If you’re a Sunday school or children’s ministry director, you understand the importance of a good Sunday school curriculum. It’s the extremely rare leader who has the time to put together their own lessons, crafts, and resources. Eventually you will find yourself having to choose a curriculum.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, this can be completely overwhelming. With so many choices out there, it can be difficult to know where to even start. When you begin looking at various curriculums, you quickly notice that many of them use the same language to describe themselves, and they contain many of the same elements. While most of them are wonderful in their own right, it’s important to know if they’ll work for you and your church.
The key in choosing the perfect curriculum lies in knowing what questions to ask (otherwise you end up trying to pick out resources based on the happiest stock-photography kids). Like most daunting tasks, preparation is the key. If you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for before you begin, you’re going to be spinning your wheels.
We’re going to help you focus on the most important factors to consider when you’re perusing curriculum. You can download a free copy of this visual guide at the bottom of this page.
Essential factors in choosing a Sunday school curriculum
One of the first questions you need to consider when looking at a curriculum is whether or not it is in line with your church’s theology and vision. The goal of every church is for all people to be growing in the same direction. So if you teach in a Reformed church, it’s important that your curriculum reinforces your theology—or at least doesn’t undermine it.
If you are the director in a denomination that creates their own curriculum, this part of the decision becomes a lot easier. It’s also helpful if you’re part of a non-denominational church that aligns theologically with a particular denomination.
Some denominations that provide their own curriculum include:
The Children’s curriculum is available for three age groups: Preschool/Kindergarten, Primary (grades 1–3), and intermediate (grades 4–6). For each group there’s three years’ worth of material.
Other Episcopal-friendly curriculums include:
- Godly Play: This Montessori-based curriculum is intended to help kids explore their faith through story and enhance their spiritual experience through wonder and play.
- Lesson Plans That Work: These lesson plans are written by experienced teachers using practical approaches and respond to the needs of volunteer teachers. They’re designed to follow the Revised Common Lectionary and are published by the Episcopal Church.
- Seedlings: This curriculum in the Episcopal tradition has been specifically serving the needs of smaller churches for over 35 years.
- Weaving God’s Promises: This downloadable, three-year Episcopal curriculum is for children and middle-school-aged youth.
General Association of Regular Baptists
Regular Baptist Press was founded in 1952 to produce distinctly Baptist curriculum. This includes:
- Little Sprouts: To introduce babies and toddlers to God
- Planting Faith: Available for ages 2–3 and age 4–kindergarten
- Growing Faith: A two-year curriculum for grades 1–2, 3–4, and 5–6
- Living My Faith: For Jr. high students grades 7–9
- Real Life: Helping high school students get grounded in their faith
The most familiar Lutheran resource is probably Augsburg Fortress’s two-year curriculum, Witness. It is dedicated to the mission of “learning from the Bible to live the good news.”
While not specifically Lutheran-based, the following curriculum from Sparkhouse is a wonderful addition to any Lutheran Sunday school:
- Spark—Activate Faith: This is a three-year curriculum with fall, winter, and spring quarters in each year. The lessons correspond to the Revised Common Lectionary.
- Holy Moly: This innovative curriculum for kids from Kindergarten– 4th grade combines videos, creative activities, and biblical teaching. The resources can be purchased as a unit or individual lessons can be purchased separately.
- Connect: For grades 5–6, Connect takes kids through the Old Testament and into the New exploring important biblical stories and principles.
- Whirl: This three-year curriculum for kids from Pre-Kindergarten–6th grade is centered on the Revised Common Lectionary.
Presbyterian Church USA
Growing in Grace & Gratitude: Deeply rooted in the foundation of the Presbyterian identity, Growing in Grace & Gratitude focuses on the elements of grace and gratitude as the heartbeat of all faith, life, and worship. It is available for classes of toddlers (ages 3–5) all the way to 10-year-olds.
If your theology and practice align with Presbyterian church, you might also appreciate:
- Presby Youth: Categorized by age, liturgical season, and biblical theme, this downloadable quarterly curriculum is for tweens, younger youth, and older youth.
- Feasting on the Word: This curriculum is for all ages from Kindergarten–adult. It’s available in both print and downloadable options and is focused on the Revised Common Lectionary.
