Rev. Melissa Cooper

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What's the best curriculum for ... ?

 Photo by  William Iven  on  Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

It's the topic I see most often in all the ministry groups I'm a part of ...

"What's the best curriculum for ... ?"

Whether children, adults or anything in between, the question of curriculum in church programming is a constant. And while I might do some curriculum reviews and recommendations in future posts, I won't be answering that particular question today.

I have found that while which curriculum you choose matters, what matters even more is how you use your curriculum. 

I was writing and editing curriculum before I knew I was writing and editing curriculum. I’m far from an expert, but I’ve learned a few things along the way.

I was one of the writers of a very popular confirmation curriculum a few years back. When I would meet people who had used this curriculum, they were so excited to tell me how it had been helpful to them, but they often felt they needed to apologize when they mentioned a way they had adapted, changed, edited or supplemented the curriculum. 

My response? I would be offended if they didn’t change something about the curriculum!

While those of us who write and publish curriculum (hopefully) do the hard work of creating materials that are accessible, theologically robust and engaging, we're creating materials meant to be used for more contexts than we can count! Your church may look similar to the one down the street, but there are hundreds of variables that ensure no two churches are the same. 

Any curriculum that comes through your hands intact is a curriculum not being best utilized. So why might you adapt even the best curriculum?

  1. Theology/Denomination: While all Christian churches do share a focus on Jesus, there are still reasons we have different churches. Our core beliefs and the ways we live them out are different, and it's important that the experiences you are offering and the things you are teaching embody the uniqueness of your particular tradition. 
  2. Church Size or Group Size: Numbers aren't everything, but they are an essential consideration when planning programming for your group. There's no one size fits all curriculum when it comes to any variable, but numbers really do affect which curriculum you choose and how you adapt it. From material needs to activities, ensure that your curriculum is adapted appropriately for the size of group you are leading.
  3. Geography: If you're in a downtown setting, you may not have much outdoor open space to use. If you're in a rural setting, you may have fewer resources available near your church for things like field trips or guest leaders. In addition, metaphors can fall flat if they're not familiar to your local culture. An object lesson from agriculture will not hit home as well with city kids; a group of suburbanites may not connect with the experience of riding public transportation. Ensure that the illustrations offered by curriculum will connect with your people.
  4. Church Culture: What is your community like? What do they need at this moment in time? This is the area I work most closely with churches on in coaching and consulting, because it determines everything else about how you approach church programming. As you select curriculum, consider what your goals are. How does this meet people where they are now, and how does it propel them toward the church's vision and the culture you're building? 

You know your people better than any curriculum writer (and good curriculum writers know that!). The curriculum I write just for my youth is not curriculum I would write for publication. I have middle schoolers and high schoolers who can watch a video and just have a deep theological conversation. Other groups thrive more with hands-on activities.

Know your group and trust what you know. That will play a part in both curriculum choice and adaptation once you’ve chosen something.

So, what curriculum are you adapting this year and how? Share in the comments!