Whether you are writing curriculum for a video-based study or a weekly sermon discussion guide, effective curriculum requires some dedicated steps and some finesse that comes from experience. Based on studies I’ve written for both churches I’ve served on staff as well as other churches and ministries, I want to share some of the things I’ve picked up over the years.
Every Lesson has Four Parts.
Bible studies consist of these four things: Ice Breaker, Observation Questions, Interpretation Questions, and Application Questions. Or, to put it another way: How are You? What does the Text Say? What does It Mean? What are You Going to Do About It? While some studies may appear to have more parts and pieces, it all boils down to these four. The purpose of an Ice Breaker is to get the conversation started. You want to ask a simple question that anyone can answer to get the conversation going. You don’t want an ice breaker just for the sake of an ice breaker. You want a question that will lead into the discussion to follow. A great resource for ice breakers is Cheryl Shireman’s What’s Your Story? Observation Questions are questions anyone can answer from the Scripture passage. (I am old school and believe that a Bible study should involve the Bible.) Questions can come from quotes or actions in the text. Even a question like “What jumps out at you from this passage?”can be a great start. These are the Who, What, and Where questions. The answers are the facts from the text. Try not to oversimplify these questions or else the group will avoid them. These questions are to help the group members dip their toe into the water. Interpretation Questions ask the How and Why questions. How do you feel about Jesus’ words? Why did the person in the passage react this way? The caution here is to ask questions that can be answered without knowledge of other passages of Scripture. If your questions assume the same vast Bible knowledge that you have, then you’re going to leave some people behind. If a cross-reference will shed light on the meaning of the passage, then add the cross-reference to the question. Don’t assume the groups know as much as you. Application Questions are the meat of any Bible study. In our mission to “teach them to obey” as Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20), practically applying what the group members are learning to their own lives is the most important part of the study. How does this passage challenge their attitudes? What action should they take? Encourage group members to take on an assignment or set a goal for them to live out the following week. Then, in the next lesson, after the ice breaker, check in on their progress. Create a template with these four parts. You can name them whatever you want to name them. If you write from a template, you never start with a blank piece of paper. For a sample template, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writing for the Entire Congregation is Tricky.
Every congregation is made up of a broad spectrum of believers. You have everyone from new believers to seasoned saints. You have people who perceive themselves as not having much to offer spiritually and people who pride themselves on their spiritual maturity. (But, how mature are they really?) You have members who have a strong command of Scripture, and you have people who are just discovering their Bibles have both Old and New Testaments. How do you write curriculum that will connect with every member in your church? Unfortunately, most curriculum is written toward the least common denominator. You don’t want to go over anyone’s head, so you write easier questions for newer, less knowledgeable believers. The problem is you leave out those who are well beyond the new believer stage. I have found that creating a section of the curriculum simply titled “For Deeper Study” meets the needs for those who regard themselves as “deep.” This could include questions based on cross-references to the text or questions assuming greater Bible knowledge. Deep is a slippery word. I don’t believe you need to parse Greek verbs to meet this need. You want to avoid writing lessons to what I call Bible connoisseurs who are searching for some nuance of the text they have never learned before. Read more here. To me deep speaks to deep application. How does the word penetrate my Christian façade and speak to my true self? What if Jesus was serious about what he commanded us to do? How should my life change starting today? You don’t want to leave anyone behind whether they have vast knowledge of Scripture or no knowledge. Creating different levels of questions in the curriculum will help you to bridge this gap. Explain to your group leaders that say the first 10 or so questions are for newer believers, but then the Going Deeper section is for more mature believers, then let them decide which questions are the most appropriate for their groups.
Integrating the Video in Your Curriculum Writing.
