How to Pick the Right Sunday School Curriculum for Youth Ministry
There's a lot of decisions you have to make as a youth worker. Like, where to go on your mission trip. Or what game you're going to play at the beginning of your ZOOM small group gathering. Or whether COVID-19 will keep you from ever doing another lock-in. (See? Even pandemics have a silver lining.) Some decisions are relatively small (cheese or pepperoni?), while others are more significant (how to properly vet adult volunteers?). But one decision that has a major impact on your ministry is one that many of us don't always feel capable of making. I’m talking about how you decide on what curriculum you will teach on Sunday mornings.
I've been a part of curriculum development since the early 2000s. I've seen a little bit of everything. And unless you craft your own curriculum week-in and week-out (which is an option), knowing how to make sense of what's out there is not always an easy proposition.
I want to offer some guidelines for how to go about selecting the Sunday morning curriculum that's right for you. While there may be more things on your list, these are the most essential elements to consider when deciding what curriculum works best for you.
SIDEBAR: Can we pause just a second and answer the question, "Why do I need a curriculum? Can't I just teach the Bible?" This is a great question that I occasionally hear, which reveals what I believe is a misunderstanding. Curriculum doesn’t take the place of teaching the Bible. A well-crafted curriculum teaches the Bible. It's not an either/or proposition. If you are comfortable opening your Bible and teaching out of the text, whether you realize it or not, the strategies you use to teach a passage function like a curriculum. Any good curriculum is nothing more than an access strategy for digging into God's Word. (And if your curriculum isn't doing this, you may want to consider a change.) What curriculum does for you is to help provide you with a scope and sequence, give you a logical framework to help organize your thoughts, and maybe offer an aspect or angle of looking at Scripture that you may not have come up with on your own. The well-designed curriculum doesn't take the place of studying the Bible; it empowers it. Now that we have that out of the way let's get on with our guidelines for choosing curriculum.
FIRST, ask yourself the question, “What purpose do you want your curriculum to achieve?"
Do you want a small group curriculum or one that caters to large group gatherings? Do you want one that is video-driven? Do you want one that deals with topics or one that is more Bible-based? Do you want a year-long scope and sequence or a combination of shorter-term studies? All these are questions you must ask of your curriculum as you look around at all the different resources being offered. Decide what you are looking for in terms of purpose before you start browsing different offerings.
THEN, ask yourself the question, “How am I going to evaluate whether or not this curriculum is the right fit for me”?
This is the heart of making the curriculum decision. Evaluation is key. As I have helped people make this decision over the last twenty years, there are a few main elements used to evaluate curriculum.
First, and most importantly, is it biblically-centered and biblically sound? You want a curriculum that starts with Scripture and pulls its themes and emphasis from the Bible. What you don't want is a curriculum that starts with culture or trends and then tries to see what the Bible says about it. You also want to make sure it teaches the Bible well. Is it theologically sound? Does it equip you to dig deep into God's Word? These are the most important questions to ask as your evaluating.
Second, I look for teachability, especially if what you will be choosing will be taught by adult volunteers. Nothing frustrates adult volunteers more than something that is difficult to teach. And frustrated volunteers means a frustrated youth worker. Make sure that the curriculum you choose is laid out in such a way that makes teaching easy.
Third, it has to fit your budget. This may seem like a no-brainer. But I want to challenge you to think about this differently. Sometimes, an excellent curriculum can be the driver of spiritual growth and overall buy-in from your students. Maybe you don’t have the budget for the curriculum you want. My advice would be to tweak your budget to make room if you believe the curriculum you're evaluating could take your students to the next level. Also, I know that at YM360, we work with churches to overcome budget issues. I'm sure that other curriculum providers are willing to do the same. Just ask!)
Fourth, here's something I learned a long time ago: seek outside opinions when you're evaluating curriculum. Bring in your “key leaders,” those core volunteers who are plugged into your ministry. Ask other staff members or interns what they think. Maybe even run it by your student leaders to get their input. Ask them for an honest evaluation of the overall direction, lesson plans, and ancillary components. Not only do you get additional perspectives, but you also create buy-in from your team to what you're doing.
FINALLY, ask yourself, “How am I going to implement this?”
Let me challenge you not to end your curriculum decision at the moment of purchase. It would help if you considered how you'll implement what you're choosing. How can you make this new season of study a big deal? Can you do anything to make your launch of kick-off special? T-shirts? Bracelets? Posters or other decorations? Maybe have students make a launch video. Whatever you do, create some excitement about what you're doing.
But don’t just stop with students. How are you launching the curriculum with your adult volunteers? How are you training them to use what you’re giving them? How are you creating excitement and casting vision? The heart of your ministry is what happens in the discipleship moments facilitated by your adult leaders. Equip them to launch your curriculum strategy well.
And finally, take a word from the “curriculum guy” in the room: USE THE FEATURES! Many of the great Bible Study curriculum being produced today comes with a ton of really great supporting features. And yet, many youth workers don't take advantage of them because they don't have a plan to. And these additional resources go by the wayside. Have a plan to take advantage of some (if not all) of the accompanying resources your curriculum comes with.
I hope this helps you in choosing a Bible study curriculum for your youth ministry. If you have any more questions about one of YM360's Bible study curriculum or any other one, please don't hesitate to reach out to us. We're always here to help.