How do we decide which curriculum works the best for our Bible study group or groups? If you ask me, I will give you a biased answer since I am a member of a team that creates Bible study resources. I can tell you what I use in my group, but my group may be different than yours. Different types of groups require a different evaluation tool. Open groups are different from closed groups (more on that later). Instead of providing a one-size-fits-all tool, let’s look at how to develop tools for conducting our own curriculum evaluation for the groups we manage.
Before creating the tool, we need to deal with who chooses. Some churches allow the leader of each Bible study group to make this choice. Others let the group decide themselves. Ultimately, the church expects us as the leader to hold the groups accountable for using resources that support the overall goals and doctrinal beliefs of the church. If we pass that responsibility on to the group leaders or groups themselves, we must help them create an evaluation instrument to ensure that they make a wise choice. Otherwise, we run the risk of our groups being something less than our churches deserve and desire. Part of carrying the title is knowing our groups and our purpose for those groups well enough that we can make that decision as their leader.
Here is a quick overview of the steps:
- List the characteristics
- Establish a measurement of the characteristic
- Define the non-negotiables
- Force rank the characteristics
- Create a scorecard
To get started, we want to generate a list of characteristics needed. Most characteristics can be grouped into four categories. The first category is limits. Everyone has limits no matter how large or small the church may be. None of us have a blank check. We have a budget and are expected to follow it. If our budget includes a set amount for purchasing curriculum, then that amount translates to a certain amount per group or person. Even if the cost is passed on to the group, they have a limit as to what they will spend. This may be $5 per participant, $75 per group, or some other number. Identify this limit.
Other limits may include the past, which can be good and bad. A good experience with a curriculum in the past may be a limit if you are looking at other options. The time leaders are expected or are willing to give to preparing may be another limit. The level of training we have provided the leaders may be another limit we must keep in mind.
A second characteristic category is doctrinal considerations. Every resource has a doctrinal position, even those that say they do not. Doctrinal views will eventually be seen in some way. We need to identify the main doctrinal issues we expect a resource to espouse. The list of potential items may include a wide range of issues. We may include beliefs about the return of Jesus, election, the role of baptism, the nature of Scripture, and other items. We may even have a position on Bible translation that we note. Including Bible translation as a doctrinal issue may seem strange, but this issue is tied to a person’s view of Scripture authority and what they consider to be trusted as God’s Word.
A third category is educational approach. Every resource has an educational philosophy behind it. Expectations of teachers, the role of the student, and intended results make up the educational philosophy. Here are some example characteristics: teacher provided additional content (teacher as the expert), variety of teaching methods included in plans (active learning), options provided for leading group (flexible), and covers every Bible book (biblical literacy).
The fourth and final category is ministry approach. Earlier we noted that open groups are different from closed groups. Open groups are designed for people to join at any time without penalty. A closed group usually has a starting and ending point and are closed to new participants once the group starts. Resources should reflect the difference. Other items in this category include starting point for the group (Bible text, topic, theme, doctrine, specific Bible teacher), time allotted, location (classroom, living room, coffee shop), and group size (a plan calling for the creation of four teams of six means the plan was written for a group of 24 people and your groups may be smaller).
Review the list and make sure characteristics can be measured. For example, instead of listing economical or affordable as the characteristic, use something like costs less than $75 per group. Words and phrases like affirms, holds to, and provides more than can be helpful.
We can now define the non-negotiable characteristics. If costing more than $5 per reason is a deal breaker, then that is non-negotiable. Some doctrinal issues may be non-negotiable. Whatever the non-negotiables are for the group we are trying to resource, list them first and mark them as such. If a resource does not meet the non-negotiables, then we don’t need to review it beyond that point.
Next, we will want to force rank the remaining characteristics. Force ranking will help us evaluate resources that we score equally. If we have two resources that evaluate similarly, then we can look at how the resources compare on the first items listed to break the tie.
The final step is creating a scorecard with the non-negotiables listed first and the others following in order of importance. Create a rating scale of 0 to 3 (0-1-2-3). By using an even number of options in the rating (four possible choices if using 0 to 3), we are forced to decide about the resource being evaluated. We can then use the tool we created to evaluate a resource for our purposes.
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