Our Recent Survey Reveals What Christian Churches Are Using Today to Teach Our Children . . . and How They Are Adapting Them
By Kelly Carr
Caring for the youngest in our churches is no small feat. There are many moving parts to manage: volunteers, lesson plans, parent communication, volunteers, safety strategies, worship services, volunteers, engaging activities, biblical instruction. And did we mention volunteers?
To equip those volunteers and provide for your young churchgoers, you need the right curriculum. Yet finding resources for your children’s ministry can be a series of trial and error decisions as you seek the most helpful lesson plans and activity options to match your church community’s context. You must consider your church size, budget, and the needs of the families who are a part of your ministry.
But you know this already.
Perhaps it’s helpful to hear what other Christian churches of all sizes, in all parts of the country, and in a variety of contexts are finding beneficial to their ministries. Then the next time you are searching for new curriculum for your church, you can gain from the experience of others and perhaps initiate some conversations with fellow children’s ministers to find out more.
We reached out to small, medium, and large Christian church congregations in rural, suburban, and urban settings across the U.S. to find out what curriculum paths they have taken for their children’s ministries. Here are some of their responses.
THE MOST POPULAR CURRICULUM IS . . .
When we asked what curriculum Christian church children’s ministries are using, 63 percent said they use Orange resources exclusively or in combination with other curricula.
Options and Options: Many ministers who choose Orange appreciate the wealth of choices it provides.
“Orange is replete with options for our 10 classrooms per week, so we easily pick and choose which lesson will work for each group without major adaptations,” noted Jenn Sykes, children’s ministry director at Diamond Canyon Christian Church in Diamond Bar, California.
“Orange curriculum has been the most flexible curriculum to use for our multisite children’s ministry structure,” said Charissa Stamm, children’s team pastor at Compass Christian Church in Texas. “They provide several different options from which we can choose or adapt to fit our needs. We find that using this curriculum strategically aligns our campuses every weekend.”
Quality Resources: Other ministries choose Orange for the quality of the materials they offer.
“The graphics/videos given are of outstanding content and quality!” said Jennifer Mehlenbacher, children’s minister at Kissimmee Christian Church in Florida.
Evan Denief, kid’s minister at Victory Christian Church in Franklin, Indiana, felt the same. “One of the many great features of Orange is the ability to buy special video versions of the storyteller Bible lessons. These videos are well-shot, well-scripted, and [are] produced with excellence. They can be used as a great audiovisual supplement to your program, or if you have a small volunteer team, they can take the place of a live storyteller,” he said.
“I don’t know if anybody has perfectly married deep theology with beautiful contemporary graphics quite yet,” observed Wes Horton, kid’s pastor at Community Christian Fellowship in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. “Orange is closest at this point.”
Horton noted that with his previous curriculum choice, he liked the lesson content but struggled with the visuals. He worked with another staff member to reenvision every graphic to fit a more current, appealing style that went with their church. Horton said the recent switch to Orange has alleviated that effort, and he hopes it results in a good fit.
Ministry Model: Some children’s ministers choose Orange because they click with its ministry model.
Jessica Kemerly, director of CCKids at Christ’s Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, appreciates the quality options that offer her support when she struggles to find volunteers. She added, “Orange takes a strong stand on partnering with families for the spiritual development of kiddos. This is a passion of mine, so that was an extra bonus for me!”
Dylan Bjorklund, associate & children’s minister at Plum Creek Christian Church in Butler, Kentucky, said something similar: “We use Orange because we are not just buying a curriculum, we are also buying a philosophy for children’s ministry.”
The second most popular curriculum choice from our survey was for churches to write their own. We discovered that 20 percent of churches write all or part of their children’s lesson plans and activities.
“Currently we are writing preschool and nursery lessons that line up with our elementary series. I prefer to work in a team of people when doing this,” explained Michelle Warden, children’s ministry director at Highland Park Christian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “We divide up the responsibilities to help make the load a little lighter. Then, when they get it to me, I go through and make the edits needed to make sure it all lines up and flows well.”
