As you think about the fall small group boom, one of the best ways to recruit new leaders is with a church-wide campaign or small group in a box. We’re just going to talk about curriculum in this post, but curriculum alone won’t get big results. You also need strategy. Add to strategy, prayer. Then, you’ll have something.
Campaigns or alignment series can be rolled out in several different ways. I see sort of a Good, Better, Best in the approaches:
Good – Purchase a video-based curriculum that your pastor promotes.
Better – Purchase a video-based curriculum that aligns with your pastor’s sermon series and that your pastor is willing to promote.
Best – Create your own video-based curriculum with your pastor’s teaching. Not only will your pastor promote groups more enthusiastically, but your people will respond more enthusiastically.
What Curriculum Will You Use?
Will your church purchase curriculum or create curriculum? If you purchase curriculum, then you need to plan for $70-$100 per group. Creating curriculum varies widely as you’ll see below.
Will you sell the curriculum to the group members? I recommend providing the video and a study guide to the group leader at no cost, then charging the group members for their study guides at cost or less. Also, plan to give away a few study guides to those who cannot afford them.
If you are purchasing curriculum, what platform carries the video? Once upon a time, we bought DVDs at $25 each. That adds up. Is there a curriculum on Right Now Media, Studygateway, Amazon Video On Demand, or another source? If so, your current subscription might already cover the video costs. Otherwise, you’ll have to rent or purchase the content. This adds up quickly.
Creating Your Own Curriculum
The methods of creating curriculum vary widely. I’ve helped churches develop video-based curriculum with budgets ranging from $25,000 – $50,000 or more. I’ve also coached churches who created their curriculum with an all volunteer team or even shot the video with an iPhone. It all worked. It just depends on how you want to work it! Here are a few things to consider:
Who will produce your video? A professional videographer, a wedding videographer, your in-house production team, your volunteer team, you and your pastor (that’s how I produced my first one!), or an iPhone user? There are pluses and minuses with each option. Hiring outside expertise can cost a lot of money, but also guarantee a finished product on time. In-house production teams can save money, since the church is already paying them, but you are at the mercy of the 156 other projects on their list. The same flexibility goes with a volunteer team. They may have the skills, but they’re moonlighting. Patience is required. You have to allow plenty of time (read: If you’re shooting a fall campaign with staff or volunteers, start now!)
What equipment do you need to purchase or rent?
Where will you shoot the video? Is there a cost? (I recommend shooting in a large home and NOT at the church).
What are the costs of feeding the crew? A fed crew is a happy crew. A hungry crew will think twice about your next project.
How will you provide the video to your groups? Streaming on Youtube or Vimeo? DVDs? You can also stream your videos through your Right Now Media account.
Creating Study Guides
Will you produce a physical study guide or provide a digital download? If this is a major launch, then a physical study guide in people’s hands will show the effort you put into the study. For any other launch, a download will do.
Who will design your cover? You are not a designer. Don’t design your own cover.
How will you print your books? On demand printers like Kindle Direct Publishing or Ingram Spark charge about $2.25 each for a 120-page study guide whether you purchase one copy or 1,000 copies (plus shipping). You do need to allow 30 days for printing and shipping. You could go with a conventional printer, even a local printer, but to get $2.25 per book, you’d have to order 2,000 copies. And, if you need more copies, the price goes way up!
The most affordable way to deliver curriculum is with streaming video and a digital download. There are no costs. This is perfectly suitable for regular seasons and semesters. For major group launches, the extra effort of producing a physical book will create more interest in your church and net huge dividends.
As you work through these questions, you will find clarity for planning and budgeting your next church-wide campaign. If you need any help, I have produced curriculum for a wide variety of pastors and churches including Rick Warren, Dr. Tony Evans, Chip Ingram, Gene Appel, and many others. For more information, click here.
Elliot Diaz has served at Manna Church, Fayetteville/ Fort Bragg since March 2013. He has served as the Small Groups Pastor, and is currently the Site Pastor of the Cliffdale Site and is a member of the Lead Team. Manna Church is a multi-site church of over 2800 people in weekly attendance led by Senior Pastor, Michael Fletcher. Elliot is a 19 year Army veteran, who currently serves as a Chaplain in the North Carolina National Guard.
With so much curriculum available from so many great authors, why would anyone undertake to write curriculum for their church. While you may not achieve the production levels of some professionally produced curriculum out there, unless the speaker or teacher is very well known, chances are you’ll have to introduce them to your people anyway. But, when you create curriculum with your pastor and your teaching team, your people will become very excited about getting more of what they already like – your pastors’ teaching!