If you are creating video-based curriculum, then you need to provide links connecting the teaching on the video with the study guide. I’ve found that transcribing the videos with a service like Rev.com is very helpful in writing curriculum. Take exact quotes from the video teaching and put them into the study guide followed by a question. “In the video, our pastor said __________________. How does that statement impact what you think about _____________?” If you don’t refer to the video in the study guide, then sometimes the video can seem unrelated to the group study. I prefer to write the study guide after the video shoot. This way the video doesn’t change. It’s done. Then, using your template from #1, write your questions using the same passage(s) of Scripture, the teacher used and add some quotes from the video. If something wasn’t thoroughly covered in the video, then you can add material in a lesson introduction which should be read in the group meeting. Video-based curriculum is a great way to start discussion on a topic. The group leader does not need to be a Bible expert, because the pastor on the video is the expert. Video curriculum also makes the link between the pastor and small groups stronger. The pastor’s effort is meaningful to the group. For more on video curriculum, click here.
Training Your Group Leaders with the Curriculum.
Whatever you want your group leaders to do in a meeting should be stated in the curriculum. I prefer to put these instructions in every book rather than creating a leader guide and a student guide. I want group members to see how easy it is to lead a group and maybe they’ll lead a group on their own eventually. Leader instructions that are taught in a meeting or hidden in the introduction to the study guide will never make it into a group meeting. If you want the group to pray together at the end of the discussion, then add a question or statement about prayer at the end of the application section. If you want group members to take responsibilities in the group like bringing refreshments, hosting the group in their home, or leading the discussion, then add these instructions into the application section during the first two weeks of the study. If you want group members to invite more people to the group, then put that in the study. If you want group members to avoid spending time on prayer requests like “Please pray for my Aunt Gertrude’s big toe,” then add those instructions into the study. You get the picture. Leaders will be reminded if the instructions are in each lesson. If the leader skips something, then a group member will be quick to bring it up. And, in the process, group members will discover that they could lead a group themselves.
There is an art and a science to curriculum writing. Curriculum requires a basic structure to get the group to where you want it to go. Remember the four parts? Curriculum writing also requires the finesse to write for an entire congregation without leaving anyone out. Integrating quotes from video teaching will make your curriculum more cohesive. Training leaders and their whole group is another great way to cast vision for future groups and get the Word of God deeper into your members’ lives. Oh, and if all of this seems too much for you, then recruit a volunteer team of writers to help you. Don’t make any promises on what you will or won’t use, but ask them to help. Other paid services like Lifeway’s smallgroup.com can also help you create your own curriculum. There is nothing wrong with purchasing your curriculum. But, writing your own curriculum gives you the chance to encode each lesson with your church’s DNA and address specific things to your congregation.
By Doug and Cathy Fields If you’re a parent, most likely you joined the parenting ranks with good intentions and excitement. But then somewhere along the way, you lost your confidence. If this describes you — don’t worry — you’re not alone. Every parent struggles at some point because the truth is, parenting is difficult! After all, our children didn’t arrive wrapped in a how-to instruction manual. So it makes sense that most of us wind up relying on something we refer to as Quick-Fix Parenting, which is exactly like what it sounds — a quick fix to a problem. It’s not necessarily a good fix or a healthy fix or an empowering fix, and it’s definitely not an effective long-term strategy. At its foundation, Quick-Fix Parenting becomes about stopping your children’s behavior or the agony connected to it — which is often the your pain. It focuses on fixing your kid’s problem behavior, usually through verbal reprimands (often out of anger or frustration), negative instruction, and discipline for the sake of compliance. But using these quick fixes to solve problems does not help kids grow up to become healthy and independent young adults. So why do we resort to Quick-Fix Parenting? Most parents embrace Quick-Fix Parenting for the following reasons: • Their parents modeled it, and that’s all they know. • It’s easier, more convenient, and relies on impulse rather than intellect. • It can be effective in stopping and correcting a child’s behavior in the moment to quench potential conflict. So, how about you – do you frequently find yourself using Quick-Fix