I often get asked the question, “What curriculum do you think is best?” or other variations like “Do you think [insert curriculum name] is a good one? Is it Bible-based or value-based? Why did you pick yours?” Like with many things in ministry, I find that there really isn’t a cookie-cutter answer to these questions. So when, I get asked them… I tend to respond with these statements.
1. Tell me about your volunteers.
Do you have volunteers who are highly motivated and involved? Do they like to teach? Do they prepare ahead of time? Or are your volunteers more the type to show up on Sunday, prepare in the first few minutes while the kids play, and keep lesson time to a minimum? I’m not saying one is better than the other; the reality is, every church probably has a few of both and a lot in-between. What I will say is this – getting a fantastic, highly-rated and probably costly curriculum will not suddenly create a new set of volunteers. The ones who are already digging in and doing an amazing prep job and bang-up teaching job will continue to do so. The ones who aren’t…probably won’t. So, in my opinion, before you invest in a curriculum, it would be wise to invest in your volunteers and gauge how effective a new curriculum will be in their hands.
2. Tell me about your families.
Do your parents and caregivers stay involved in what is happening at church? Do they use the take home papers to continue the conversation at home? Do they follow your Facebook page, attend your events, and reply to your texts? Or do you get a precious 30 seconds with them during drop-off and pick-up each Sunday morning with little to no communication during the week? Again, more than likely, you have a few of both and a whole bunch in between. And again, the best curriculum in the world with the greatest parent tools, take-home pages, tweetable quotes, and pre-loaded Facebook posts will only serve the ones who use them and probably won’t change the behaviors of those who don’t. In my experience, creating a culture that fosters parental involvement needs a lot more than a great curriculum; it takes time and a great deal of intentional effort in order to create that atmosphere and curriculum is just icing on the cake.
3. Tell me about your church.
Does your church support your ministry to kids and family, not only with words of affirmation, but financial means to grow and space to develop? Of, as is the case of most children’s ministries, do you get the smallest piece of the pie in terms of budget and square footage? Again, this is not to condemn or judge; I know that church finances and buildings are tenuous things indeed, however, purchasing a curriculum plays into both arenas. Investing a lot of money in a curriculum that requires a lot of space will mean that the church will be looking for some returns while choosing not to put money into a curriculum could be seen as poor stewardship. A perfect curriculum cannot fix either response. It can’t make the budget better or the space larger. It must fit within the constraints of both.
Notice the two things I didn’t mention – specific curriculum and the kids. Why? Because the reality is, if you have a motivated staff, involved families and a supportive church…your curriculum will work, no matter what it is. And if you have the opportunity to ask a child about the curriculum, they will give you a puzzled look and probably tell you about their teacher, their parent, or their church. Because for kids, the whole idea of learning in church isn’t wrapped up in the activities, the lessons, the crafts or the songs. For children, it’s about the relationship. Over and over again studies have show that relationships, good old-fashioned “I know your name and I’m glad you are here” relationships are what bring kids to church, help them to grow, and keep them there as they get older.
A great curriculum in the hands of a distracted staff, a withdrawn church and disinterested parents/caregivers will not bring about the results one would hope for when choosing it. But a mediocre curriculum in the hands of a loving group of dedicated volunteers, supported by an engaged church body, and partnered with involved parents and caregivers can be the best curriculum around. Invest in the “cake” first and then apply the “frosting” and you can have your cake, and eat it too!