The Difficult Task of Selecting Curriculum for Children’s Ministry

Over the past year, I took on the daunting task of creating our own curriculum with the Jesus Storybook Bible as the main resource for the children’s ministry that I lead. While this is an excellent storybook Bible for kids, I call the task daunting because the curriculum that goes with the JSB is rather lacking. If you want to learn more about that experience, check out this post. You can also download a huge number of free resources that I created to go along with the JSB on my Jesus Storybook Bible Free Resources page. With the help of my ministry assistant and some key volunteers, we made it happen, and God really blessed this 1-year journey through the Bible, but it is quite an undertaking to create a curriculum for an entire children’s ministry. While I loved the experience, I feel that as we wrap up the Jesus Storybook Bible and move on to something new, I need to devote more time to other areas of ministry. So I have spent countless hours the last few months looking at dozens of different curriculum possibilities. I am sharing some of my experiences and observations here, and I am writing another post that reviews my top curriculum choices.

CAST VISION BEFORE SELECTING RESOURCES

As a church leader, I have found that if you do not have vision for the future of your ministry, then you are just treading water. This is true whether you work with kids, young marrieds, recovering addicts or seniors. Vision is key, and vision should come through much prayer and petition before God. When I began my current position, it became clear to me that the children’s ministry needed to be firmly grounded in God’s word, and it needed to better incorporate parents as the greatest spiritual leaders in the lives of the kids here. That is why I selected the Jesus Storybook Bible last year. I knew it would be a great tool for parents to use at home, so I worked hard to make our Sunday program supplement what I hoped parents would do at home.

After more than a year, this vision has not changed. Whatever curriculum we use, whatever we teach, whatever events we have, they are all designed to supplement, help and support parents as the main teachers, spiritual leaders and disciplers of their own kids. While the vision remains the same, we are taking a different approach this go-around. The Jesus Storybook Bible was great, but it only has 44 stories, leaving out tons of great stuff from the Bible. This time we are taking a 3-year approach to learning the Bible. As I set about finding a good 3-year curriculum, I had many frustrations along the way.

SHALLOW CURRICULUMS

I commend any person or company who devotes their time, energy, money and careers to producing ministry resources for churches and families, however I have been rather disappointed with many of the curriculum choices out there. The curriculums that disappoint me the most do not come from no-name publishing companies, but they are actually some of the most popular, best-selling children’s ministry curriculums on the market.

My biggest frustrations are with Group Publishing and Orange. Yes, that is correct. This may be shocking to the thousands of children’s ministers who speak glowingly of these companies, but I am actually expressing my concerns with the 2 biggest and most influential publishers of teaching resources for kids in the church.

LOTS OF FLASH, NOT ENOUGH SUBSTANCE?

To be fair to both Group and Orange, these companies are doing some pretty great things for the Lord. Group publishes the best magazine (Children’s Ministry Magazine) for KidMin leaders, and Group creates the best VBS programs out there. I not only use Group VBS every year, but 99% of the worship music videos we use are from Group. So here is my problem with Group… they have every resource at their disposal… they have a staff full of creative minds who love the Lord… yet they cannot seem to produce a Sunday School curriculum that makes sense to me. I do not say this from an outsider’s view, but as someone who has used multiple Group curriculums.

The Hands-On Bible Curriculum seemed good for awhile because it had some fun ideas to capture kids’ attention. It focused on letting kids experience the story with sights, sounds touch… basically it was sensory learning. I love sensory learning, but once you get past the cool gadgets and gizmos, you are left wondering where this curriculum is taking the kids. It was not teaching anything blasphemous or doctrinally unsound, but it had no real sense of direction other than helping kids experience the stories. Can the kids not experience God’s story AND see how all the smaller stories tie into one greater narrative at the same time?

*While I would not use the Hands-On Bible Curriculum again for a whole program, I think the Hands-On Bible and My First Hands-On Bible products are fantastic for families.

My church was using Group’s Living Inside Out curriculum when I arrived, and not one of the teachers was pleased with it. They felt that the lessons and activities did not properly match up with the various age group labels. With a little effort, those lessons can be adjusted to fit different ages, but the real issue is that the curriculum is so random. It just jumps all over the Bible with no apparent rhyme or reason. This is what I have found with lots of curriculums available today.