Parenting? If you do, that’s okay for now. Most parents start here… but we don’t want you to stay here. Instead, we’d like to suggest that there’s a better way to navigate through the parenting landlines we all face with an intentional approach. In contrast to Quick-Fix Parenting, which is reactive and spontaneous, Intentional Parenting is about having a long-term plan for how you want to parent your kids. All of us have dreams for our kids. And caring parents passionately want their kids to become a certain type of person — one that’s prepared and well equipped to succeed in life. But they won’t actually become that person unless we as parents first define what we want them to be like. To be an intentional parent, we would encourage you to make a plan for your children by beginning with the end in mind. Think about what types of qualities and values that you want you children to have by the time they get out of the house. Then, write them down. These qualities should be based on inner values and not outer performance (i.e. grades, athletics, popularity, etc.). For instance, we decided that we wanted our kids to possess the “5 C’s”: Confidence, Character, Convictions, Compassion, and Competence. Yours could be similar or completely different. What’s important is that you articulate the qualities you’d like for your child to embody. Deciding which qualities you want to instill in your kids for life will inform everything that you do as a parent, whether it’s being a role model, creating a peaceful home, using encouraging words, or providing discipline. We can’t promise that being an intentional parent will always be easy, but if you keep the end in mind and ask God to guide you along the way, you are on your way to having a huge, positive impact on the life of your child.
Doug and Cathy Fields Doug & Cathy Fields have been married over 30 years and have three grown children. Their primary passion and joy have been family, but along the way they spent their years helping others — especially young people. They have worked at both Mariners and Saddleback Church in Southern California for three decades as youth, family, and teaching pastors. Doug is an author of more than 60 books, consultant, co-founder of Downloadyouthministry.com, and he the Senior Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth & Family at Azusa Pacific University. Cathy and Doug speak together on marriage and parenting and have more information available at www.DougFields.com. For more information on Intentional Parenting pilot: allenwhite.org/ip-pilot
By Allen White Video-based small group curriculum has been with us for a while now. Early innovators like Rick Warren and the team at Saddleback Church brought the local pastor into the living room. Brett went on to found Lifetogether, which has sold about 4 million units of their branded curriculum to date. Many other video-based studies have followed and have succeeded. With all of the professionally produced video curriculum out there, why would a church want to create their own? While well-known pastors have produced some excellent studies, your pastor’s face on the screen presents some strong advantages for your congregation. A Group Study Aligned with the Sermon Helps People Take Their Weekend Experience into the Week. The hustle and bustle of life tends to edge out the Sunday morning sermon after a day or so. While some sermons are remembered better than others, most are long forgotten by mid-week. By providing small groups with studies based on the weekend message, the points made on Sunday can take deeper root. By creating space in the small group to review the weekend message via a short video (no more than 10 minutes), the group has a chance to review the points, ask questions, discuss issues, and make a specific application to their lives. Giving groups the opportunity to think about the message and what it means to them causes the group members to retain more. In groups they can involve more of themselves in the teaching. Rather than simply listening and maybe taking notes, group members can wrestle with hard questions and get the encouragement and accountability they need to live out the message.
Producing Your Own Curriculum Engages the Senior Pastor’s Teaching Gift.
A senior pastor without a teaching gift is not a senior pastor for long. This is the most public and most personal role of any senior pastor. Speaking is hard work. Even the most gifted teachers spend hours gathering material, studying, collecting illustrations, and polishing their messages. Once Sunday is finished, for most pastors, the countdown clock to next week’s sermon begins. The one they worked so hard on for this week is now a thing of the past. But, it doesn’t have to be. What if the pastor could sit down in a living room with his church members and teach them the part he couldn’t get to on Sunday morning? What if in that circle the pastor could share his heart about what the Bible passage means and what it would mean if people started obeying it? A video-based curriculum can breathe new life into a message destined for the archives. Not only will the congregation learn more, but the message will go farther through the group.
The Senior Pastor’s Involvement Elevates the Role of Groups.
