Don’t buy church curriculum
There is one thing you can count on in Christian education at any local church: inevitably (just as certain as death and taxes), Sunday School teachers will begin to ask for “new curriculum.” This is regardless of the size of the church or the quality of the curriculum resources teachers currently are using when this mysterious angst strikes!
One reason is the unspoken truth that curriculum resources are produced to be sold, therefore, they are written for the masses (read: “lowest common denominator” of users).
Here’s the fact: your teachers are special, your church is particular, and your church members are unique—they don’t write curriculum for you.
This puts a heavy responsibility on teachers for providing the most effective resources for the spiritual education of the members in your church.
No wonder, therefore, that your church faculty will get frustrated and dissatisfied with standard church curricular resources.
Inevitably, any church curriculum resource falls short of what your teachers and their learners need.
If you are a program leader in your church, you will at some point be faced with the task of evaluating and choosing curriculum materials for your Sunday School.
If you have ever had to do that, you know what a confusing and time-consuming task that can be.
Well, here’s the best advice you’ll ever get when faced with looking for “new” curriculum for your Sunday School: “The last thing you should do is buy Sunday School curriculum!”
The first thing you’ll want to do is involve those teachers and workers who will be using the curriculum in the decision-making process.
Form a task force team, and help them understand that the “curriculum” is not the support literature they use.
Curriculum is the totality of all learning experiences, planned and unplanned, to which the learners are exposed in the life of the church.
That includes teacher attitudes and preparedness, room arrangement and decor, quality of teaching time, quality of teacher-student relationships, and other intangibles that don’t come with teacher manuals or in kits.
Help your teachers give curriculum literature and resourced their due importance as a small component of the whole Christian education program, but then guide them to take responsibility for being the primary educators in your church.
Second, help teachers understand what curriculum material and literature will not do for you:
- Guarantee effective learning experiences
- Make weak teachers into strong teachers
- Solve all your Christian education needs
- Solve all your classroom discipline problems
- Teach your learners all there is to know about the Christian life
- Ensure that your teachers and learners will be committed disciples of Christ.
Third, understand what good curriculum material can do for you:
- Provide a systematic framework for Bible study
- Serve as an idea starter for good teachers
- Serve as a sound teaching guide for new or weak teachers
- Provide ready-made visuals and materials for students (a real time-saver for teachers!)
- Provide a framework upon which to build your Sunday School educational program(s).
The next thing you may want to do in choosing curriculum materials is to lead teachers and workers to articulate what YOUR church needs from curriculum support materials for: (1) the learners, (2) the church at large, and (3) the teachers and workers.
Ask questions like: What is our goal for our learners in the Sunday School?
If a group of children were to grow up in our Sunday School from Nursery through high school, what will they know?
What will they believe? How will they be able to live out their faith?
Given that we have, at best, 40 minutes of teaching on a good Sunday, what things are the most important for our learners to learn?
Lead your team of teachers to ask about the teaching-learning approach you will use: traditional classroom approaches? Experiential approaches? Intergenerational approaches?
Next, hold a curriculum workshop for all teachers. Provide a meal and childcare if needed. Provide samples of the best curriculum your team has found. Use an evaluation tool to review the materials.
Help teachers and workers reach a consensus as to which curriculum resources they prefer. And then, the last thing you want to do is to buy the curriculum material that best fits your church’s educational needs!
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).