Think back to the last conversation you had with a ministry leader from another church. After the general questions of name and location, maybe church size or your multi-site status, the next question typically moves to something like, “What curriculum do you use?” Though the answer to this question admittedly reveals some basic stereotypes about your church, it also potentially reveals something about the asker.
Either they love their curriculum and want you to ask the question back to them, or they are dissatisfied with their current curriculum. They might be looking for what other options are out there. An endorsement from another church might launch them on the road to curriculum bliss.
Assess and Make Informed Decisions
We all share a basic desire to disciple the next generation. We also all have thoughts and ideas on the best way to do that. Curriculum is one of the core structures of ministry philosophy. Similar to the design philosophy that “paint is the cheapest way to change the look of a room,” the curriculum can feel like one of the easy things to change when we feel dissatisfied with how our ministry is going.
But just as a paint change will cost us time—and potentially lead to new furniture, curtains, and flooring—there are costs to making a hasty curriculum change that go beyond the bottom line of our budgets. Using a process to assess curriculum and make informed decisions will keep us focused on curriculum as a means to an end, rather than the end itself.
Start with your mission statement.
Your mission statement should drive everything you do and aim for in your ministry. When assessing your curriculum and considering your options for curriculum, always begin with what you are setting out to do. Write that statement at the top of a piece of paper, so it is always visible as you walk through this process.
Assess what you have.
I always ask four questions when assessing anything:
- What’s right? What are the things in my current curriculum that I love? What is working – and WHY is it working?
- What’s wrong? Why am I looking at changing things? What isn’t going well?
- What’s missing? What do I want in a curriculum that I’m not finding in my current curriculum?
- What’s confused or confusing? What doesn’t make sense in the curriculum I currently use? What are the questions I am asked by volunteers or parents, or I find yourself asking each month?
Another question you might ask is: What happens on our best day of ministry? Why are those things important to us? Write down lists of answers to these questions to assess where you are, and what you value.
Create a rubric.
You may have seen a rubric used to score your or your child’s papers at school. It creates clear guidelines for what is expected in the assignment. Armed with the list of things you love or desire in a curriculum, list the biggest criteria for what you consider to be a great curriculum down the left side of the paper in the first column.
These might be things like “centrality of Scripture,” “alignment between age groups,” or any number of other values. Along the top of the paper, in the first row, add a performance rating—excellent, good, OK, poor. Make a grid using the established columns and rows, and within those boxes, define what the rating would look like in each of those categories. This will become your tool for assessing the curriculum for your ministry.
Decide your limits.
It would be very rare to find a curriculum that checks every box perfectly. Curriculum publishers need to write for a broad variety of churches—large and small, different facility types, and some theological variance. In our multi-site church, we have one campus with ten kids and one with four hundred kids, some campuses with theater spaces, and some that meet in one small classroom.
Writing Your Own Curriculum
Every few years, someone throws out the idea, “What if we just wrote our own curriculum?” There are obvious advantages to writing your own curriculum—the biggest one being: it is written specifically for YOUR church context. You can write for your space and your supply room, and the internet is a treasure trove of craft ideas and videos.
However, even with a large staff like our church has, the cost of time likely outweighs the potential financial savings. Curriculum publishers employ an entire staff of people who are trained to write age-appropriate, theologically sound curriculum, and has additional editors and graphic designers.
Whenever we consider writing our own lessons, we consider the cost of even one person’s full-time salary versus what we pay for our curriculum annually, and the decision is very clear for us. Where our limit lies is in writing our own curriculum. We will, however, spend a few hours a month editing the curriculum we purchase to make it fit our context on five campuses.
Though that is an additional investment of time, having the curriculum written for us and needing to rewrite small sections or adjust activities or even potentially make additional video resources is a smaller investment than a full-time salary.
Keep in mind that most curriculum publishers have mission statements about making disciples that are likely very similar to the one you will write down at the top of your paper in this process. The curriculum is a tool that is a means to that end. Know your limits so that it does not become the end itself.
Knowing and Loving Jesus
One of my favorite questions after someone asks the “What curriculum do you use?” question, is to ask “Why?” I love when the answer to that question (no matter what the answer to the curriculum question is) is something about how that curriculum helps the kids at their church to know and love Jesus. I love to hear how different methods such as programs, curriculums, and methodologies, can all lead to the same ultimate mission of helping kids to become disciples of Jesus Christ.