For most churchgoers, the initial draw to a church is the pastor’s teaching and the music. As hard as the other church staff work in their roles, this is the simple truth. The senior pastor plays a highly significant role in the spiritual lives of his congregation. By connecting the small group study to the weekend message, you can leverage the influence of the senior pastor in leading his people to connect in small groups. Once the pastor has created a video curriculum, his next question will be “How do we use this? How do we recruit more leaders? How do we get people into groups?” Don’t you want your senior pastor asking those questions? What’s important to the senior pastor will be what’s important to the congregation. Bulletins, video announcements, website – none of these come close to having the #1 influencer in the church direct the congregation. When the pastor asks for people to host groups, people will host groups. When the pastor invites members to join groups, members will join groups. When E.F. Hutton talks… I learned this lesson over a decade ago. I had spent seven years recruiting and training leaders to find only 30 percent of our congregation in groups. But, the first time our senior pastor stood up and asked for host homes, we doubled our groups in one day. I never looked back. He did all of the recruiting and leading from that point forward. I have not recruited a group leader myself since 2004, even though I have served in another church since then. The Pastor’s Teaching on Video Curriculum Moves the Weekend Message Beyond the Church Walls. When church members invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives and others to join them for a church-produced Bible study, the senior pastor is introduced to many more people than actually attend the church on Sunday. In homes, workplaces, Starbucks and even commuter trains, the pastor’s teaching goes out to many new people. Often new people will meet the pastor via video before they meet him in person. But, the transition from the living room to the church auditorium now is not quite as daunting. New folks feel they’ve already met the pastor through the weekly group studies. And, don’t tell the group hosts and leaders, but they’re actually doing evangelism. Shhh.
A Simple Teaching Tool Puts Group Multiplication on Steroids.
A video curriculum is easy to use. In fact, someone who has never led before simply needs to follow the instructions. The teaching on the video provides the wisdom and expertise. The questions in the book provide the pathway for a great discussion. Pushing play and reading questions is not so hard. Think about this: every person in your church has friends. The people who are less involved in the church will actually have far more friends outside of the church. What if your church members each gathered a group of 8-10 people for a video-based study featuring your senior pastor? Could a church of 100 members reach 1,000 people? What about a church of 1,000 going after 10,000? What about a church of 13,000 reaching over 100,000? Is it possible? The Bible says all things are possible with God. If you’re interested in creating your own curriculum this year, join me for a Live Webinar on: Tuesday, April 5 at 2pm ET/ 11am PT Wednesday, April 6 at 1pm ET/ 10am PT Thursday, April 7 at 11am ET/ 8am PT REGISTER HERE: allenwhite.org/webinars
By Allen White The advent of DVD-based curriculum, and its predecessor VHS-based curriculum, sparked the church-wide campaign movement. All of a sudden, the person leading/hosting/facilitating/in-denial-of-leading no longer needed to feel the pressure to teach or lead. The DVD/VHS did it for them. Remember Pastor Rick Warren’s line, “Be a star with your VCR”? Those were great days. But, now VCRs are long gone. Our family has one built into a TV, but it no longer works. The future is not bright for DVDs either. Just ask Blockbuster Video, except you can’t because they are out of business. Today, we stream video on Hulu, Netflix, On Demand, and Crackle. DVD players are being replaced by Apple TV, Roku, Fire Sticks, and Chromecast. Members of the churches we work with these days are asking if teaching videos are available online because they don’t have a DVD player any more. What do you do? 1. Create Your Own Video Content Other than Jesus Christ, the reason people attend your church is because of your senior pastor. Now, don’t tell your worship pastor. It will break his heart. When a senior pastor stands up and invites the congregation to do a series based on his/her curriculum, you are just giving your church more of what they already want. When the pastor invites them to gather a few friends and grow, permission has been given to get very creative with group life. There are many great reasons to create your own curriculum. By creating your own curriculum, you own the content. You aren’t bootlegging a Christian author and publisher’s project, it belongs to you. You can do whatever you want with it. There are many low cost ways to create curriculum, you don’t need a big budget or even a professional crew. Get creative. 