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Why Not Write Your Own?

Valerie Van Kooten

Thinking about writing your own curriculum this year? Read this first.

Lisa Burney didn't think she'd be able to find a vacation Bible school curriculum that would work for 350 kids. As minister to children and families at Highland Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, Burney found that her congregation had always written its own curriculum in the past, so she decided to try it herself, too. And why not? Burney has a master's degree in curriculum instruction and 10 years' experience in children's ministry.

"It was taking a lot of time," she says about writing the massive program. "We wrote it -- I had a few people helping me -- but going into that first day of vacation Bible school was nerve-racking as to whether or not it would go over." Burney says she never had a chance to try it out beforehand. 

What would you have done in Lisa's shoes? If you're like the 18 percent of churches that write their own curriculum, you probably would've done exactly what Burney did. Would it have been the right decision, though?

Not according to Children's Ministry Magazine.

And, yes, the magazine creators are part of a company that publishes curriculum series for all kinds of church programs and all ages. They have a bias. That's why they hired me -- a freelance writer -- to dig into this touchy topic.

Those same folks, though, are also passionate about ministry to children, and that makes them ask these questions: Is writing your own curriculum the best use of your gifts, talents, and time? Is it the most effective way to reach today's kids?

Take a look at the six big reasons you might not want to write your own curriculum -- from people who've tried it.

Publishers have checks and balances to spot gaps and problems in curriculum.

Burney says while writing their program, she and her team worried about potential misses.

"You wonder about the content: Did I get those principles into their heads to make a lesson work? Is it age appropriate? Will the teachers be able to apply it?" she muses. "Is there a good enough balance between the children experiencing the lesson and getting the head knowledge they need? Will they be able to interact with each other and the instructor? In short, who's giving the litmus test here?"

Kimberley Rowan, director of Elementary Kids Ministry at Cumberland Community Church in Smyrna, Georgia, points out that issues also arise when theory isn't tested before  put into practice. Without field-testing, it's difficult to know which ideas won't work.

"We discovered that a lot of the lessons looked great on paper and didn't work as well in the classroom," Rowan says. "It took a lot of extra work to get it all fleshed out."

Publishers employ a variety of knowledgeable writers and childhood experts with years -- often decades -- of research and experience. They also provide curriculum that can be "tweaked," says Katie Peterson, children's ministry leader at Third Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. And tweaking is a great option.

"We've sometimes found it necessary to add some of our own materials because our church does have its unique mission in raising up child disciples that plugs into the overall theme of our church," says Peterson. "Finding the right mix of curriculum is crucial."

Another issue is whether what you've written applies to your teachers' teaching styles. Rowan discovered this when her ministry team members found they weren't happy with the curriculum they were using and decided to write their own. 

"I was writing curriculum that went along with my husband's and my teaching styles and didn't think about the fact that other teachers weren't going to be able to adapt this to their own teaching styles," Rowan says. "I'm a writer and graphic designer and thought this would be simple." It wasn't.

Most children's ministers aren't trained to write an effective curriculum.

Just because you've worked with children for years, or you're a parent, or you're a good writer, doesn't mean you can write a curriculum that's orderly, systematic, and workable.

Jonathan Fletcher, children's pastor at Manna Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, found that out when he worked with a team to write a curriculum for his church's Sunday school classes.

"I can't communicate enough that there are teams of professional people trained to write, trained for education, trained to understand learning styles, and who can create something linearly laid out so that it follows a framework you're trying to build overall," says Fletcher. "Otherwise you might get a week of baptism and then a week of Daniel in the lion's den."

"I can read the Bible and find something that'll be applicable for a child," he says, "but making it systematic, making it work from week to week can be a problem. It was a big mistake for us."

Think about it: Would you want every history teacher in your schools writing their own textbooks? That's best left to professionals.

Even people like Burney, with education, experience, and training in curriculum writing, say writing their church's curriculum was a mistake.

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