Reformed Church of America
Faith Alive Christian Resources is the publishing arm of the Reformed Church of America. They provide resources with the mission of calling people to follow Jesus Christ by helping people understand, experience, and express the good news of God’s kingdom that transforms lives and communities worldwide.
Their curriculum resources include:
- Dwell: Pre-Kindergarten–eighth grade
- Kid Connection: This Kindergarten–sixth grade curriculum is specifically designed for small Sunday schools and midweek programs.
Lifeway Christian Resources creates the Sunday School curriculum for the Southern Baptist Convention. These curriculum resources include:
- Bible Studies for Life: This children–adult curriculum provides compelling Bible studies that focus on real-life issues.
- Explore the Bible: These book-by-book studies are available for all ages.
- Flyte: Created for preteens, this curriculum not only focuses on biblical concepts, but also on important issues.
- The Gospel Project: Available for all ages, the Gospel Project follows a three-year chronological study through the entirety of Scripture.
Cokesbury, publisher of United Methodist resources, calls its flagship curriculum Deep Blue. With products available for babies (something you don’t see too often) through older-elementary children, Deep Blue’s aim is to teach children what it’s like to be a disciple of Jesus today.
If you’re unsure whether your denomination produces a curriculum of their own, you can check their website. If they don’t have their own curriculum, they’ll sometimes suggest appropriate curriculums.
Another factor you might want to consider when choosing a curriculum is the Bible translation being used. This might be a make-it-or-break-it issue for some churches who prioritize a specific translation, or other churches who wish to teach from a more familiar sounding translation.
Here some translations being used in popular curriculums:
- Answers Bible Curriculum—NKJV
- Bible-In-Life—NIV (available in NIV & KJV for adults)
- Children Desiring God—ESV
- Deep Blue—CEB
- Echoes—NIV (available in NIV & KJV for adults)
- Faithweaver NOW—NIV
- Group’s Buzz—NLT
- Hands-On Bible—NLT
- Joyful Life—KJV
- KidsOwn Worship—NLT
- Living Inside Out—NLT
- Regular Baptist Press—KJV & NKJV
- Scripture Press—NIV & KJV
- Tru—NIV & KJV
Unified Sunday school curriculum
Your church may find it helpful to have a unified or synchronized curriculum. In this model, everyone is studying the same biblical lesson suited for their age and understanding.
Many churches like this model because families are growing in the same areas, and can discuss their individual perspectives on the same passages.
Here are examples of some curriculums using this model:
Answers Bible Curriculum: The Answers Bible Curriculum is a chronological, three-year Sunday school program. Its lessons cover seven age groups ranging from preschool through adult—starting at Genesis and running through Revelation.
Bible-in-Life Curriculum: This curriculum features unified lessons from elementary through high school. The adult material follows the ISSL (International Sunday School Lectionary).
Faithweaver NOW: On their website, Group describes Faithweaver NOW this way: “With FaithWeaver NOW, family members explore the same Bible passage in age-appropriate classes so each week the same Bible truth is fresh on everyone’s heart and mind. You’ll actually see families grow stronger in their faith together.”
Generations of Grace: Created for kids from three years through sixth grade, Generations of Grace covers the Old Testament historical books, the life of Christ, and lessons from Acts and Revelation.
The Gospel Project: Described as a curriculum designed to unify an entire church under a single Christ-centered curriculum, this multi-generational program is intended to help a church learn the Word together.
Lectionary based curriculum
A lectionary is a collection of scriptural readings intended to be read in public worship, or used for other study and theological purposes. The Revised Common Lectionary, published in 1992, follows the liturgical year in a 3-year cycle, and complements seasons in the liturgical year; Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.
Maybe your church follows the Revised Common Lectionary, and you’re looking for a Sunday school curriculum that follows along with the readings. This includes curriculums like:
Feasting on the Word: This ecumenical curriculum explores lectionary passages in ways that are suitable to students of all levels.
Living the Good News: One of the strengths of Living the Good News’ curriculum is how it’s updated every year. Available from preschool through adult, serves mainline denominations that use the Revised Common Lectionary in worship.
Ministry-to-children.com: If you’re looking to augment your Sunday school lessons with more lectionary based material, Ministry-to-Children offers material about specific Bible characters, as will as stories and craft ideas to supplement Lectionary teaching.
