We Couldn’t Find Curriculum That Met Our Children’s Ministry Needs . . . So We Created Our Own (and We’ve Made It Available to You)!
By Larry Cramer
My two daughters have grown up in church. Whether it’s on a Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, or any other day and time, my daughters have always attended a church experience built just for them. I am speaking of Next Gen programming . . . specifically, kids’ ministry.
Over the years, we have seen many changes in kids’ ministry, including changes to curriculum. While churches have many great options, as a kids’ pastor, I look for curriculum that is Christ-centered, fun, and developmentally appropriate. Questions I ask include these: What activities are offered for each age group? How many supplies do I need to buy? Does the curriculum challenge my volunteers and kids to take “next steps” with Jesus? Is it easy to use? How much time is required to make the curriculum work for us? Does it include worship videos (with lyrics and motions)? Can I share it online? Can the curriculum be used to help partner with parents during the week?
At Christ’s Church of the Valley, we asked all those questions as we searched for curriculum, but we couldn’t find one that seemed a good fit. Everything we looked at was Christ-centered, for sure, but some did not dive deeply enough into what we believed. All of it seemed fun and tried to be age-appropriate, and it all seemed developmentally sound. Most of the choices had great suggestions for activities, but some would have required additional expenditures—quite large expenditures—to gather all of the supplies, and that just wouldn’t work. We also would have needed to spend hours changing the content to make it work for us, so that was less than ideal.
In light of all these things, we decided to start producing our own content. But what does that even mean? What does it involve?
For starters, it meant we needed lesson content writers for each age group. We had to get actors (staff and volunteers, mostly) to help create our videos . . . and a producer to make sure the videos are exactly what we want. We have a video team that films and edits all the videos. And throughout this process there are numerous meetings involving countless hours. All of this ensures we are putting together the best content possible for our kids’ ministry. (By the way, we are happy to share the curriculum we have created, for free, with any other church that wants to use it. For more information on that, see the end of this article.)
By creating our own curriculum, the win for our kids’ ministry is this: We create an irresistible environment so kids connect with Jesus, their friends, and the coaches (CCV’s name for volunteers).
We divide our content into two areas: Early Kids (3-year-olds through first-graders) and Later Kids (second- through sixth-graders). We have separate mission statements for each area.
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How we define “ministry win” for Early Kids: Kids will leave our ministry having discovered Jesus.
In Early Kids, we establish the foundation for a curiosity about Jesus and God’s Word, and a foundation for a healthy and enthusiastic relationship with church. We take initial steps toward teaching kids how to be Christ-centered difference makers.
STRATEGY: We prioritize a fun experience that inspires curiosity and discovery of the Bible. Examples:
- The program aids coaches in facilitating a fun and integrative experience to spark curiosity and discovery for kids.
- We value and utilize education tactics; however, we resist the traditional “Sunday school” model many churches still use for kids. (Quite simply, church is not school.)
- CCV values transformation over information (or knowledge accumulation). For Early Kids, we emphasize teaching/learning Big Ideas (that is, foundational truths that will set up children for success later, as they discern trusting, following Jesus, and taking “next steps”).
- We prepare guides for coaches (i.e., volunteers) and videos emphasizing that kids understand key concepts of identity, relationship with Jesus, and what it means to follow Jesus, over retaining biblical plot points.
- Bottom line: our weekend experience can only provide moments and opportunities for long-term growth of our kids.
METHOD: Our content and curriculum is fun, engaging, and simple. It emphasizes that Jesus is amazing and that he loves us. Our scope and sequence for each year’s lessons is simple. We keep the following principles in mind:
- Provide a good variety of Old Testament and New Testament stories or passages.
- When possible, keep our yearly calendar and individual series chronological so that young minds begin to understand that the Bible leads us to Jesus.
- Address topics and themes that are relevant to kids.
- Repeat topics that always bear repeating (i.e., God loves you, prayer and Scripture, obedience, etc.).
- Series should inspire children to be in awe and want to learn more about God’s Word. This provides a thematic foundation to the writing of series content.
