How to Pick the Best Sunday School Curriculum
By: Wayne Stocks
I was working on reviewing some curriculum the other day, and I needed to come up with some sort of framework for evaluating it. I came up with the following and thought it might be useful for other people.
Whether you are writing curriculum reviews or just searching for a curriculum for your children’s ministry, no matter whether the curriculum costs thousands of dollars or was free, I think you ought to test it and rank it based on the following criteria:
Where Is Jesus?
Good curriculum is all about Jesus. It includes the full counsel of God, which means, by definition, that it focuses on Jesus. Everything in the Bible either points to Jesus, is about Jesus, or emanates from Jesus, and the curriculum you are looking at should reflect that. Is Jesus prominent in the curriculum or is he an afterthought? Is he mentioned every week as a central part of the lesson? Is the gospel presented every week? Is it presented in age-appropriate ways? Is it presented fully or “dumbed down?” If you choose a curriculum devoid of Jesus, you will have a children’s ministry devoid of Jesus.
Biblical and Theological Content
How strong is the biblical content of the curriculum? Consider the depth of Biblical content, accuracy, method of presentation, and, perhaps most importantly, gospel content. Does the curriculum teach the full counsel of God? Does it include areas that are sometimes skirted when it comes to children like sin and redemption? Is the curriculum man-focused or God-focused? Does it use the Bible as a tool to teach kids how they should look and act, or does explain that the Bible is God’s story? Is it consistent in giving glory to God? Does it teach moralism or a life led for God? How deep do the lessons go into the meaning of a particular scripture? Is there a plan to make sure that over time in your ministry kids will get a solid biblical foundation?
Many of the curricula available today include video components as well as music. How does the music fit with the culture of your church? Is the music upbeat and will it engage the kids? Does the music teach the children something about God and the Bible, or is it merely intended to entertain? Are they songs parents can enjoy along with their kids, or are they the type of songs that will drive parents up the wall? Is the music kid-friendly, or does it include long introductions and musical parts? Does the music come with motions? Do you do motions in your children’s ministry? Is there any video content? Is it enough? Is it too much? Is the video central to the curriculum or does it complement a live teacher?
What type of content does the curriculum contain? Does it include large group lessons? Small group curriculum? Sunday school curriculum? Object lessons? Games? Crafts? What else does it include? Other than the Biblical Content, much of the “meat” of most curricula will fall into this category. Is the content sufficient to meet your needs, or will you have to take time each week to add more meat? Do the extras add to the lesson or just fill time?
Ease of Customization
Let’s face it, all curriculum requires some modification. Whether it is adding a little more fun or “beefing” up the theological or gospel content or just modifications to fit in with your church culture, I’ve yet to find a curriculum that did not require any modification. What you need to determine is how much you will have to do to make a curriculum fit your needs and how much you are willing to do. How easy will the modifications be? Will they need to be made at a high level, or can individual teachers make the modifications?
I like to have fun. The kids in my ministry like to have fun. I don’t think fun is a deal breaker, and it certainly shouldn’t be at the center of a choice of curriculum, but if we’re being honest, it is an important consideration. How fun is the curriculum? Are the writers “plugged in” to what kids like and what will keep their attention? Is it too fun? In other words, does the fun complement the goal of teaching kids about Christ, or is it made the central focus? There is nothing wrong with fun, but like everything else, it is a tool not the goal.
What is your overall impression? Yes, you should consider the items listed above in detail, but there is a lot to be said about “going with your gut.” If you’ve done a thorough review and the curriculum just doesn’t seem to fit, don’t go with that curriculum. If it has some problems, but you are willing to work those out on your end and it meets the rest of your needs, go for it.
In the end, the curriculum itself is a tool. It is not what will make or break a child’s relationship with God. Your relationship with that child is a whole lot more important than your curriculum. That said, we are held to high standard as teachers of God’s Word, and we must adhere to that standard in picking the curriculum we will use in teaching God’s kids.
What would you add to this list? What do you look at when evaluating curriculum?
Wayne Stocks writes for www.Ministry-To-Children.com, a resource started by Tony Kummer to solve children's ministry problems.