Seasons of the Spirit: Seasons curriculum runs through the ages 5–adult. Their encore resources follow a pattern of focus, prepare, gather, engage, respond, bless, and reflect.
Spark Lectionary: This three-year curriculum corresponds to the Revised Common Lectionary, combining worship and Sunday school for five age brackets (age 2–grade 6). You can also check out Whirl from Sparkhouse.
International Sunday School Lessons
Extremely popular in evangelical churches, the International Sunday School Lesson (ISSL) series takes students through the Bible in a 6-year program. Originally conceptualized in the 1800s as the International Lesson Curriculum, the ISSL calendar encourages Christians in many different churches to study the same passages, at the same time.
Here are a few curriculums using the ISSL calendar:
Bible-In-Life: Mentioned earlier as a unified curriculum, Bible-In-Life is unified around the ISSL calendar.
Bible Lessons for Youth: This curriculum is designed for middle and high school students (grades 7–12).
Echoes: One of the most widely used curriculums in African American churches for the last 20 years, Echoes is a Bible-based and Christ-centered curriculum with a 4-step learning cycle:
- Why is this important to me?
- What does the Bible say?
- How does this Bible passage work today?
- What am I willing to do with what I’ve learned?
R.H. Boyd Publishing: Boyd’s curriculum includes age-appropriate lessons and teaching books and is developed with the International Sunday School Lessons. Lessons capitalize on the latest educational trends and theories.
Standard Lesson: This is one of the major sources for Sunday school material that follows the International Sunday School Lesson. Each quarter contains 13 weeks of Sunday school lessons, including verse-by-verse Bible exposition, discussion questions, and ready to use resources to enhance study.
Other logistical considerations
You’re going to want to pay close attention to the average lesson length. Is the length of a typical lesson going to fit the time space you’ll need to fill?
If it’s too long, will you be able to cut stuff out without diminishing the important elements? Can some crafts or lesson elements you’d need to cut be recycled for other classes or events?
You may really love the content in a particular curriculum, but it might run a little shorter than the time you have to fill, or perhaps children’s church runs alongside the adult services and they have a tendency to run over. Does the curriculum you’re considering have additional elements to augment that time? If not, can you have games or activities to make up for the shortfall?
Another thing that you’re going to want to factor into your decision is how the curriculum adapts to the space you have. Is it a curriculum with a lot of kinetic activity and you’re in a small portable building next to the church?
If you’re in a church plant or a home church, who knows what kind of facility challenges you’re facing. You might be in a garage, a basement, a kitchen, or an attic. You might be teaching kids in the most un-kid-friendly environments.
As you look through the curriculum, think about how how it matches up with your facilities. Maybe you have plenty of room for activities but very little room for storage. These things need to be considered when looking at the curriculum samples.
Now it’s time think about your class. What are the sizes of your classes? Their ages? What class format is best for you?
Succeeding as a smaller church
The average church size in the United States is 89 adults. That can translate to a handful of various-aged children. Trying to find curriculum solutions when you don’t really have enough kids for multiple classes of varying ages can be a challenge. How do you run a class with early elementary children and middle schoolers?
Depending on how the classes break up in numbers, you can always invest in a curriculum for the younger kids and have the older kids help facilitate the classes. If done right, this can be just as, if not more, helpful for the spiritual formation of the older kids than if they had their own class.
Adaptability is also an asset in the smaller church. Even the smallest churches typically have budgets for children’s ministries. If you can find and adapt free Sunday school lessons, and use the budget on better resources, tools, and crafts, this can be a big win.
Group’s All-in-One Sunday School series can also be a big help. These four volumes provide creative class ideas for classes that range in ages from 4–12. These books also set you up to succeed by teaching you what to expect from different ages, how to help kids from multiple age groups work together, and explain the wins in having older kids serving the younger kids.
Cokesbury also offers a One Room Sunday School curriculum that’s set up to instruct kids from 3–middle school. It includes Bible study, Bible lesson application, and age-appropriate activities.
Does your church have children with special needs? Are you prepared to minister to visiting families that include kids with special requirements or needs?
Lifeway not only has curriculum available, but they also have lessons to help train your leaders to adapt their teaching styles to kids with:
- Hearing impairment
- Learning disabilities
- Nonverbal or speech impaired
- Physical disabilities
- Visual impairment
The Inclusive Church, a website dedicated to helping churches include children with special needs, has a list of ideas for using established curriculum for the benefit of all children, regardless of ability. Make sure to read the comments; they have many other helpful suggestions.