DOES ANYONE ACTUALLY TEACH THE WHOLE BIBLE TO KIDS IN ORDER?

I tried… I really, really tried to like Group’s Sunday School curriculums because I am a fan of so many other things the company produces. I have talked to multiple customer service and sales reps both in person and on the phone about the Faithweaver (recently rebranded as Faithweaver NOW) curriculum options. I had high hopes for Faithweaver when I first discovered it because it is Group’s only curriculum that focuses on the 2 things I think are most important to a children’s ministry:

  1. It teaches the whole Bible.
  2. It focuses on the whole family. It is expandable to every age group so that everyone in the family is on the same page. This is great for home Bible studies or family devotionals.

My problem with Faithweaver is not its content. I have never had the chance to actually use the curriculum, but the scope and sequence appear to be pretty solid. It goes through the whole Bible in 3 years, alternating quarters between the Old Testament and New Testament. I have mixed feelings about alternating quarters this way, but maybe I’m just being picky? Anyways, this curriculum has a lot going for it from what I can tell. The problem is Group’s firm stance on forcing you to buy the current quarter of curriculum. They will not let you go back and buy something from last year. Also, the curriculum begins with King David instead of Creation.

If our program is beginning a 3-year journey through the Bible, it only makes sense to start “In the beginning…” Group Publishing does not agree with this simple logic, and they want to force you to follow their re-ordering of the Bible. So while this curriculum teaches the whole Bible, it teaches it in a weird order that just does not make sense. There is no option to buy the curriculum in the order you want.

DOES ORANGE EVEN TEACH THE BIBLE?

Orange is the latest, greatest thing in KidMin and family ministry. It is so popular that churches of all denominations are labeling themselves “Orange Churches.” It is well funded, well made, organized and nice to look at. It is always seeking to remain relevant by providing cutting edge music and resources. The creators and leaders of Orange bring decades of children’s ministry experience. I have KidMin friends who swear by Orange.

On the surface, Orange sounds like a home run. It is even a leader in the long-needed trend to focus on whole families instead of creating a Mickey Mouse church model.

With Orange, the church is red, the family is yellow, and as both sides work together, they make orange. This strategy is woven into their teachings. All these things are great, and Orange is a HUGE step in the right direction. However there is one HUGE, glaring weakness that I cannot overlook.

Orange wants to be the curriculum that is used from toddlers to high school seniors, yet it is totally theme based and not scripture based. There is of course a time and place for theme based lessons and series, but if you want my church to put our kids through 16 years of your curriculum, you better teach the Bible. Orange does not. It teaches Biblical principles. It teaches stories from all throughout the Bible. I am sure over the course of several years the whole Bible is taught, but not in any order that allows kids to see how it all ties together.

GOD’S WORD SPEAKS FOR ITSELF

Orange makes things a little too complicated. Kids will have a blast, and families will feel encouraged at Orange churches. But when it is all said and done, I worry that the most important thing is left behind… God’s word. With these curriculums God’s word can easily become secondary. God’s word should be first and foremost for any curriculum and any church program designed to teach kids, teens or adults. There is no other way. Orange has the infrastructure in place to lead a huge movement, but it is a movement that will die out if it is not firmly grounded in scripture. Any shallow teachings of the Bible will fade away, leaving shallow Christians who feel good for awhile because it’s a great experience but then have no depth to their understanding and no roots to their faith. As for me, I want more for my family, and I expect other Christian parents to want more as well.

For that reason, I will not use Orange’s curriculums for the ministries I lead. For those churches that love Orange, please be careful to make sure you are providing opportunities for kids and teens to learn the whole Bible and to see the whole narrative of God as it plays out from Genesis to Revelation, continuing still today.

God’s word truly does speak for itself. It was designed that way by a pretty awesome God. All those themes and character traits that Orange and other curriculum companies love to push, they are naturally taught throughout the Bible, and in context. Any curriculum should be designed to bring people into the Bible and help people understand God’s word better, not to supplant the Bible as the main teaching resource for the church or education program.

