book and pen

My final thoughts on curriculum are in regards to the actual small group lesson. Most lessons include a video clip or short scripture with a couple of questions. This is often the point at which we think our students will tell us, “They know it all.”  If they are mostly unchurched, then we expect that the lesson “will be over their heads.”

Many times, it is simply the approach to the lesson that matters.

More and more students are not growing up in church or a Christian home. Either that, or they simply have not been paying attention when it comes to church.  Therefore, we must start at the beginning when talking Bible and Biblical concepts and even ensure we are constantly reengaging the basics of the faith.

“Run from temptation just like Joseph ran from Potipher’s wife.”  Was a statement made in a DVD series I watched recently.  I had to stop. Who in the room knew who Joseph or the wife were?  The story at all?  Do they know what it means to run from temptation in this way?  I think that we don’t “dumb it down.”  We don’t take a “they won’t know anyway” attitude.

Here is how I break it down and re-approach it for students:

I NEVER watch a video straight through.

None of us really enjoy being talked at for a long period of time without input.  We want to be heard & have the opportunity to wrestle with the deeper ideas.

So a concept is introduced.  Stop the video.

What’s the Point:  That we should run away from temptation before it becomes a sin.

The point is the application we want them to take home.  However, they may not know or understand the context.

What’s the story:  Joseph, a slave in the house of Potipher, was pursued by his wife.

Ask: Students to give you the basics of the story. This includes your students who may know.  It also really lets you know WHAT students actually remember.

TELL:  Take a few minutes and re-tell the story as an overview.  Instead of just reading the scripture,  give them the overall story from the start of Joseph’s life. It isn’t about them understanding the reason why the Israelites were in Egypt in the first place or the history of Israel.  We are looking to help them see the bigger picture as a whole so they can learn how to apply it to their lives.

Too often we get hung up on the details, or we are afraid we will get it “wrong.”  When you stop and tell the background story that explains a scripture, it puts everything in perspective. This is a way you can put it in terms they will understand. Even a student who has “heard” a million times gain new insight when we stop and tell the story.

Want to get some ideas on HOW to do this?  Michael Novelli of Echo the Story is amazing at it.  Check out his ideas HERE.

The bottom line of curriculum is to see it as a catalyst not an end game.

It’s about looking at your time, context and students.  One size does not fit all, but you can taylor it to fit your needs.  It just takes planning and creativity.

What are you doing to make curriculum your own?



You open the package and begin to look at the new curriculum you purchased.   You have read the questions and changed some of the wording and questions. You are ready to start when you look at the games, or the intro video. Bleck. It won’t work.  You know your students won’t respond well. Perhaps, it’s a complicated game that you can’t pull off. Maybe you don’t have the working technology to show a video.

What do you do?

Let’s say the video included shows a guy holding an inflated and deflated basketball, and telling a story to explain the book of James.  I watch it.  I decide I can’t use the video for whatever reason.  However, I would then break it down like this, making it into an object lesson:

Materials Needed:  An inflated basket ball and a deflated basket ball.  (You can use the video as a reference to guide you in this.)

Show the students the deflated flat basketball.

Explain:  This is a basketball right?

Ask:  Is it useful right now?  I mean could you play a game of basketball with it right now?

Ask:  So is it useless for playing a game of basketball? What would make it useful?

Show them the basketball filled with air.

Explain:   This basketball can do what  it supposed to do right?  Can we use this one for a game of basketball?

Then I would explain the point this way:

Just like a basketball filled with air is able to play the game, the way it is supposed to, as a Follower of Christ we are supposed to do those things that Christ followers do. The world around us should know clearly who we are and what we are made for.  James is a book of the Bible that is all about letting us know that we should not just be about “believing in God,”  but we need to show the world through our actions, that we are living for him. That is why this book also talks so much about sin.  It really is a big deal.  Sin is actually the thing that keeps us from really living for Christ.  But if we are really a follower of Christ, ignoring our sin,  not doing anything about it,  is not an option.  Those who want to really follow Christ,  deal with their sin.  Just like a basketball is made to be filled to play the game,  we need to do those things that Christ followers do.

The point?  Never be afraid to look at the deeper meaning of the game or illustration and re-work it in a manner that relates to YOUR group of students.