I’ve written a lot of small group curriculum over the years. Just to show you that I know what I’m talking about, I’ve created curriculum for Chip Ingram, Doug Fields, John Ortberg, and even Rick Warren. (Now, all of these guys might not have known that I was writing for them, but I did). Starting from our home-grown campaigns for our church in California to writing a weekly sermon discussion guide for our church in South Carolina to creating video-based studies for churches across the country, I’ve found that writing your own curriculum gives you some great advantages.
Write from Your Church’s Doctrine and Teaching.
While there’s a lot of great curriculum out there, some of it comes from a very different doctrinal perspective. While Calvinists and Arminians might agree on a few things, once they start debating doctrine, they just might end up losing their salvation! Pentecostals and Fundamentalists will struggle with each others’ teaching. While you can use curriculum based on a different doctrinal viewpoint, you’ll spend a lot of time explaining away things that don’t fully agree with your beliefs. Rather than working around doctrinal issues in curriculum, when you write your own curriculum, you create resources that teach what your church believes.
Reflect Your Church’s Vision and Values.
Every church is unique. You have a unique culture. So many factors come into play in the makeup of any church: region, ethnicity, age, history, personality, vision, values, passion, and so many other things. Your church is not like the church across the street let alone a church across the country.
Your curriculum can reflect your church’s uniqueness. You can write about what your church values in your curriculum. You can reinforce your vision statement in the curriculum. You can base the objectives and application of your lesson on where you want to lead your church. You shouldn’t follow someone else’s vision. Write about your own.
Curriculum is expensive. I remember at my church when a new Beth Moore series was released, I’d have five or six groups requesting a copy. At about $200 a pop, I wasn’t buying six copies. I think I settled on two copies. They either took turns or shared.
Even in a scenario where group members pay for their own books, there are still costs for streaming video or DVDs (although DVDs are slipping away…finally). And, even with books, the church ends up paying for the leaders’ books and for group members who can’t afford a book (as they should). And, there are always overages. As much as a small group pastor tries to look into the crystal ball and accurately predict the exact number of books to order, you always order too many. This also takes from your budget. Oh, and did I mention this was only for one alignment series or one semester. There’s at least 30 weeks total to cover!
By creating your own curriculum, you can save a great deal of money. The most affordable and easiest way to distribute curriculum is by digital download. You just create a pdf of your lesson, then either upload it to your church’s website or email it to your leaders. There are no physical materials to distribute. You can even create a teaching video and put the link at the top of your pdf.
If you’d prefer printed books, then print-on-demand is a simple and affordable solution. Services like Kindle Direct Publishing or Ingram Spark allow you to print your books for about $2.25 each (120 page study guide with a color cover and black and white pages). Whether you order one book or a thousand, the price is the same. You do need to plan in advance and allow about 2-4 weeks for shipping and delivery.
Writing your own curriculum will definitely save you money.
Publish It Anywhere You Want.
When you write your own curriculum, you can post your curriculum online. You can email it to your group leaders. You can sell your books on Amazon. You can print your books on-demand. Since the curriculum is yours, you can do whatever you want with it. If you do this with somebody else’s curriculum, you’re breaking the law.
Writing your own curriculum gives you flexibility. You can offer the study to your groups for free, and then sell it to other churches. You can make your studies available online and suddenly serve the global church. They no longer need to wait three months for study guides to arrive by boat.
Writing your own curriculum gives you flexibility in distribution, a possible revenue stream, and it keeps you out of jail! Whether groups are meeting in-person or online, this alleviates the difficulty of distribution.
Writing Your Own Curriculum is Not Difficult.
Like anything else curriculum writing seems difficult before you’ve done it. Personally, I’m a self-taught curriculum writer (and I earn a living at it). Once you master the basics and put in the practice, you are well on your way to becoming a curriculum writer yourself. You can test your curriculum with focus groups in your church to get their feedback and improve your studies. You can find someone to edit and proofread your studies. You probably already know someone who can design your cover and layout you pages. (If you don’t, that’s not so hard either).
Are you ready to get started?
In fact, in my Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop, you will learn to write great questions, write sermon discussion guides, write complete study guides, and write to make disciples. Not only will I teach you how to write and organize your studies, I will give you assignments, then offer my feedback on your writing. This is not a course. This is a WORKshop. You have to work! If you’re ready to jump in, the Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop is enrolling now.