Andrea Hodges, children’s minister at First Christian Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, also relies on a team of writers for their new Wednesday-night program. Nathan Stang, elementary minister at First Church in Owasso, Oklahoma, goes the solo route by developing curriculum on his own, even creating a scope and sequence. Christina Armentrout, who oversees children’s ministry at Central Christian Church in Lancaster, California, incorporates her experience as a public school teacher as well as her years of studying the Bible to craft lessons for her ministry.
Tailoring their own curriculum ensures these children’s ministry leaders that the material will meet their congregation’s needs.
“We began writing our own curriculum 14 years ago with a team of nine writers—one who was dedicated to adding special-needs notes,” shared Jason Smith, family pastor of Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois. “Since then we have hired a curriculum director who has refined the original content over the years. While the initial writing process took two and one-half years, we have edited it quite a bit since the original version. It is a two-year cyclical curriculum with a graduated level approach throughout the age groups.”
Even if a church purchases material, it still might choose to add their own portions.
“We revise—OK, let’s be real—rewrite all of our curriculum,” said Dawn Willig, lead kids pastor at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland. “We have a kids curriculum writer on staff who works 15 hours a week on revising our curriculum. We adapt it to something that fits all four of our campuses (big and small ones). We also tend to double-check the theology and add more digging into Scripture every week.”
Mountain completely writes their own lessons for a special series once or twice a year, matching the children’s programming with the sermons being preached, Willig said.
Even when not writing their own curriculum, the majority of churches adapt the resources they purchase to fit their needs. In fact, only two respondents of our survey noted that they didn’t adapt. Some ministers noted slight tweaks, while others described heavy editing.
“Our kids team evaluates and adapts, as needed, so that the content and activities line up with our theological viewpoints, demographics, social environment, class size, and space,” said Leah Lynch, resource coordinator for kids and students at Kingsway Christian Church in Avon, Indiana. Their ministry uses a combination of Orange and Go!
“We do adapt the material (if needed) to make it more child-friendly and engaging,” noted Geraldine Thomas, Sunday school superintendent for Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, which uses curriculum from Urban Ministries.
Megan Pinkerton, children’s minister at Canyon Springs Christian Church in Middleton, Idaho, uses Dig In. She noted, “We do several adaptations of the material. Most of the changes we make are for style (large group, small group). We have made only one theological change in the two years we have used this curriculum.”
Adapting for Resource Needs: Overall, children’s teams need to adapt to match their ministry size, available supplies, and the number of volunteer leaders.
“I don’t want to buy 18 things for one lesson, so I’ll rework activities for the supplies we already have,” said Jen Dunning, director of children’s ministry at Arundel Christian Church in Glen Burnie, Maryland, who uses Orange. “At other times, I have to connect the dots for new teachers to show them how the activity goes with the topic of the lesson—they may not be as savvy at tying things together. And sometimes it’s a stretch!”
“We adapt all the time,” said Julie Nilsen, children’s pastor for Academy Christian Church in Colorado Spring, Colorado. “For our large church, customizing the crafts/activities is a must.” ACC uses both Orange and Tru.
“There are always way more resources available than we actually have the ministry size/volunteers to utilize,” admitted Samantha Pierce, next gen pastor at Verve Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. “I do our editing, and it’s mostly for time and based on how we can actually execute everything with excellence. For example, the curriculum offers multiple crafts and activities; we narrow them down to ones that will actually work in our environments.”
Adapting for Theological Needs: The most common adaption for Christian church children’s ministers is adding baptism as a topic. Among users of Orange curriculum, 12 percent specifically told us they add in baptism, while 5 percent of ministers who use other curriculum specifically add baptism.
“We have to add in baptism,” said Sarah Chapman, elementary director at Connect Christian Church in Concord, North Carolina, an Orange user. “We add to the curriculum by making sure we connect stories back to Jesus and offering the plan of salvation. I meet with my family ministry team to help when we need to supplement our curriculum.”
