Thoughts On Choosing Curriculum For Your Youth Group
I have been designing Bible study resources for teenagers since 2003. It's a calling and a passion. And while I lead youthministry360's content creation, I am most concerned with teenagers learning and applying God's Word, regardless of what specific resource is used to teach them. My goal for you is to find curriculum that serves your needs and your teacher's needs, but most importantly, facilitates life-change in your students. So, I thought I would give you a guide to choosing resources from a completely un-biased position. Hope this is helpful . . .
What And How You Want Your Students Learning
First, you have to decide your philosophy on Bible Study. In other words, what are you going to teach your students about Scripture, and how are you going to go about it? It's not something that should be answered without some really significant thought and planning. Before choosing a curriculum, you have to answer this question.
Unfortunately, cost is something you have to consider, especially with budgets tightening during the current economic crunch. The fact of the matter is that there are some great curriculum producers out there who simply put out resources that are too pricey. But there are also some incredible Bible study resources to be had for a great value. Know your budget, and choose accordingly.
What are your format needs? Do you want a DVD driven resource? Do you want an electronically delivered curriculum? Do you want a book to give your teachers? Or are you OK with printing lessons off? Your format needs will drive your choice.
The Bible-focused/Culturally-relevant Dance
For us at youthministry360, this is one of the driving forces behind our curriculum development. We are Bible-focused, in all we do. (And I wish that all curriculum providers were, but the truth is that some aren't.) But, we want to create resources that speak the timeless truth of Scripture to your students in a cultural language that is relevant for today's teenager. The tension is in how you dance this dance. The best resources do a great job of teaching Scripture in a way that is culturally relevant to teenagers.
The idea is, of course, to purchase curriculum that matches with your theology. BUT, here's a little trick that may open up some options for you: it doesn't have to be an exact match. As long as you can find curriculum from a provider that aligns with most of your theological beliefs, you can always tailor a lesson or lessons that do not align with your denomination's specific theological leanings. This may mean a little more work for you, which is why it's easiest to go with a provider who shares all of your theological beliefs. But, you may gain a little choice in resources by taking this approach. The key is reading a provider's belief statement. This way, you know where the deviation will be and what you will need to address in any lessons you will need to tweak.
Special Emphasis/Special Focus
You may have settled on a curriculum, or resource that meets your needs. But, it's always a good idea to look around for another smaller resource (maybe a 3, or 4, or 6 week study) you might can use as an emphasis, or a special focus. Maybe this is a topical study on a certain aspect of Christian character development. Or maybe it's a Book study. Every curriculum has its own voice, its own "feel." When you teach a shorter study as an emphasis, you give teachers and students a break, and you get to put the spotlight on a specific topic or emphasis.
How "teachable" is the resource? There are some great looking resources out there that are written or laid-out in such a way that makes them difficult for a teacher to actually teach. So, lesson teachability is a huge factor. The Internet has made purchasing curriculum a breeze. These days, I can't imagine buying a resource without viewing a sample lesson. Any reputable (and some who aren't) resource provider will offer a downloadable sample of the resource. Take the time to download and really check it out. Read for theological accuracy, teaching style, and overall comfort. It's like trying on clothes: you know when it fits.
Free Is Great, But . . .
Lots and lots of folks offer free lessons. We do it (and you can check our free stuff out here). And most of the major curriculum providers do, too. Free lessons are great for individual use, or to get a feel for a specific provider's overall curriculum strategy. But, you'll never be effective if your youth ministry relies on free lessons for the majority of your teaching time. It's a shotgun approach that is tough to be very strategic with. Here's one thing I have learned: there are a million people offering free lessons online. All you need is a blog, and Miscrosoft Word, and you can create and distribute resources. Not all of it is good, accurate, reliable, or usable. By all means, take advantage of free resources. Take advantage of ours and the many other great ones available. But, don't become too dependent on them. Honestly, you are better off writing your own curriculum than having a steady diet of free lessons where you can't control the direction.
There Is No Perfect Curriculum
The best curriculum in the world is still just a starting point. You know your students better than the men and women who create the curriculum. It's a good idea to know that you will always have to make tweaks to lessons to make sure they fit your students' personalities and level of spiritual development. You know you've chosen the right curriculum when you find that the tweaks are relatively minor, and that for the most part, you are not having to make them week-in, and week-out. These are just a few considerations. If there are more you can think of, drop them in the comment section below. As always, we love hearing from you.
- What considerations drive your curriculum choice?
- Have you decided to write your own curriculum? What lead you to that decision?