A new year often brings new motivation to get your life in order. The problem with most New Year’s resolutions, however, is that people try to change too much all at once. They want to lose weight, pay off debt, read their Bible through in a year, whiten their teeth, get more exercise, get more sleep, and wake up earlier. Before long their resolutions go by the wayside and reality sets in. The gravitational pull of their default way of living is just too strong. We do the same thing in the church.
As a child, my family went to church a lot. Every Sunday included a Sunday school class, morning worship, and a Sunday evening service. We also went to Bible study every Wednesday night and a lot of other meetings and activities in between. This was the pathway to Heaven, wasn’t it? But from a spiritual growth perspective, all of these meetings and services didn’t help people grow spiritually.
Every week we received a Sunday school lesson, then a sermon that had nothing to do with the Sunday school lesson. Then a Sunday evening sermon on a completely different topic plus a midweek Bible study that added a fourth thing to think about. In all likelihood, however, the lessons from Sunday had been forgotten by Wednesday.
If success was measured in the amount of time spent at church, we were successful. If spiritual growth occurred in terms of lessons learned, then we were well on our way to becoming spiritual giants. Yet, the reality is no one can make four significant changes in a week and certainly not over 200 changes in year. We’d probably see more progress working on one thing over 30 days.
Today, in many churches, Sunday school, the evening service, and the midweek Bible study have disappeared. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For most people, it was too much to absorb anyway, let alone actually apply to their lives. Too much information interferes with change. But, information is only one aspect of making a change. This is why I see the genius of sermon-based studies.
They Take Their Weekend into Their Week.
Most preachers are painfully aware that sermons are usually forgotten within the first 48 hours. People are busy and distracted. The information they gain on the weekend is quickly diluted by all of the other information they receive. How can people work on something when they can’t even remember what the something was?
By creating sermon-based studies, small group members can revisit the topic from the weekend and be reminded of what they heard. It’s amazing how quickly the teaching will come back. Some churches will include a 5-8 minute video to get the discussion started. These videos can easily be produced on a smartphone and uploaded to Youtube. While the message is still fresh in the pastor’s mind, record either a supplement or a summary of the sermon to help the group get started.
They Get to Discuss and Apply the Sermon.
Sermons are created for listeners, not participants. This makes sermons passive. While some people are auditory learners, people with other learning styles won’t retain as much unless they’re given an opportunity to discuss and apply the teaching.
By offering 5-6 discussion questions based on the sermon, group members can work out what the sermon means to them and how to apply the teaching to their lives. Remember, our mission from Jesus is “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, NIV), not just teaching commandments. Sermons should inspire people to change, but the real work of change happens with a smaller group of people.
They Can Set Goals and Seek Accountability.
Once the group understands what they need to change, they should be challenged to set goals for themselves. The goals can be as simple as “Based on this lesson, I will take the following step in the next week.” Then write down the goal. By setting objectives for the next week, the group members can turn intent into action.
Ask group members to partner up and check with each other between meetings. Knowing that someone is going to ask will often motivate people to move forward. If someone hasn’t met their goal, then they should be encouraged to try again. Accountability can also be built into the sermon discussion guide by simply asking about the group members’ progress at the beginning of the next meeting.
Disciple-making that Involves the Senior Pastor Brings Success.
Both the senior pastor and the church members will be more interested in small groups when the studies are connected with the pastor’s sermons. Pastors are more interested in groups because they are delving deeper into the teaching. Any pastor would be encouraged to have a discussion of the sermon that extended beyond Sunday lunch. Pastors will become more interested in groups when the groups are involved in what interests them. They might even refer to groups in their sermons by saying, “Hash this point out in your group time this week.” That will certainly raise the profile for groups.
Anything the senior pastor is involved in will get the attention of the congregation. If the group study is based on the pastor’s sermon, then members will be very interested in hearing more from their pastor and being part of something their pastor is leading. It’s a win/win.
Sermon-based Studies are Not Always for Everyone.
While I believe there is a certain genius in connecting the sermon to the small group study, you also have to take into account the fact that group members are at very different places in their lives and spiritual maturity. Simply put — not everyone needs the same things. Have enough flexibility to allow for exceptions when groups need to study something other than the sermon.
Church-wide campaigns offer another opportunity to connect sermons and studies. The purpose of campaigns, however, is to recruit new group leaders more than anything else. While there are spiritual growth benefits to campaigns, the biggest gain is in new leaders and new groups.
