There are so many options out there, which one is right for you, your team, and most importantly, your kids?
In our eyes, these 5 aspects are the non-negotiables. And in full disclosure, when we couldn’t find all of these aspects in a curriculum, we wrote our own. That’s how KidzLife was born. If these fundamentals strike a chord in you, we’d love for you to take a look at our curriculum and free resources. (And if you are having any trouble recruiting or retaining volunteers, scroll down to take a peek at #5.)
1. 100% Bible Based
First and foremost, whatever you bring to the kids that God has entrusted to you must be 100% Biblically accurate. It should be full of Scripture. If we are just entertaining or doling out moral lessons, what’s the point? The world offers plenty of options for these. We are here to share what the world is lacking–what the world is longing for. Our words are just words; God’s word is LIFE. We have just a couple of hours each week with these precious kids. While they are in our charge, let’s pour out God’s holy word and carefully unfold it so it can shape their lives.
The unfolding of your words give light; it gives understanding to the simple. – Psalm 119:130
Be sure that what you teach portrays God accurately (Job 42:7). God is concerned with His reputation for very good reason: Knowing Him is eternal life!
Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. – John 17:3
When we teach kids about God, if we add anything or take anything away, we aren’t showing Him to be as perfect as He actually is. We should feel the weight of that; we should be meticulous in revealing God as He is. Make sure your curriculum reflects this attitude of reverence for God’s true heart and character. More on this here.
Be sure that your kids clearly see how the Bible applies to them, in their lives, right now. If they don’t see how it can make a difference in their lives, your lessons will seem much more like a history lesson.
Along with real-life examples of application, your curriculum needs some space: Space for questions and space for the Spirit of God to work.
When we look at how Jesus taught in intimate settings, we see lots and lots of questions.
“Who do you say I am?” Matthew 16:13
“Why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:31
“Why are you thinking such things in your heart?” Mark 2:8
Certainly, Jesus knew every answer! He wasn’t asking to gain knowledge for Himself. The point is: He wanted the student to think, to dig down deep to uncover what was going on in his own heart.
Note the open-endedness of Jesus’ questions. Rarely did He ask a question like, “How many disciples were in the boat?” That is academic; the goal is application. Rather, His questions were more along the lines of, “When do you feel afraid?” The deeper we dig, the more good it will do. Every action is born out of a belief held (James 1:15). Without knowing what we believe, we cannot change to align with God.
Your curriculum should leave room for kids to depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance in regard to application. God’s word is His full revelation to us. But it’s His Spirit that tells each of us, individually, how that word applies to our life. For example, His word tells us to forgive (Matthew 6:14). His Spirit will prick a particular child’s heart to tell her that she has not forgiven her younger brother.
In KidzLife small groups, the line of questions we give always has a direction, but in asking questions, we leave the Holy Spirit plenty of room to work. After all, it’s God who searches the heart. No matter how well-intentioned, no leader truly knows everything about a child. We can’t know who they haven’t forgiven, the fear they hide from everyone, the small bit of unbelief they may cling to. But when we ask, and the child considers, the Holy Spirit can reveal how God’s truth applies.
3. Creates A Memorable, Engaging Experience
A lesson must be remembered, and what kids remember is fun. Lessons and small groups should be out-of-the-ordinary. Every lesson should have an attention grabber.
Last week I was teaching a Bible lesson at a Good News Club. We meet at a public school, so I have to tread lightly when it comes to the facility and how much of a mess we make. I had some “manna” for the kids to taste. It pained me to ask the kids to walk up politely to get a sample. I remember thinking, if this were at church that manna would be tossed in the air and raining down all over the kids! Yes, we have to vacuum a bit more than we’d like, but what will the kids remember more? What will they tell their friends about? When it comes to teaching kids God’s word, whenever possible, go the extra mile! To learn more about teaching out-of-the-box lessons go here. As a bonus, kids love to invite their friends to a program where there’s no telling what will happen next.
Another key to retention is having lessons and small groups that appeal to the three types of learners. More on that here.
4. Realistic and Doable
There’s just no way around it. Discipleship takes an intentional time investment–we most definitely see this exemplified by Jesus–but it doesn’t have to be draining or difficult. If your leaders have the tools they need, if the material you choose is focused each week, it will be doable and rewarding. A healthy balance can be achieved.
In order to better illustrate what to look for on this point, here are a couple things NOT to do:
- Don't settle for a no-time approach. Previously we used a pace-yourself program where kids were all on different Scripture passages. While this was an “easy” plan for leaders who just showed up, with no need to prep (see previous paragraph) it was counter-productive and nearly fruitless. A child could recite a verse or several, but he had no idea what the words meant. And the leader didn’t have time to explain 10 different verses to 10 different kids. Plus, not knowing which verses each child was studying at home, the leader couldn’t possibly have prepared to encounter these different verses. That cannot be what “unfolding” His word means. We believe in materials that have all the kids on the same passage. That way the entire night (the entire week, really) can be geared to unpacking the passage in it’s entirety.
- Don't get caught up in the way-too-much-time approach: Many years ago (decades ago actually) I was a Sunday School teacher, expected to be a one-man-show for my self-contained class: Teach the Bible lesson, lead the small group, do the craft, lead the worship songs. Seriously, that model was exhausting. Who has that many gifts? And that much time to prepare? And, on the slim possibility you find one such Renaissance person, what are the chances you’ll find one of them for group of kids?
It’s so much better to find material that allows every volunteer to shine in his or her giftedness. It reduces stress and allows each person to offer up their best efforts to the kids. KidzLife KingdomKidz (K-5th grade) requires just one in-depth large group Bible teacher for several grades of kids. This person has a bit more time to invest in studying and prepping to teach. The small group leaders are asked to spend about an hour during their week, reading over the small group page and spending quiet time conversing with God, before they come hang out with their kids on a Wednesday night.
5. Make Sure Your Leaders Love It
Do you want dedicated volunteers who wouldn’t miss a Sunday morning or Wednesday night? Choose material that nurtures and encourages your leaders as well as your kids.
Last week, after I taught a lesson on storing up treasures in heaven and being content with what we have, one of our newer small group leaders stopped me and said, "You're not just teaching the kids." And the next day he sent me this email: "Hey... I was not kidding about your teaching. Several times since I have been at KidzLife... but especially last night, it was right on point for me. Have had some bad stuff happen in business over the last 15 months and needed the pep talk... I will be content no matter the circumstances. Thanks!" The week before, one of our Kindergarten leaders was in tears after the lesson because it spoke to her so much. That's one way to make sure your volunteers show up and keep your program as a priority: They are getting so much out of it, they don't want to miss!
We are speaking to kids, but presented accurately, God’s word transcends all ages. We use age-appropriate vocabulary and kid-friendly examples, but we never, ever water down God’s truth. Case in point in our contentment lesson: Kids may long for the newest video game while leaders long for a bigger house. But both need to understand that contentment comes down to trusting God to provide what He knows is best for us to have, and not one bit more.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with one of our leaders (who, consequently has been serving for over 5 years now) a few months after she started. She said very emphatically, “I signed up for KidzLife because I thought my kids needed to get this stuff. But now, I realize it was me who needed to hear it!” And truly, her family life has changed in the best way.
It is a beautiful thing to see leaders growing spiritually along with the kids. It’s awesome when leaders have real (current) fruit to share with their group. Actually, it’s the way it is supposed to be in the Kingdom.
The believers studied what the apostles taught. They shared their lives together. They ate and prayed together. - Acts 2:42