IS THERE A PERFECT CURRICULUM ANYWHERE?

No, there is not, but there are some truly outstanding curriculums that put God’s word first. Read my next post for my findings and reviews of children’s ministry curriculums that teach the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation in chronological order.

  • Chris

    Thank you for the confirmation! I was having the same problem, but did not have time to do much research. You have given me some much needed direction.
    May God continue to bless your efforts!

  • Nate Bristol

    Make sure you are informed when writing negative review of other people. Orange just did a one year walk through the whole bible. Plus their curriculum is very biblical and kids walk away knowing the Word of God and applying it to their lives. Don’t fool yourself that your personal curriculum is better than the hundreds of God fearing people who love Jesus. They put together high biblically based curriculum that meets children and students at their cognitive-developmental level. Chronological order is not the basis of Christian education.

    • Charele Raport

      Have you seen the films they show in large group time? Kids don’t get the goofy spoofs on words–old time costumes but standing in modern kitchens…..it’s so confusing!! They had a skit where the reporter had a goofy name that was a play on words that only adults would understand. The kids did not laugh. And as Charles Stanley says, “i’m not here to entertain you–i’m here to instruct you.” Amen. Plus, the small group activities are childish for 5th graders–we skip them and try to come up with stuff to make them think–not mix vinegar with baking soda so the foam goes over a cup and simulates taking down the walls of a city!!!! What is biblical about this? Who has time to set up and clean up stuff like that? We want them to READ THE BIBLE with us and learn Scripture. It’s only one hour out of their week–time well spent assuring their salvation. This is not a time to play. We dislike the Orange curriculum and are very unhappy using it. It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes–nobody will say it stinks. 🙁

  • Nate Bristol

    Chronological order is not the basis of Christian education.

  • K4C

    I loved finding this review. Thank you! I can’t seem to find one that fits us. What we need is worship time, a lesson based on scripture and/or our Bible lesson, and then a short video on the Bible story to help visualize. I don’t have the staff or volunteers to do what the latest and greatest curriculums follow: large group, small groups, have characters pop in and do a skit, etc. Any suggestions welcome!

  • Lori Deason

    Thank you! I just started teaching preschoolers using the Orange curriculum.I find the lessons too abstract for this age group. Bible stories told using video or puppets mix real and make believe. There is too much emphasis on group time and little or no hands on individual learning. And the curriculum teaches concepts instead of scripture. I’m very frustrated but our staff is enamored of the bells and whistles so I’m getting nowhere

  • Lori Deason

    And this morning I was told that anyone who knows how preschoolers lean does just fine with the Orange curriculum. (I’ve been a preschool teacher for 40 years). I did finally track down the publusher – it’s Andy Stanley’s church. It puzzles me that everybody just dived right in without knowing where it came from.

  • Kim

    I was in the same place and after much prayer and searching decided to give Gospel Project a try. I have never been so sold on a curriculum and cannot wait to plan my lessons each week. It has helped my teen leaders to understand scripture, how it all fits together, how to see Jesus in the Old Testament and it is also providing challenging content for my teachers. We just recently added the NEW preschool curriculum (the old was way over their heads) and my coordinator says it is fabulous. Have you had a chance to look at this?

