Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of resources and practices, can we clearly define our roles? I think it will help provide a framework and context to talk about issues.
The role of the church
As Bill Hybles so beautifully says, “The Church is the hope of the world.” It’s true. There was a time when there was no such thing as curriculum. The church would read the letters of the Apostles, they’d encourage each other, share meals together and tell their neighbors about who Christ was. There were no publishing companies back then. There will come a day when Christ comes back for his church and all need for curriculum will be gone as well will fully know and be known. The church is eternal, curriculum is temporal. Curriculum is nothing without the church. Curriculum serves an important function, but precious few people will be encouraged, grow or will come to faith by curriculum alone.
The role of curriculum
Curriculum is a valuable resource. So much of the work of the church today is being done my part-time staff and lay volunteers. With people with limited time, their time is best spent loving and pastoring people, not designing lesson plans, object lessons and skits. Publishers provide such a valuable role by committing biblical experts and creative communicators who spend 40 + hours a week developing resources that the church can use. It really is an efficient model. The church needs good curriculum. It helps us at the church maximize our time and better equip our leaders and volunteers while still giving us time to serve the needs of our community.
I don’t know a lot about publishing companies and the world they live in. Although most are non-profit like our churches, they’re trying to be profitable. Not profitable to pad their salaries, but profitable so that they can continue to offer more and better resources for the church. I’m sure there is a bottom line and business decisions to be made. I understand that. I also have spoken to several who run and/or work for publishing companies. I’m almost always so impressed with their heart and passion for the church. Most are very involved in their own churches and are very much connected to the reality of what the real focus is.
Here’s the bottom line. Although the church needs good curriculum, publishing companies exist to serve and equip the church. If churches are frustrated with the resources provided by one publisher, they’ll leave that publisher and pick another. Unfortunately, the bigger problem that I’ve experienced is that I’ve come to realize that there is no perfect curriculum. There may be aspects of one that I love where certain components are sorely lacking. We could switch to another publisher and the things we love and the things we hate would just get switched around. So here’s the truth. Many churches feel trapped. There are some great resources out there and great publishers doing awesome things, but I’ve not yet found a publisher that totally satisfies. I know that it’s impossible to please everyone, but I do think that it’s possible to raise the level of what you’re already doing in every area to keep your fan base committed for the long haul.
One other thing and I’ll end this post. Take more chances for the churches that are doing the same. I know that there are bazillions of churches that are doing the same thing they were 10 years ago and they’re mostly happy with the resources you’re providing. However, sometimes a movement begins in the church and things begin to shift and it seems that curriculum publishers are too slow to accommodate churches that are pushing the boundaries of what’s been done before. I remember a time when children’s ministry was primarily a 90 minute kids church. When the strategy began to change to both kids church with small group breakouts, very few companies were developing material to do this. Churches had to write small group breakout questions to go along with the large group format. Now it seems every publisher has large group/small group curriculum. Maybe it’s a money thing? Maybe now that there is a big enough client base to support the development of that kind of curriculum. However, I’m not convinced that publishing companies can’t take more risk and develop experimental resources to equip churches that are pushing the limits in reaching families for Christ.
Tomorrow we’ll dive into another subject.
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Hey! Evan here. I’m really enjoying this series so far Kenny. (Admittedly there has been one of them, but hey…) I just wanted to drop a little note on this post.
And just as an FYI to anyone who may be reading this, yes, I do work for KidzMatter, a children’s ministry publisher, but no, these aren’t their opinions. They’re mine. Promise. 😉
On the “perfect curriculum” section: There is no humanly possible way to write the perfect curriculum for every church. There are just too many variables: staff support/environment, volunteer staffing, available technology, attendance, building space, etc. It’s simply mind-boggling to try to do. Even the curriculum KidzMatter writes Ryan and I have to modify to use it in our kids’ church. The only way to get a perfect curriculum for your church is to write it yourself. (Which you, like most people, have come to the realization of.)
On the “raise the level” section: I totally agree with you that constant updates and modifications to a curriculum is necessary. A lot of publishers set forth a 6 year scope and sequence and then don’t change the curriculum for those 6 years. That may have worked 30 years ago. It doesn’t work today. Change is happening a lot more quickly, and publishers have to be ready to adapt.
On the “take more chances” section: I think there is wisdom in what you said here. There are a lot of churches that are experimenting, and there is a real lack of resources for them. However, I think this is largely attributable to what I call the “noisy 5 factor.” Basically, 5% of churches make 95% of the news because of their experimentation. And by and large, those 5% are also the 5% largest churches. If your church has more than 1000 people, you’re in the top 10-15% of American churches based on size. The market is simply far too small, so many publishers just aren’t interested. Again, this comes back to the fear of rapid change- publishers don’t change fast. Experimentation requires fast change.
OK. Whew. I think I might have just exceeded your original blog post in the length of my response. Sorry. 🙂
.-= Evan Doyle´s last blog ..O Book Review: Crave (and a giveaway!) =-.
I appreciate your insight from a publisher’s perspective. I waned to flesh out something you said about it being impossible to have a perfect curriculum. It makes sense that one curriculum will not work for every church, and I agree that in total it is therefore impossible to have the “perfect curriculum.” However, when I think of the right curriculum I think more in terms of goals, strategies and approach as opposed to things which are dependent on the individual church (like resources, people, space, etc.) In my mind, the perfect curriculum meets some core and fundamental principles but is also flexible enough that it can be tweaked to an individual church.
