ministry curriculum—I would argue there actually isn’t a one-size-fits-all in general—or maybe I’m just the exception to every “one-size fits all” branding.
The reality is, that determining which curriculum you will use is a complex process with many determining factors. I believe that to successfully choose the right curriculum for your church, you need to invite others into the process, determine your non-negotiables, and evaluate continually.
Invite Others into the Process
Before choosing the right curriculum for your church, invite the Holy Spirit into the journey. There are a lot of questions to answer before you can dig into evaluating curricula. This is not a quick or light decision to make. The role of the Holy Spirit is essential to leading and guiding the process.
One of the first questions you will need to answer is who should be on the curriculum selection team. This is not a one-person decision. You will want to make sure you work with a diverse group of people.
Individuals to consider including on our team are staff who are invested in the decisions, leaders from various age groupings, and parents who are invested in what their children are experiencing and learning.
Determine Your Non-Negotiables
I am the type of person who—once I determine I am going to do something—wants it done yesterday. Imagine the impatience I experienced when I finally understood the actual process of researching and choosing a curriculum!
It is important to remember what a big decision you are making. Before you can begin to dig into any curriculum, you first need to determine what your non-negotiables are.
What are the key factors of your church’s theological views and foundation that you need to consider? When is the best time to make a change in curriculum?
To do so, ask yourself some questions. What about your current curriculum is a challenge? Can you identify something you appreciate? What are the theological views your church upholds?
7 Areas of Focus
From there, create a rubric to use when evaluating various curricula. When our team did this, we came up with seven main areas of focus:
- Scriptural Basis: This curriculum is gospel-centered, accurately and appropriately tells biblical stories with a focus on God’s character versus human characteristics, and teaches children how to read the Bible.
- Discipleship Component: This curriculum engages children to know and pursue a life with Jesus, feel a sense of belonging, a chance to apply the Word of God, and become more like Him as they become their own disciple-makers.
- Family Component: This curriculum acknowledges the family’s role as primary spiritual leaders and gives opportunities for parents to lead their children in a relationship with Jesus beyond Sundays.
- Developmentally Appropriate: This curriculum is developmentally appropriate and gives a variety of opportunities for different age groups to learn and respond at their own levels.
- Response Content: This curriculum provides a variety of opportunities for children to respond to God’s Word during class and throughout the week rather than providing time fillers.
- Equipping Leaders: This curriculum provides background information for staff and volunteer leaders to be equipped in understanding the context of Scripture in preparation for leading their groups.
- Diversity: This curriculum includes a diversity of race, gender, ability, etc. within the story and response activities.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, you—alongside your curriculum team—can determine what your specific non-negotiables are.
Once you have selected your curriculum, be sure to evaluate it on a continual basis. Just because a given curriculum works for this season does not mean it will work until Jesus comes back. After months of experiencing frustrations with our previous curriculum, we knew it was time for a change.
If you want to know if the curriculum is working, you need to ask the people who are experiencing it. Gather your leaders together (or email them a quarterly evaluation) to invite them to provide feedback—What is working? What is a challenge?
Don’t allow this to be your only touchpoint. Be intentional about experiencing it yourself by leading a group periodically and/or observing a group in action. Check in with leaders once the children have all been picked up to get their feedback. And be sure to have intentional conversations with parents as well.
How are you feeling as a staff? Are you having to make extensive rewrites to the curriculum rather than using what is provided? I believe God gives us nudges through the Holy Spirit. Are you feeling disheartened or unsettled? It may be time to consider a change.
God has given us the immense responsibility to lead children in knowing about Him and growing deeper in our relationship with Him. The curriculum you choose helps you accomplish this mission.
Enjoy the journey as your invite others into the process, determine your non-negotiables, and evaluate continually. Trust in the Holy Spirit to guide and lead the process.