Standard’s HeartShaper curriculum includes suggestions to help cater every lesson to children with various special needs. This puts HeartShaper on a short list of curriculum I would suggest to most churches who’ve made inclusivity a priority in their Sunday school. It’s refreshing to have a major publisher considering the fact that classes are unique and require teachers to serve children with various abilities and needs.
After kindergarten, most curriculums are aimed at grade levels rather than age. When you’re looking at curriculum samples it’s important to think through the maturity level of your classes as a whole.
The maturity of middle-school-aged kids can vary wildly, and the class will take on its own, collective maturity level. Every curriculum has a different maturity level in mind for lessons and activities. Make sure it matches yours—or is at least adaptable.
Some outstanding curriculums for younger children include:
Tru: Available through Disciplr, Tru has their TruBlessings curriculum for three-year-olds, TruWonder for preschool/kindergarten, and TruStory for elementary-aged students. With a strong focus on empowering families and starting children on lifetime journey of spiritual formation, Tru is providing powerful content for Sunday school teachers.
What’s in the Bible: The buzz on this curriculum from VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer is huge. Its goal is to increase biblical literacy in kids grades 1–4. They offer free activities and video clips to give you a flavor of the curriculum’s content.
Hands-On Bible Curriculum: Group, a respected creator of Sunday school curriculum, has tried and true curriculum material for kids from toddler age through sixth grade.
Others of note:
Youth and teens
Curriculum for older kids and teens include:
Encounter: Standard calls their curriculum Bible-based, culturally relevant, and personally challenging—and it is. The curriculum is aimed at young teens (scope & sequence) and high school (scope & sequence).
Explore the Bible–Students: This book-by-book Bible study equips students for personal study. This is a great launching point for training teens to begin making themselves responsible for their biblical study. (One month preview)
TeenSundaySchool.com: This division of Teen Sunday School Place has scores of free lessons available for teen-aged students. Categories include: Old Testament, New Testament, life application, special interest, and special occasions.
Others of note:
Space issues and class sizes can have an impact on the best way to run classes. It’s nice to be able to bring all the kids together for music and/or story time and then break into smaller/ age-appropriate groups for more practical application and discussion.
When you are looking at curriculum you’ll notice that the formats are generally “classroom” and “large group/small group.” The classroom format (generally younger kids) keeps the kids together in one classroom for the majority of the lesson, while the large group/small group format brings the kids together for certain elements and then breaks them into smaller groups for more focused time. This works well if you have a lot of kids but some classes are smaller, or you have facility needs that might make this a wiser choice.
Some examples of large group/small group curriculum include:
Video and music play a big part in many curriculums. It can be hard to harness the energy of a room full of first graders, and a good singalong or engaging video can be just the thing you need to get them to focus.
You have to be careful because these elements can really make or break a curriculum for kids. Let’s be completely honest; church kids’ programs are in the unenviable position of competing with the best the world has to offer in media that children consume regularly.
The media you’re using doesn’t need to be at that level, but it shouldn’t detract from the whole point of gathering which is to point kids to Jesus. Other than impatient volunteers, very little can turn kids off of Sunday school like dated, cheesy media.
On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want media that outshines the rest of your time. Part of overcoming this challenge is in training your volunteers to be engaging and strong teachers. The media’s only job is to reinforce their engagement in, and understanding of, the lesson.
Make sure you can check out some samples of the video and music before you invest in a curriculum.
Do your facilities support media?
Another question you need to ask is whether or not your facility is ideal for a media-based curriculum. I still visit churches that are crowding 20 kids around a 20’ tube television strapped to a wheeled cart or listening to worship music on tiny, tinny CD players. If that’s what your facility currently has available, that’s fine! But maybe it’s not the time to focus on curriculum that’s really media heavy—or maybe it’s time to start a drive to get new media players donated to your children’s ministry.
Examples of media-driven curriculum
- Tru: For every age group, Tru’s curriculum is bolstered by strong, thoughtful, expertly created video.
- Kidamazoo Studios: This fun curriculum supplements their lessons with high-quality videos and dramas.