Consider writing a sermon discussion guide for your groups and see the impact it gives. If you don’t have time to write one personally, then form a team to help you. For more information on creating sermon-based studies, enroll in the Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop. A live version of this workshop starts on Thursday, January 16, 2020 and runs for four Thursdays.
Today, we are introducing DIY video curriculum. Fifteen years ago I learned the power of video-based curriculum when our church doubled our groups in one day. After seven years of handpicking leaders and begging them to raise up an apprentice leader, our groups were stuck. My pastor was headed into a series that I quickly piggy-backed on to launch groups. We found a study guide on the topic, but there was no video component. We knew that if our pastor put the teaching on video, we could equip disciples to make disciples.
But, the reality is that every church does not have the capacity to turn out curriculum series after curriculum series as momentum builds for groups. DIY Video Curriculum takes the hard work out of producing curriculum. The study guides are written. The video scripts are written. Churches just need to shoot the video with their pastors. The level of production is entirely up to the church. Some churches shoot with an iPhone and upload the videos to YouTube. Other churches will shoot with multiple cameras, stream the videos, and create DVDs. The key is not the production. The key is your pastor.
Why Create Video Curriculum?
Peak Your Pastor’s Interest in Groups.
Several years ago, we were coaching a church’s team on how to create video-based curriculum. They spent a full day recording the pastor’s teaching, and planned to write a companion study guide for their groups. This was a lot of work, but they were committed. Then, something happened that surprised the team.
The day after the video shoot, the pastor pulled us into his office and said, “We’ve recorded these videos. We are writing this curriculum. How are we going to recruit leaders and connect people into groups?” Their discipleship pastor later confided that he had been trying to get his senior pastor interested in groups for two years and basically got no where. Now after a day of shooting video, their pastor was very interested. When pastors invest in creating resources, they will become the champion for small groups in the church.
Energize Your People’s Interest in Groups.
If church members are not connected to each other, the reason they attend a church, other than Jesus, is because of the senior pastor. They like the pastor’s style. They laugh at the jokes. They like the pastor’s personality. Warning: Don’t mention this to your worship pastor. It will break his heart.
What we discovered in our church in California as well as churches we’ve coached across North America is when the congregation is offered exclusive video teaching from the pastor, they are getting more of what they already like. Members want to hear from their own pastor more than they want to hear from a nationally-known teacher. By offering the pastor’s video-based teaching, members have a great incentive to start groups and to join groups.
Empower Your People to Make Disciples.
When members are invited by their senior pastor to get together with their friends and do a study, they are more than willing to follow their pastor’s lead. Some churches we’ve coached have actually connected twice their worship attendance into groups. By offering an easy-to-use video-based curriculum, people who gather groups don’t need to be Bible experts. The pastor is the expert. (And, the church doesn’t have to worry about what the groups are teaching, because the church supplied the teaching). The video also reduces the amount of preparation time for the person leading the group meeting. People are busy. An easy-to-use curriculum will eliminate one more excuse for leading a group.
Why Don’t Churches Produce More of Their Own Curriculum?
Here are the short answers:
Some pastors feel they must produce the next 40 Days of Purpose.
With the pastor preaching every week, there is no time to write scripts and create curriculum.
Publisher-quality materials are time consuming to create.
How DIY Video Curriculum Can Help.
The scripts are already written. The pastor just needs to personalize them.
The books are already written and professionally designed.
The videos can be shot all at once or a week at at time.
With so much curriculum available on the market today, why write your own curriculum? Curriculum from publishers is written by professional, well-known authors. It has been thoroughly edited and proofed. The curriculum is designed and printed. All you need to do is buy it, right? While you can purchase the right study with the right topic (and without the work of creating your own), there are some distinct advantages to writing your own curriculum.
Integrate Your Church’s DNA into the Study
Published curriculum is written based on someone’s else’s doctrine, point of view, and even denomination. If those things align with your church, then published curriculum should be the way to go. But, even if the curriculum comes from your denomination, doctrinal statement, and point of view, it won’t reflect the vision and values of your church. Every church is unique. Even churches in the same tribes vary widely according to their region, their culture, their setting (urban, rural, suburban), their demographic, their ministry approach and so many other things.
You can hang your church’s mission statement on the wall, where everybody can see it, but few will remember it or live it out. Or, you can bake your vision and mission into every lesson your group members study and help them better apply your church’s vision and values to their lives.
