“How can I prepare, write, and publish small group curriculum?” I saw this question raised on the Small Group Network Facebook page the other day. I thought to myself, “This is the one topic I actually know something about.” I began writing curriculum when I was a small group pastor, and it has evolved into a career for me. I have nearly 500 studies on Amazon. I’d like to share some ideas on how I prepare, write and publish small group curriculum so that you can begin to do the same for your small group ministry.
But first, why do we need more small group curriculum in the first place? Good small group curriculum is written to the needs of a particular group. It causes that group to grow. It causes that group to stretch. It causes that group to think. It makes that group a little more like Jesus. Did you notice the emphasis on, “that group”?
My wife teaches 5th graders. One of the problems she is having this year—the year after covid—is that the kids are at all different levels. Some of the kids are advancing, but many of the kids are falling behind. Consequently, there is a huge gap with the kids this year. There are some that are at each grade level from 1st to 5th. How do you teach kids who are at 1st to 5th grade level in the same room? Not very well.
How does a curriculum meet the needs of mature Christians and baby Christians in the same room? Not very well.(One way I deal with this is to provide about twice as many questions as I think a group will need. Easier to throw out than create more.) Thus, we need curriculum that is targeted to the particular needs of the particular group. So, let’s talk about how to prepare, write, and publish small group curriculum.
Ideas on how to prepare
The best preparation for writing small group curriculum is sitting in a small group every week. Before long you just get a sense for what will work and what will not.
People like to answer questions that are on the edge of their knowledge. People don’t like to answer questions that are too easy, and they can’t answer questions that are too hard. Good Questions are pitched at the edge of people’s knowledge. People like to answer questions when they think they might be the only person in the room that knows the answer. People like to sound smart. Sitting in a group every week will give you a sense of this. It is the best preparation I know for writing curriculum.
Think about a time when you sat in a group as a participant. The leader asked a question and you wanted to jump out of your chair. Perhaps your arm spontaneously raised or you just blurted out the answer. Maybe you interrupted someone else even though you are pretty good about not doing that. You couldn’t help yourself. You had to speak up. What was it about that question that created such a volcanic eruption from you? It is likely you thought you had an answer that no one else knew. That is when people cannot help but speak out—when they know the answer and they think they might be the only one.
You have probably had the experience—as I have—of reading curriculum and thinking, “This will never work; no one will want to answer this question.” It was probably written by a preacher who never sits in a group.
Ideas on how to write curriculum
The curriculum I write is all question-based. I think it is the best way to teach. I could argue that Jesus did a lot of question and answer when he taught.
Over time, you will develop some go-to questions. Some of my favorites are:
- What does the text say? Let’s read and then summarize this passage. What would you say is the big idea? There is more to Christian discipleship than teaching facts. We don’t just want people to be smarter sinners. On the other hand, I do want people to know the facts of the Bible. When it comes to the Bible, ignorance is not bliss. I’d like them to know that Abraham lived around 2000 B.C. and David around 1000 B.C. I’d like them to know that there is a difference between the Joseph in the Old Testament and the Joseph who helped raise Jesus.
- Context. Where are we in the story of the Bible? What has come before? What is still to come? About what year is this—give or take a hundred years.
- What does the text mean? What do the words mean? How do you harmonize this passage with… How do we harmonize this with the truth that…
- What do we learn about God?
- What do we learn ourselves?
- How did they feel? Nothing makes the story come alive like asking about the emotion.
- What is the application?
- So, try really hard to…pray, serve, give, forgive, etc. Is that the application? Try really hard to be good? (I include this pretty regularly. It seems to me we make two mistakes in our teaching. One is to fail to teach for application. James taught us to be doers of the word. The other mistake is to teach for application and assume we can apply the text by sheer will-power. We have 2000 years of Old Testament history that teaches that we cannot. The Pharisees got pretty close. Jesus reserved His most scathing rebuke for those who merely tried really hard to be good. We must try really hard, all the while knowing that without Christ we can do nothing. Nothing. We also need the strong confidence that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.)
- How can we train ourselves to be godly as it relates to…
- How can we transform our thinking as it relates to…
- What are some baby steps we can take this week?
I also provide answers to my questions, but you might not need to. For a long time, I didn’t. Over time, I have invested in a massive Logos Bible Software library and provide answers in the from of quotes from respected authors.
Ideas on how to publish small group curriculum
After spending all the time to research and write your curriculum, what do you do with it? Give it to your small group leaders, of course. But, I’d encourage you to take one more step: share it with the world.
Amazon has made it super easy to publish your book in both Kindle and paperback format. (They have a hardback publish platform in beta.) Barnes and Noble has a similar service for Nook, but I have found that Kindle outsells Nook 10:1.
The set up is so each that if you had a carefully proofread curriculum, you can literally have in on Amazon in 24 hours. What a time to be alive! Even if you didn’t not want to sell on Amazon it is a great way to print your book. You can get an average-sized book printed for less than $3.
You can price the book at whatever you want. On average, you make about half of the amount above $3. (For a $10 book you would make about $3.50.)
The best way to do the page set up is with Adobe InDesign. If this is above your pay-grade, it can be done in Word. Manuscripts are accepted in .pdf for print books and Word for Kindle books. If you use InDesign, you can export .pdf for print and in .epub for Kindle.
Amazon provides a decent cover design service. The key word is decent. It is not fantastic. If you do design or have a have a friend that can help you, all the better. I have worked with authors who got some pretty good results through https://www.fiverr.com/. Covers are accepted in .pdf for print books and .jpg for Kindle.
If you would like a little more help, see my Quick Guide to Publishing at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H7V5QMC/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_M8NAGWNAFFT8HQXDTRN2