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! My wife and I were asked to take over the Kids Church at a young, growing church in our town. While looking for a curriculum, we were recommended Orange and given a free trial for a good many months. It looked good at first. I loved the graphics, slides, and video clips, however, after a few months I began to express my concerns to my wife. She was noticing it too. We kept asking each other, “Where is the substance?” There was none. What I noticed is that they liked to take good, moral concepts to formulate a lesson around them. “Love your neighbor,” “Be kind to others,” “Share,” “Use your talents for good,” “Cooperate with others…, etc, etc. These are all great concepts and excellent values to teach your kids, but they aren’t anything they won’t see or hear from the latest Pixar movie or any show on PBS Kids. So, since we only have kids for 1-2 hours a week in front of us at church, do we really just want to rehash common values that they’ll pick up elsewhere? No! That’s not what I want to do with my time. I’ve got them for a short time and I feel responsible to teach them firm, biblical principles. Principles that will help them grow deeper in their christian faith as they move through kids church into youth group. Sure we can be trendy and hip, and make sure we act ridiculous enough to entertain the kids – this is what Orange pushed in their “Fluff” curriculum – but at the end of the day, it just felt weak and empty. There were some Sundays that after the lesson, kids would raise their hands and ask me deep questions such as, “Does God still heal?” and “What if we pray for someone and God doesn’t heal them?” We even had one little girl, one of our regulars, ask who the devil was. I realized that in almost 6 months or so of teaching Orange, I had not even addressed any of this. I had not even talked about the devil and how dangerous he can be to our walk with God. All I had done was taught them to be kind and cooperate. I finally made up my mind that I would no longer teach Orange, I could not teach Orange and feel good about it. It, to me, is irresponsible and gives these kids nothing to grasp onto. It’s like feeding your kid Captain Crunch for every meal and not offering them any meat or vegetables. Yeah it’s good at first, but after a while you start to crave something more. Thank you for being so honest about this as I just spend an hour with my pastor the other night trying to convince him that Orange is not the best curriculum to be continuing with. I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed it’s flaws and I thank you again for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

    • RL Durham

      I felt the same way! I just wanted to cry when I would read the lessons. Our Great God deserves the glory, and all I was teaching was good morals. There can be no good morals with lasting change without the Gospel. I want my kids to “love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength”. Out of that, they will overflow with love for their neighbors.

  • Ginny Thompson

    Thank you for this! I’m a KidMin volunteer, having recently changed churches. I’ve been given several curricula to use, but Orange has been the “go-to” for both the last church and where I am now. UGH! Every week when I get these lessons I ask, “where in all of this does it show the nature of God and our relationship with Him? Or the grand theme of redemption?” Nope, not this week. But I can make sure my kiddos are certain to hear to how to be kind to others. Again.

    • Berenice Lorena Gaertner

      exactly! no substance.

  • Berenice Lorena Gaertner

    I was happily attending a church until they introduced the Orange curriculum. I happened to be serving that first day and my personal opinion is that Orange is an invite to get lost in a lot of nonsense…Dancing silly just because… the videos. Oh my…
    I’m totally open to fresh and contemporary but I think the story must be told as is. Using easy language is enough. Using weird pretending fun nonsense content it is not. Although I liked the Church, I do not like the new Orange curriculum. I will have to flee. Next church I go, my first question will be: Do you use Orange? If answer is yes, then Next!

  • Janeen Carioti

    I’m curious to know if you’ve ever used “DiscipleLand” curriculum and what you thought of it?

  • RL Durham

    Thank you so much for this article!
    I came on staff as a campus kid’s ministry director last year, and Orange was what we use across two campuses. I tried. I really tried. But I had to pitch it when they had a song all about “I Can Have Joy” for Christmas last year that NEVER MENTIONED GOD OR JESUS!! It was basically a secular humanist anthem about pulling yourself up by your boot straps and choosing to have joy. And this was for Christmas! How can you write a Christmas “worship” song about joy that NEVER MENTIONS JESUS??? I just died inside. What are we teaching our kids in the one hour we have? We are supposed to “make the most of every opportunity”, and Orange does NOT do that. I just prayed and have been making up my own lessons since January 2017, which I cannot really recommend as a long term solution. We have continued to use it for the Pre-K class, but I am shopping now for the new year.
    I am REALLY impressed with Answers Bible Curriculum. I can’t wait to pitch it to our lead pastors as a way to TRULY do family discipleship. On top of that, it is way more affordable, and you don’t “lose” lessons if you decide to take a pause and do something else for a month. If adults, teens, and children are all studying the same things, then even though they are not together during the church programming, they will naturally be able to talk about what they are learning together as a family. This is what I thought Orange would do when I first heard about it, and was so disappointed that the different age group lessons are absolutely unrelated to each other. The take-home sheets are a great idea, but how much better to allow discipleship to occur in the course of everyday conversation, because the parents know all their children are learning the same things they are?
    And best of all, I believe Answers Bible Curriculum will TRULY equip our kids to combat the worldview they are battling outside the church walls every week.
    Thanks for letting me share my thoughts!