10 ways churches choose curriculum…and some are actually good

Welcome to my second post in this series on choosing curriculum for your church.  Sometimes the decision can be tough…it’s hard to know which direction to go.  Here are 10 ways churches often choose curriculum (and some are pretty good)…

1. Marketing – Guess what came in the mail today?! Selecting curriculum by the marketing efforts of publishers leads to frequent changes (there’s always something better – “the latest and the greatest”); the result: frustrated teachers, incomplete scope & sequence for learners, and a schizophrenic approach to studying the Bible.
2. Comfort – Ahhh, that feels good. Choosing curriculum based on “what we’ve always used” leads to infrequent changes (the other end of the extreme) and churches never consider if there are better, more viable options for their learners. Tradition is king…long live the king.
3. Pressure from members – This is the “tail wags the dog” syndrome. Parents have strong opinions about what their children should be studying and start a grass-roots campaign to change their church’s curriculum used in grades 1-6; adults may voice displeasure about the materials chosen for them by church staff, so church leaders give in to pressures for the sake of peace (or their jobs). In nature, pressure creates diamonds; in the church (as it relates to curriculum) pressure isn’t so helpful and the results aren’t quite as beautiful.
4. Peer recommendations – Church staff receive recommendations from their peers (often around a quick lunch…”Hey, what are you guys using for curriculum?”) A recommendation is made, a quick decision is made to change, and it’s all done without any significant research; oh well, at least you’re keeping up with the Joneses.
5. Research – Churches take the time to examine 4-6 publishers’ curriculum and then make choices. It’s time-consuming (6 months +), but you can rest assured you will have a new conviction you’ve made the best choice for your church, plus you involve teachers in this selection process.  I love this approach.
6. Ministry, Vision, & Purpose – Churches select curriculum based on their ministry’s vision and purpose statements to achieve maximum alignment.
7. Denominational loyalty – Churches select curriculum from their denominational publisher(s). This approach gives maximum doctrinal alignment, so if that’s important to your church, this should be a strong option. It’s a safe approach that usually yields positive results.
8. Empowered teachers and groups – Teachers and their learners determine what they will teach/study, secure curriculum, and “go for it.” The result is a hodge-podge of curriculum, poor scope and sequence, and an unexplainable strategy to members and guests.  But we love our autonomy, don’t we?   No one is going to tell us what to study!
9. Electronic delivery– “Paper is out, electronic delivery is in” is the cry of some church staff. Are lessons downloadable from the internet? Can I print my own copies? Can teachers access online information 24/7? While electronic delivery has great advantages, it also has disadvantages such as (1) no learner books…which means students can’t prepare before class, which enhances the group’s experience (2) no internet…not every teacher can afford the expense of having a computer, internet service, printer, etc. (3) there’s more reasons…just keep thinking!
10. Silo approach Vs. Coordinated approach – Preschool, children, student, and adult ministries are allowed to select their own curriculum without regard to how it connects to ascending grade levels/life stages in a silo approach. A coordinated approach, however, considers how each age group’s scope and sequence relates to the ones that come after it so that learning is life-long and spans the course of an individual’s life. This is very common in most churches…it’s the “Judges” approach to selecting curriculum. Remember the last line from the book of Judges? Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

Robert Pazmino is a recognized expert in the area of curriculum.  He is the author of several books on Christian education, and in Foundational Issues In Christian Education, he calls attention to things you should consider if you choose to use published curriculum.  Here is a quick summary of key questions he recommends you consider:

A.  Does the theology of the publisher and curriculum writers agree with the theology of your church?  Are theological concepts presented in such a way that learners of all ages can understand them?

B.  Does the curriculum affirm the Scriptures as authoritative?  Is the entire counsel of the Scripture addressed in the sequence of the curriculum?

C.  Are the activities for the learners varied and relevant to their life situations?  Are students actively involved in the learning process?

D.  Do lesson plans allow for adapting the materials to deal with time constraints, available resources, and settings?

E.  Are the needs, interests, and concerns of learners addressed in the curriculum?  Do the learners find appropriate ways to apply biblical truth to their lives?

F.  Are the colors, layout, and quality of materials attractive and attention-getting?

I hope the things in today’s blog will help you think through curriculum choices you make in the future.  I’ll wrap up this 3-part series in a few days with a final post in which I’ll share 10 ways to ensure success in selecting curriculum.

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