I recently went on a “moonlight” hike with my friends through a familiar state park near our church. We decided we didn’t care whether we walked on trails or not, and eventually we were pretty lost. At 2am, with scary sounds everywhere, this could have been a pretty bad experience for me (someone who has never been a fan or either darkness or scary noises). Fortunately we had iPhones – and they were able to lead us to safety!
Well those of us who work with middle school/junior high kids in small groups can often feel the same way. Week after week we are wondering—what will work to grab their attention and make them fall in love with God without boring them!? Sometimes we can feel all alone in the dark—and sometimes they even make scary noises!!
As a regional youth task force leader, this is actually the question I am asked most often by other youth leaders—”Do you have any curriculum or resources I can use??” My general answer over the last almost 20 years of youth ministry is that I tend to make my own up as I go. This year, I decided to try something different. I researched some different pre-made curricula and am now using one on Sunday mornings with my junior high. So I thought I’d review a couple of them for you—maybe you’ll find one you like! All of these below I actually used for a couple weeks with my Sunday morning junior high group. I’ll tell you what I liked, what I didn’t, and how much they cost! (As a disclaimer, I can’t fully endorse any of these ministries from a Vineyard perspective. While they all have strengths, they also tend to miss a lot of Kingdom reality as the Vineyard understands them. But I think we can always add in what’s needed!)
I really like this one a lot. In fact, it was my favorite all told. You can read about it and download samples here. What’s great about this is that it gives you everything you need. It is very down to earth and relevant, you can tell they really spend a lot of time preparing each aspect. You purchase a series (they differ in lengths) and they give you games, worship set lists, videos, illustrations, the teaching written out AND in outline form, and discussion questions. They also give you info to send to parents. It’s totally a complete package, everything you need. The only issue I ran into with this program was the price. Per week price ended up being double some of the others—it was about $230 for 15 weeks of content. But depending on your budget, the bang could definitely be worth the buck!
Simply Youth Ministry is a division of Group that offers lots of diverse small group materials. I like Grapple, which you can find on their small group resources page. They give you an outline for an hour long group meeting, but you can adjust at different pieces. They set you up with an ice breaker, a DVD intro, and then small group questions. They really focus on working in small groups with older leaders discussing the weekly topic. They also do a lot of work in pairs. I liked this one alright, but honestly my meeting needs to be more like 30 minutes. I felt like I couldn’t actually fit in everything they offered. They usually run 12 weeks and cost around $30, which is hard to beat!
This is a another offering of Simply Youth Ministry—its a great combo deal. It is 32 weeks of curriculum with these topics—Ten Commandments, Fruit of the Spirit, Beatitudes, Basics of Faith. It costs $90. I liked this one a lot as well. It is very Bible based and has great discussion questions. It went well with my group. The only problem is if you need something to give you EVERYTHING, then this doesn’t do it. It is focused mostly on the Bible study and discussion. It doesn’t give you ice breakers, games, videos, etc. But it is cheaper than the ones that do!
This is the one I actually decided to purchase and am currently using. I will say that I liked it second best overall (after XP3), but the price was the deciding factor for me. This one is really good as well, just not quite as flashy and complete as XP3. LIVE Curriculum is another division of Simply Youth Ministry. You purchase 2 years (72 weeks – they assume you take summers off) worth of material for $250. They break the material into 3-4 week “topics” like, “My Identity in God,” or “Pain and Struggles,” or “Just Like Jesus.” The lessons are very well laid out. They give you activities to do, illustrations, questions to text your kids BEFORE Sunday, a main Bible verse, and awesome discussion questions. It is VERY thorough. The only strike against it for me is that their series are too short and so I plan on augmenting them occasionally. They also don’t cover some very important topics like Hearing God’s Voice, and Gifts of the Spirit—things I will also take care of on my own. One more great feature is the interface. You get user accounts (great if you have multiple teachers) and a calendar. So you can assign lessons to certain weeks, and assign the teacher. Each teacher can check what they’ve done, and even leave comments for each other!
I’m sure there are many other great resources out there. I hope if you have read this, that you comment on this article with your favorite. Let’s work together to share what we’ve already “vetted” so we can help each other out!