I admit it. I am not a game person. Therefore, anytime I try to play a game for “silliness” it doesn’t work for me.  I am never going to be the “coolest” youth person in the room.  However,  if there is an opening game, I would try to tie the meaning of the lesson to come into the story.  I make it relational, and I prepare my students for the game.

Taking the same concept from above I might watch the video and then decide we are going to have a game that passes out deflated beach balls (small ones).

Create two teams.

Each team must pick a captain and a timer.

When you say “GO.”  The captain must inflate the beach ball.

Once inflated, the timer starts their job, and the rest of the team must form a circle and keep the ball in the air without letting it hit the ground for 2 full minutes.

Any time the ball hits the ground they must start the time over.

Wrapping up, I would explain the same from above, but then also talk about how other people’s mistakes affect us.

Curriculum doesn’t have to be complicated.  We just need to be willing to take the time separate it out and make it all our own.

 How do you change games and videos to fit your needs?

Tomorrow is our final installment: How to tell the story!

Thanks for all you do,




curriculum 2

We have our curriculum in hand.  We have asked our students what they want.  Now HOW do we teach curriculum so we don’t really lose anyone in the room.

For the next couple of days, I would like to provide you with some practical ideas.


Sometimes curriculum is cumbersome because the context of a student’s life is assumed. It is written from the perspective that MOST of our students have 2 parents, no questions and a great home life.  Yet, do we know this is true?  What’s going on below the surface of a life?

        For example:

You might hear a statement like: “You live in a materialistic society, in the richest nation in the world,” in a curriculum. HOWEVER, if we say this to a  student who may not have enough food or feels neglected, it is a statement that is hurtful. When we barrel in this way, it actually closes our students off.

         TRY THIS: 

 Instead, we take out assumptions based on what we SEE in our group. We must remember that the students don’t always give us the whole story.   Fathers may be missing physically or emotionally from a child’s life. A student’s perspective is their reality. So try switching the lesson so they can see from their point of view:  Talk about how there is hunger in this nation, but that doesn’t give us a right to become victim. Then talk about what is going on in the rest of the world.  Help them connect with how they feel with how others might feel in other areas of the world.


Change Phrasing:

 Sometimes in an effort to make things “teen friendly” curriculum doesn’t make sense to the actual teen. It’s obviously written by a well meaning adult who doesn’t actually interact with teens.

        For example:

I read this statement in a recent MS curriculum. They were making the point that we need to understand we are all children of God.  So it made the statement: “Prepare yourself to receive the sonship today. “

What?! I don’t even know what that means! How can I expect a 7th grader to interpret that, even one who has grown up in church. How do you receive “sonship?” Do you need to do something special for this “preparation?”


Change the phrasing in a way that allows students to feel included in the conversation.  As you look at the way things are written, think to yourself, “If I had just started coming to church, or didn’t really “know” my Bible would this statement make sense to me?”

 We have to take the time to ask students if they know what we are talking about.  What is a child of God?  How do we become one?  What are the  implications of being that?  The original phrase makes it sound downright scary.  What about asking students instead, “Is everyone a child of God? Why?”  Then take a look at the scripture and break it down.

 Remember students,  even ones who have grown up in the church, may not know how to take statements to heart and truly apply them.  They may have heard words like faith, temptation, sonship, and even trusting God. Yet, they may not have any clue what that really means to them.

Look for cues in your students’ demeanor. Usually when students act bored or indifferent, there is a reason we have lost their interest. The question becomes are they being challenged to REALLY understand what it will take to make this a part of their every day lives?

In part 3, we will finish up with some creative concepts to hold make curriculum your own.

Change your phrasing!



High School Live Curriculum   I have been using the LIVE Curriculum for the past 4 years…I love it and so do my volunteers. It is not just a great tech resource, it is a great youth ministry resource. Last year I added LIVE Junior High to our youth ministry scope and sequence and it was a HUGE WIN!