Some churches will even name the main sections of their curriculum template after their church’s values. Let’s say your church’s mission is summed up as Connect, Grow, Serve (which is a great assimilation strategy, but is not a discipleship strategy. Read more here…). The icebreaker section of your curriculum could be the Connect Section. The Bible discussion could be the Grow Section. And, the application questions could be the Serve Section. This is not a great example, but you get it.
In order to reinforce your church’s values and take your people deeper into your church’s interaction with the community, writing your own curriculum will remind people of where the church is headed. Vision leaks. Your curriculum can recast vision on a weekly basis.
Motivate Your People to Do and Not Just Talk
A great deal of published curriculum focuses on a knowledge-based approach to discipleship. Don’t get me wrong. God gave us a book and a brain. That’s not a coincidence. Reading and studying the Bible is important. But, living out what the Bible says is even more important. After all, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
Often published curriculum leads people into gaining more knowledge about the Bible and a greater understanding of the meaning of the text. But, is it changing their lives? D.L. Moody put it this way, “The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.” If your people are growing in knowledge, but lacking in transformation, there is a problem with how they are studying the Bible.
By writing your own curriculum, you can help your members set weekly goals for themselves, participate in specific community projects, or take on an assignment to apply your Bible study where the rubber meets the road instead of where the rubber meets the air.
As Howard Hendricks said, “Most believers are educated well beyond their level of obedience.” By writing your own studies and directing your members toward lesson outcomes that focus more on obeying God’s direction rather than outcomes focused on mere education, you will take them closer to Jesus’ instructions to “teach them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).
Include Future Leader Development
Curriculum does not need to serve just the single purpose of Bible study. You can integrate leadership development into each study. Rather than spending hours training group leaders to develop apprentices, you can put the leader training directly into the group study. Write questions that will help group members get further involved in the group. Nothing is off limits. Ask group members, in the lessons, to share responsibilities for the group like facilitating the discussion, leading a prayer time, opening with an icebreaker, hosting the group in their homes, bringing refreshments, organizing a serve project, or planning a social event. Group leaders can delegate everything they are currently doing to the group members. The only thing they can’t delegate is the responsibility for the group.
By including these instructions in the actual lessons, even if the leader is reluctant to ask group members to participate, the curriculum asks for them. If you provide a sign up sheet or calendar for group members to record their assignments, then it’s all set. The leader no longer has to carry the entire burden of serving the group. The members will feel greater ownership for the group. Future leaders will be identified and developed to lead future groups.
You have to do this yourself. Very little published curriculum includes small group leadership strategies as part of the lessons.
Reduce Your Curriculum Costs
Published curriculum is expensive. The average study guide will range from $8-$20 per person. While that’s merely the price of a good cup of coffee or two, for some people and for most budgets, curriculum costs are expensive. If your curriculum is video-based, then you’re probably shelling about another $25-$35 for DVDs or streaming video. Fortunately, this is not the only way.
By creating your own curriculum, you can output your lessons as a pdf and upload your videos to Youtube. There is very little cost. If you want to up the ante and provide a professional looking study guide for an alignment series or church-wide campaign, services like Amazon’s CreateSpace offer print-on-demand services. For instance, my All In study costs $2.34 per copy. You can publish books on Kindle for free or upload video to Amazon Direct Video and not charge anything.
Creating your own curriculum will not only reduce costs, but will provide flexible formats for your groups. For more information on creating curriculum teaching videos, go here.
Keep What’s Important in Front of Your Groups
Publishers care about providing quality resources to help your group members interact with God’s Word. They use very gifted, well-known teachers and speakers to produce these resources. They can do a lot of things that most church’s can’t. But, there is something they cannot do.
Publishers cannot customize their curriculum for your church. But, you can. As I stated before, you can integrate your church’s mission, vision, and values into every lesson. You can lead your people toward serving your community by including details of upcoming outreach events in the lessons. Even better, you can lead the group through a discussion on serving and outreach with your serving opportunity as the outcome of the lesson. You can train your group members to become group leaders by including your leadership training in the actual lessons instead of a page in the appendices of your book.
I’m not saying to avoid published curriculum. But, I do want you to consider the possibilities of writing your own curriculum. It’s your responsibility to lead your people, not a publisher’s responsibility.
I am offering a 4-week Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop. We start on May 7th! This is a WORKSHOP, so it’s interacgtive, and there are assignments. I will give you personal feedback on your writing. For more information, click here.