One question that we get fairly often at Sojourn is, "What curriculum do you use and how did you land on it?" That is a really great question. My first year on staff at Sojourn was 2007. At that time, Sojourn's elders weren't satisfied with the curriculum that we were using, and we began to look for something new. Here is the process that we adopted at that time. Step #1, Research. A research team was formed, and we worked to amass as much information as possible about children’s ministry curriculum. In 2007, the primary researchers were Maggie Ainsworth (now part of the church planting core at Covenant Community Church in Pearland, TX) and me.
Step #2, Evaluation. We set out to judge the curriculum based on the following criteria:
- Gospel-Centrality. In our research, we found that children’s Bible lessons were typically designed to teach children what to do—“Be joyful! Be courageous!” But this is rarely the main point of the Bible story. The Bible was written to show us God—who He is and what He has done to rescue us through Christ Jesus. We wanted a curriculum that kept God and his gospel central. We also wanted a curriculum that reflected the core values of Sojourn.
- Attractional for Outsiders. We want to have a children's ministry that creates attractional environments for building relationships with kids and their families. So, the curriculum should not be so incremental and dependent on previous lessons that it fails to embrace kids that are new to the program. And it shouldn't alienate children that are seeking with legalistic standards/application points (after all, this is anti-gospel). Most of all, the curriculum should be fun!
- Family-Equipping. We believe that parents are called to be the primary faith-trainers in their kids lives. So, we want a curriculum that reaches and equips parents in this role. So, "How well does the curriculum connect with parents?" was a key question for us.
- Listens to the Bible text. Sojourn is a Gospel church, and Sojourn is a Bible church. We believe that our spirituality is informed and transformed by the Scriptures. We want a curriculum that majors on the Bible. So, we looked for one that begins with prayer--asking God for understanding. We looked for a curriculum that helps children observe the text and understand the author’s expressed meaning. We looked for a curriculum that helps children apply what the text says by asking searching questions, and providing relevant application points.
- Educationally Sound. We want a curriculum that is educationally sound. We want one that accounts for learning styles and the age-level abilities of students (more on this in a later post). We also wanted a curriculum that would help kids retain key Bible doctrines and stories through memorization and review.
- Simplicity in Execution. In 2007, we had one part-time children's ministry staff person. We recognized then that we needed a curriculum that was "out of the box." Now, we're writing and producing nearly 40% of what we teach. Things have changed. Nevertheless, I think some simplicity is essential. You should never adopt more than you can execute with excellence. So, here are a coupe of good questions to answer.
- Do you have more money or time? Pre-printed curriculum is usually "out of the box" and ready to go each week, but it is also more expensive. Digital curriculum that comes via download or CD-ROM usually requires more prep and printing time, but it is less costly on the wallet. Would you give preference to a curriculum that uses the same supplies each week in creative ways or one that provides lots of options?
- What kind of facility/equipment is required by the curriculum? Do you have audio/video equipment? This may be necessary for video-based curriculum. Do you have classroom for every age group or are you more dependent on a rotational format or large assembly setting? Knowing what your facility or the size of your team requires will help you to see what curriculum fits best.
Step #3, Selection. Based on these criteria, we scored each curriculum then presented our findings to Sojourn's elder counsel. The elders gave solid feedback, and we went with the research committee's second choice (more on that later). Today, Sojourn is larger, and a small group of staff members/pastors would make this decision rather than taking our findings before the entire elder board. The final selection will work differently in different churches based on size and church polity. However, I think there are two indispensable lessons from our final selection process. First, score the curriculum based on the criteria. Here is a sample score sheet. Second, have a community speak in. We would not have landed where we did without a multitude of voices.
So, where did we land? I'll answer that question in a follow-up post.