  • Low prep for leaders
  • Consistent format
  • Easily personalizable
  • Print unlimited hard copies for your team
  • Emailable to those leaders who want to personalize and print or to teach from their tablet
  • Parent letter for each lesson updating them on what their studnet’s small group went through
  • Price tag is super low! Less than $3.50 a lesson
  • DONE FOR THE YEAR…DONE FOREVER!!! (Well, you may want to tweek from year to year but ultimately if you know the lessons you want to use you can use the same scope and sequence from year to year)

With LIVE Curriculum I have shorter prep time each week and can better focus on students and leaders…and leaders have margin to invest more in their group.

Are you using LIVE Curriculum?  Is so, what is your favorite thing about it?


I’m excited to let you know about a new resource that Simply Youth Ministry and I will release next week – The Basics: Foundations for Your Faith is a new 4-week DVD curriculum for small groups. It might be a good series for a new believer’s class as well. Here’s a little blurb from the official description:

The best coaches, the most effective teachers, and the strongest leaders all know this truth: If you want to build something that endures, you have to start with the basics.

That idea applies to our spiritual journey, too. The Basics will help students explore, discuss, and apply some of the core truths of the Christian faith. The truths in this series aren’t called “basic” because they’re childish or simplistic; they’re “basic” because they’re foundational and essential to leading a life that honors God.

Each week, your teenagers will explore key Scriptures that relate to these topics, discuss the significance of each biblical truth, and consider how it relates to their lives today.

The Basics is ideal for students who have recently become Christ-followers or for teenagers who are exploring the claims and truths of the Christian faith—but students who’ve been followers of Jesus for years will benefit, too.

You can order it right here!


Old is the New, New

Josh Griffin —  January 18, 2013 — 1 Comment

I love new. When someone starts a sentence with “We’ve never done this before” or “Here’s a new idea,” I get all pumped up. Yet I’ve been dealing with a lot of old lately.

  • I don’t have the new iPhone yet, and it’s been out for months already. It kills me to be off the pace of the upgrade treadmill.
  • My wife’s beat-up minivan has 171,000 miles on it, and I wish I could get her a 2013 Toyota Sienna tomorrow.
  • I just turned 38, so I’m not a spring chicken anymore.
  • I’m bored with our ministry’s summer calendar, so I’m trying to rethink it, gut it, and make everything brand new.

As we prepare to cross into the new year, I’m having a new thought: Maybe old should be the new, new. Maybe in our thirst for the latest gadget and “next best thing” type of programming, we’re missing out on some tried-and-true stuff that really works.

I don’t want to stand in the way of what’s next for youth ministry, but it doesn’t hurt to ponder some “new, old ideas” as we head into a new year.

1 – Build a team of caring adult leaders. Having the support of co-laborers in the faith has been a longtime tenet of youth ministry. This month, develop your inner circle of leadership—because the need for people who love God and love teenagers won’t ever change.

2 – Spend one-on-one time with young people. At the heart of ministry, past and present, is the individual. The church-growth movement has disproportionately fed the desire for the masses. But while large-crowd programs and events are fun, we must continually pursue and care for each young person.

3 – Rely on Bible-based curriculum and teaching. Styles and formats will come and go, and the size of groups will change. But the Bible has been and must stay at the center of youth ministry, no matter what philosophy we’re implementing this year or the next. Think about ways you can center your ministry more on Christ.

4 – Make sure a devoted follower of Jesus is leading the group. We can talk about leadership and experiment with the latest and greatest gadgets, tools, and core values. But if we aren’t in love with Jesus and devoted to him, our efforts (and ministry) will eventually implode.

Old really is the new, new!

Originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Group Magazine. Don’t get the magazine yet? Hit this link to subscribe and get in on the action today!

I did a LIVE Curriculum giveaway (a $500 value) back in August and then left on vacation – and never picked a winner! I’m so sorry – I had such a great time away and then came back and didn’t give it another thought. This week I mentioned it to the guys at Simply Youth Ministry and they decided to give 2 more LIVE editions away to make up for me being an idiot! So congrats to ALL 3 winners:

Congrats! Thanks to everyone who entered!


Simply Youth Ministry is doing a ton of LIVE curriculum for youth ministry small groups starting back up these days – we’ve used it for the last couple of years and have loved it. This week they are giving me a chance to give one whole LIVE curriculum away (which is a $500 value, for those of you playing along at home). All you have to do is leave a comment on this post on “why you need LIVE the most” and I’ll pick the winner this Friday. Done!