- EmpoweredLiving: The philosophy behind this curriculum is “to provide a consistent, creative and age-appropriate curriculum that includes fun and focused learning.” An important element of that lies in the addition of video components.
Print, digital, interactive
For years, the tried and true Sunday school curriculum format has been print. Churches would invest in printed curriculum from publishers and volunteers would pass around a dog-eared lesson book.
Digital curriculum made acquisition of curriculum much easier. Users could go online and download the materials immediately. They still needed to be printed out, but you could print exactly what you needed and you didn’t need to worry about tracking down the book—or replacing it if it was lost or damaged.
Interactive curriculum, the kind you’d find at Disciplr, is formatted and restructured to be used digitally from any device. It provides customizable options and even autopopulates a shopping list from the lessons so you know exactly what you need. Publishers can update their lessons at any time, and in the end, it’s a more cost efficient curriculum format.
Many curriculum publishers offer different pricing strategies. It’s wise to keep in mind the pricing structure that works best for you—and your budget.
Some material, like Group’s Hands On Curriculum, is purchased in one kit per quarter. Many curriculums are more subscription based, can be purchased monthly, quarterly, or annually, and are tiered by the number of students.
Supplementing your own material
If you’ve been leading children for a while, you have a pretty good handle on what resonates with your kids, your teachers’ strengths, and how to grow your children’s ministry in line with your church’s vision and priorities. Sometimes that’s going to mean tailoring your lessons to meet your needs.
There’s probably no curriculum that’s going to meet all of your needs, and it’s important to know when and how to make the changes that will make purchased curriculum perfect for your kids.
If you’re a strong teacher with a biblical background, this could be as simple as adding in lessons and material of your own. But if that’s not an area you feel comfortable in, don’t worry! Supplementing curriculum is as easy as finding and archiving awesome material.
Never lose an idea
Here’s a brief plan on how to ensure that you never lose an amazing idea.
- Find a tool to keep track of your ideas
The most important thing you can do to make good Sunday school curriculum great is have a tool where you can easily archive and recall all the amazing ideas you come across.
There are tons of free note tools that sync across all of your devices that you can use to keep track of stuff you discover. You can use Google Keep, Evernote, Trello, Microsoft OneNote, or any other note taking tool.
The most important part is setting up a system that will enable you to find what you need—when you need it. That can be as simple as starting individual notes for games, lessons, and craft ideas. And then tagging them with the elements that might make them helpful later. Those might be:
- Appropriate Bible verses
- Bible characters
- Game types
- Emergency ideas (you never know when you might have to entertain kids longer than you expected)
For instance, let’s say you open up your curriculum material for a lesson on Noah’s ark, and you don’t really like the way this lesson is laid out, but you remember that you had seen an amazing lesson a couple months ago. You can simply find notes you have made where you tagged Noah or Genesis 6–8.
The key is to have a system where you can save an idea, and never have to worry about it again until you need it.
- Set aside time to find material
There are tons of great children’s ministry blogs out there. Find the ones you really like, bookmark or subscribe to them, and follow them regularly. If you find suggestions you love, put them in your notes.
You can simply set up an hour a week to read material online (start with ministry-to-children) and build up your reservoir of great ideas and materials.
- Start networking with other leaders
Are there other churches with incredible children’s programs? Have coffee with their directors and find out how they handle curriculum. They might have ideas or tools you’ve never even dreamed of!
I know cold calling someone you don’t know and asking them to meet can feel like a huge, intimidating hurdle, but it might be one of the most advantageous things you can do. You’ll likely find that they’re more than happy to share their ideas and methods with you—and be flattered you asked.
You can ask them questions like:
- What kinds of curriculum do you use?
- How do you find and keep track of your lesson ideas?
- Do you have favorite resources or influencers you follow?
- Are there curriculums that haven’t really worked for you? Why?
There you have it! When you’re ready to start considering new curriculum, here are a couple of the questions you need to consider first:
- What curriculum has the church been using? What are the pros and cons of continuing with this curriculum?
- What is my budget?
- How many classes/students do I have now? What is the goal over the next year?
- How much prep can I reasonably expect from volunteers, and what curriculum is going to best facilitate that?
- What challenges, if any, do I have to consider in regards to my facilities?
Make sure that you spend time perusing sample lessons and materials from all the curriculum you’re considering!
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