- Every series title should be simple, fun, and memorable (for example, “God Beats Fear!”).
- Most series will have an immersive theme, as we play into the sense of awe, wonder, and discovery we teach to Early Kids (for example, “Adventure Quest,” “Pool Party,” “Camp,” etc.).
- Every series has a Big Idea that typically carries through the whole series. For example, “God Is Amazing!”
- Big Ideas should be simple, memorable, and targeted at a young kid’s desire to experience new things, be in awe, and express themselves.
Guides for coaches should follow the same service flow each week to reinforce routine and predictability; this helps kids feel safe and secure. We aim to keep these guides simple, while still including enough activities to engage children in total physical response and fun, and to keep the attention of young kids.
We use teaching techniques that include total physical response and whole-brain integration to help kids understand God’s Word, no matter what their level of comprehension, so they can begin to apply it as they get older. These are the foundational teaching methodologies we lean toward in Early Kids; we use them to set up fun activities, so kids do not feel like they are learning or “in school.”
Written guides are designed to set up coaches to connect with kids, own their circle, actively participate, and challenge kids. We hope to ultimately create a space where coaches can have fun with kids, build relationships, and point young kids to discover Jesus.
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How we define “ministry win” for Later Kids: Kids will leave our ministry trusting Jesus.
We will know children trust Jesus when they begin to take these next steps:
- worship (they attend weekly and engage in personal prayer and Bible reading)
- serve (both at church and locally)
- share (they invite others to church and tell others about Jesus)
Most of these steps are always in process (as is the case with adults) and will vary with each child. So, we keep in mind that “kids trust Jesus” is an abstract goal. The kids’ coach/volunteer is key to achieving this goal more concretely by providing accountability through their relationship with the child.
STRATEGY: We prioritize a fun experience that inspires curiosity and discovery of the Bible. Among the ways we do this:
- We prioritize a fun experience that inspires and calls to action (primary actions being “next steps”).
- The program primarily inspires, and the coach calls kids to action.
- We value and utilize education tactics; however, we remember that church isn’t school.
- We value transformation over information.
- We seek transformation through fun and relationships.
- Bottom line: our weekend experience can provide only moments and opportunities for long-term growth of our kids.
METHOD: Our content and curriculum is simple and practical, emphasizing how amazing Jesus is and how to follow him. Our scope and sequence for each year is random and topical with these guiding principles:
- Provide a good variety of Old Testament and New Testament stories or passages.
- Emphasize the importance of the Bible to help understand Jesus and follow him. (We use this phrase almost every week: “If you didn’t know . . . the Bible is one big story that leads us to trust Jesus.”)
- Address topics that are relevant to kids.
- Topics should inspire kids to be practical and “go do something about it.”
- Every series has an internal overview “problem” and “answer.” This provides a thematic foundation to the writing of series content.
- Every series has the same, repeatable “main point.” These should be short, simple, and memorable. “Main points” are meant to inspire and call to action (primary actions being “next steps”).
Guides for coaches include the same service flow each week to reinforce routine and predictability; this helps kids feel safe and secure. We aim to keep guides for coaches simple, while still including enough activities to engage in total physical response and fun, and to keep the children’s attention. The guides are always simple, which syncs with our goal and strategy. (They are guides rather than thorough or exhaustive workbooks. Their structure is meant to anticipate and create moments for great discussion.) We acknowledge that having “great discussion” is both art and science, but discussions are essential in achieving the overall goal within the Later Kids ministry.
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The win for our weekend experience is this: We create an irresistible environment so kids connect with Jesus, their friends, and their coaches/volunteers. This is why we produce our own content. Your church should ask, What is our win? What curriculum will help us achieve our win?
To access the Christ’s Church of the Valley content for Early Kids and Later Kids, download it at https://open.life.church/partners/christ-s-church-of-the-valley. Content from other sources is also available via this open network platform.
Our content is also available via our CCV Kids YouTube page: www.youtube.com/c/CCVKids.
Larry Cramer serves as lead kids pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley, “one church in many locations” in and near Phoenix, Arizona.