Phil Summers is not only director over the elementary-aged kids at True North Community Church in Bohemia, New York, he is also on staff with Orange. But even he has to adapt the curriculum. “Orange is pretty in line with our church’s approach to relational ministry and leveraging the stories of the Bible to see how God is working in us to change and impact the world around us. We do add things like baptism, Communion, and giving into our conversations with the kids.”
Adapting for Educational Needs: Other ministries change the curriculum to make it more basic, because the majority of the children walking through their doors are starting from scratch—and so are their parents.
“I appreciate a lot about Orange, but I can tell it’s written in a different part of the country,” noted Johanna Beachy, family life director at Manchester Christian Church in Manchester, New Hampshire. “Sometimes they make assumptions about stuff our kids would know already that they don’t. The reality up here in New England is that we’re still teaching a lot of them who Adam and Eve are and who Jesus is. In both the preschool and elementary level, we have to add explanations to stuff that our kids (and their parents!) don’t know yet. Finding a mature believer who is confident about teaching kids is a rarity here, so the videos are a great tool for our volunteer teams. Many of our volunteers are new to faith themselves. It’s an exciting place to be!”
Becky Baker, kids director for Mission Church in Ventura, California, finds herself in a similar situation using Orange and The Gospel Project.
“[We edit] both pretty heavily to match the culture of our church and community to meet our kids where they’re at,” Baker said. “Most of our kiddos don’t come from a foundation of faith in their families, and many come from really messy stories. Their parents/guardians are figuring this all out for the first time too! So, we take what we buy and view it through the lens of that kiddo to make it work for us. We primarily use the scope and sequence and videos from the publisher and modify or create everything else on our own. We have two part-time curriculum coordinators who edit, adapt, and add to what we buy to create a format, style, and content that works for our families and volunteers.”
Besides adapting specific content, many churches find that a combination of curriculum options fits the different children’s services they offer: 30 percent of the churches we talked to use more than one curriculum (including writing their own as that additional option). Some choose a more seeker-friendly curriculum for worship services and then select a deeper dive for the Sunday school hour or Bible study class.
THE BEST OF THE REST
The Gospel Project by Lifeway rounded out the top of the list for children’s curriculum choices, with 17 percent of churches purchasing this curriculum alone or in conjunction with other resources.
One church, however, recently moved away from The Gospel Project because it became time-consuming to pick and choose from all the activities.
“They just give so many activity options (high/low energy games, low-prep activities, crafts),” said Jenny Ross, children’s minister at Catalyst Christian Church in Nicholasville, Kentucky. “I like the options, but it is work to wade through the 18-page lessons and cut about half the content.”
Other materials that got honorable mentions were: Dig In by Group, Grow, Gospel Light, and options offered through Children’s Ministry Deals—5 percent of churches used these for at least part of their services.
A few churches mentioned HeartShaper and Tru by David C Cook, while one-time mentions were given to Urban Ministries, Jesus Storybook, Faithweaver (Group), Disciplr (David C Cook), Hillsong, Go! and Empowered Living.
A SPRINGBOARD FOR MINISTRY
Mary Rosado, children’s minister at Timber Lake Christian Church in Moberly, Missouri, described the variety of resources she pulls from, then noted the additions her team makes to fit their ministry. Then, in four words, she summarized our findings: “Curriculum is a springboard.”
With all of the moving parts involved in children’s ministry, we know you are acutely aware that curriculum is just one tool in your box. The best materials are meant to support the gifts and talents God has given you to serve his kingdom and move you forward.
Our prayer is that you will find the right resource fit to build you up, provide you with ideas, and offer the fuel you need to raise up the next generation of Christian leaders.
Kelly Carr, former editor of The Lookout, enjoys sharing and shaping people’s stories as a writing and editing consultant in Cincinnati, Ohio (EditorOfLife.com).