2. Stream Your Content Online. By streaming curriculum online, you avoid the cost of creating a DVD menu as well as burning and packaging DVDs. Online content enables your groups to access curriculum anywhere in the world on any device. If you had told me five years ago that one day I would be streaming content primarily on my Android phone, I wouldn’t have believed you. Today, I view media on my phone more often than not. Now your groups would need to choose a medium that best suits the size of your group. After all, 20 people can’t really gather around a phone or tablet. But, they can stream content on their televisions. Maybe you should help them with this. Back when we were making the transition from VHS to DVD, our new series at New Life in Turlock, CA was exclusively on DVD. A few people would wonder up to the small group table and ask if they could get the video on VHS because they didn’t have a DVD player yet. I told them unfortunately that was not an option, but, then I’d smile and say, “This is your lucky day.” I reached under the table and pulled out a brand new DVD player for them. I’d bought 10 of these for $30 at Walmart just in case. Their eyes lit up. It was their lucky day! You can do the same thing with Amazon Fire Sticks, Chromecast, AppleTV or Roku boxes. If a Fire Stick costs $39 and burning and packaging a DVD is about $2.00 per unit (not to mention the cost of creating the DVD), well, you do the math. 3. Offering Higher Resolution. As technology continues to advance, the DVD lags further and further behind. Even on our project for The Daniel Plan small group curriculum, the end result was a Standard Definition DVD. Most publisher only produce SD DVDs. Otherwise, like Disney, they would have to offer the Blue Ray combo pack which also contains an SD DVD. Most people with a flat screen TV are consuming content in HD. Some have moved on to Ultra High Definition. Now, imagine watching a Standard Definition DVD on an Ultra High Definition monitor. It’s not looking too good. Now, this is definitely a first world problem, but it is a growing problem. The church cannot afford to offer only second or third rate media to a culture who is consuming the best of the best. Poor video quality takes away from the message. Streaming video can help to resolve this issue. 4. The Advantage of Weekly Content. When we create DVDs for churches and publishers, we have to capture all of the content for the entire project well in advance of a group launch. By streaming video, you can shoot, edit and post what you need as you need it, even if you are just one week ahead of the groups. Some churches are even shooting 6-8 minute teaching sessions between or after services on Sunday morning while the message is still fresh in the speaker’s mind. Services like MediaFusion offer great solutions for both streaming and on-demand video as well as high quality, low cost video production options. 5. Leave No Late Adopter Behind, aka Old People. Some folks haven’t made the leap to streaming video. Some folks never will. It’s a good idea to have a few DVDs on hand for those without the ability to stream video. Make this the exception, but not the rule. One church we’re working with actually burns a small group DVD every week for this exact reason. There is no menu. They just pop it in and it plays. There is no need to exclude late adopters who are willing to participate. You should really only have to do this for another 5-6 years, then DVDs should be gone for good. 6. Embrace a Literal World of Possibilities Streaming video has the power to reach the entire world in an instant. Once a video is posted, there are no boundaries. If you offer a downloadable discussion guide, you could be providing a great service. A few years back we experimented with an online group study sharing site similar to Sermoncentral. An unexpected outcome was receiving thank you emails from people in other parts of the world who no longer had to wait weeks to months for physical products to be delivered. They could go online and download what they needed for their group that night. Now, you can easily add world missions to your church’s discipleship ministry. When I started into Bible college and then seminary over 30 years ago, I never imagined the role technology would play in ministry. The only available technology back then was really just radio preachers and televangelists. At one point, I was a pretty strong advocate for the separation of church and television. But now, with so many people constantly unavailable for onsite meetings, yet continually available online, it would be irresponsible to not use technology to disciple not only our church members, but also anyone else in the English-speaking world. But, why stop there?