BY the way, I have not had the opportunity to review the curriculum from KidzMatter, but everything else you guys put out is top notch. Keep up the great work!
.-= Wayne´s last blog ..#17 â€“ Read About Teaching (Tips For Large Group Teaching) =-.
Good stuff Evan. I forgot that you guys are curriculum publishers too. 🙂
I knew I’d get in trouble for saying “perfect curriculum.” Hmmm, how can I say this? Yes, I agree that there is no perfect curriculum. Every church is different and has different needs. When I say perfect curriculum, what I mean is a curriculum that gives me exactly what I need. I know I’ll have to tweak… even if we wrote it ourselves, we’d have to tweak. Run with me for a second. If I want curriculum that has strong video components, I’m going to chose Elevate or Kidmo. If I want curriculum that’s strong in live production or small group materials, I’m going to choose 252 Basics. If I want curriculum that features video content with people with cool Australian accents, I’m going to choose BIG (who wouldn’t want that, right?). If I want a whole lot of different options to choose from, I’d select something from Group (they really do have a lot to choose from).
So what I’m saying is that why can’t more publishing companies be more well rounded. If you have good video content, keep that up but strengthen your small group stuff. If you’ve got great small group stuff, work on your video content. Too many times I ask others what they are using and they tell me the same ‘ol story. I was using such and such, but we really needed better small group stuff, so we switched to such and such and small groups are going well, but the kids are getting bored at large group. That’s what I’m talking about.
On that last part I wrote… about taking more chances… You’re right. It’s usually a few of the largest churches in the US that are experimenting. I also understand that the market is small. However, it’s often these experimenting churches that guide the way ministry is gong to be done for the next 10 years. Why don’t publishers put one or two staff members on developing emerging markets. They don’t have to start from scratch. Maybe they see what these emerging churches need and then adjust existing curriculum to meet that need. To me, that’s the picture of a publisher serving the church in an aggressive way. Continuing to pump out curriculum the same way it’s been done for years because 95% of the market is using it that way isn’t thinking ahead to the next generation… becasue the truth is, what you’re making now probably won’t be relevant to the next generation.
Anyone else have any thoughts?
Wayne, you said what I wanted to say in about half the words. That’s exactly what I meant about perfect curriculum.
Just weighing in here as a business school graduate in regards to your question, “Why can’t more publishing companies be more well-rounded?” I’m going to guess that business models do come into play – the children’s ministry curriculum market is already a niche market. Then you further subdivide the market by all the denominational churches defaulting to the curriculum of their denomination. It becomes a very niche business, with tight profit margins I’m guessing, because the scale isn’t there. So the companies take a look around at what others are doing, what is needed and find their place in that niche market – small groups, live production, video components or Australian accents. 😉
I’m guessing if a company wants to be a lean competitor in today’s fast-paced environment, they’re going to have to be moving away from printed materials, etc. toward web-accessible content – so that the majority of the costs of doing business are for the intellect required to produce the materials – and that very little cost will be spent on printing and inventory management. Or is that already happening?
Hmmm… you jumping ahead of me. You bring up a post I plan to write tomorrow or the next day. You’re a smart cookie. I’m glad I’m married to ya!
Let me take a shot at this from a publisher’s standpoint as well. I work for a publisher and as Evan and others have already commented, the perfect curriculum doesn’t exist. As a publisher, church leaders are adept at sharing with us what isn’t working for them, however very few can actually articulate how to fix what seems to be wrong. That puts publishers in a situation of knowing and understanding a problem exists, but not really having quantitative data to fix the problem with a solution that will appeal to the vast majority of users.
Sara and Evan again are totally correct. The “noisy 5 factor” is a huge consideration for a publisher but most likely doesn’t fit inside a business model that would lend itself to a positive growth strategy initially (thus your call for risk taking). However taking a significant risk would require a great amount of capital (writers, editors, overhead, etc.) which could place the publisher in a position to never be able again to provide resources if the risk didn’t pay off. It’s really a catch 22. Publishers desire to resource the churches with the best available materials and at a competitive and fair price that is mutually beneficial to both the publisher and the church. On the flip side, providing resources for a small segment of churches (the noisy 5) may require the cost to be too high. In subsequent posts several posters have commented that price may not be an issue and again, from a publishing standpoint, that’s very vague. What’s too high for you may not be to your neighbor. If I set my price too high, you aren’t going to buy it. If I set my price too low, I can’t afford to produce it. Sara, providing resources online is a workable solution to a quicker turnaround of resources but it still requires a human resource to make it happen.
Kenny thank you for this forum and I look forward to reading other comments in your series and joining your conversation.
Tim, thanks for your comment. It’s good to hear from a publisher’s perspective. Certainly some things to consider.
Yeah, I think we’ve hit something with this noisy 5%. I’d be curious though, how much market share has been lost to the publishers as a result of not meeting the needs of the noisy 5%? At the top of the list you have Willow Creek, North Point, Fellowship and Saddle Back who each went on to develop their own curriculum and have been very popular competitors. So many church leaders look up to these churches and they want to use what they’re using.
So again, I don’t know how you please the noisy 5% in a way that is cost effective, but one thing seems true, if you get churches from this group on your side, you’ll pick up their followers. If you don’t, you might find a new curriculum competitor in the making.