An Open Letter to Lifeway

A few thoughts on curriculum

I have often heard it said that curriculum does not matter. Good teachers will still be good teachers with or without good curriculum. Good curriculum cannot do enough to help bad teachers. In that sense, curriculum doesn't matter. But, there is a big group in the middle where curriculum makes a huge difference.

This was underlined for me again recently in a conversation I had with my friend Lance Witt. Lance is now in charge of home groups at Saddleback. A perennial problem at mega-churches is closing the gap between worship attendance and group attendance. This is especially problematic in cell-based churches. Saddleback has solved this problem and now has as many or more people attending groups as attending worship. The big difference that closed this gap was a curriculum.

Saddleback has gone to a video based curriculum similar to that which is used in the Purpose-Driven Life campaign. Each session includes about 18 minutes of video as well as a discussion guide. These videos are now being released to the public. Lance told me they plan to do 70 weeks of curriculum this year. They have had an excess of a ten-fold increase in attendance in groups sense they went to this video based approach.

I have produced some video based curriculum of my own, including the following titles:

  • The FACTS About Doubling Classes
  • Enjoying God
  • The God We Enjoy
  • Five Prayers
  • One Solitary Life
  • This Book Can Change Your Life

Video-based teaching saves the teacher time

The video based curriculum does a couple of things. For the teacher, it saves a lot of time. I use a video based curriculum in my Thursday night group for this very reason. I fashion myself to be a reasonably good teacher, but so is John Ortberg, who does the teaching in my group. His sermons are available for $5.00 each. At that rate, I have more money than I have time. It takes me several hours to get a lesson ready, and I would far rather pay the $5.00 and let John Ortberg do it. There is some likelihood that John Ortberg is in fact a better teacher than me and the quality of the teaching actually goes up. Because this is a home group, we have the luxury of time, so the 40 minute sermon is not a problem.

Someone sent me an email last night alerting me to the fact that Andy Stanley's messages are all available on DVD now. The price is around $5.00 per session.

I just checked; Ed Young Jr.'s sermons are also available on DVD.

The big screen makes a HUGE difference (pun intended) in this.  It is not that satisfying to watching teaching on a 19 inch TV. At 54 inches, it is bigger than life.

Video-based teaching insures a half-way decent lesson

Anther thing the video-based curriculum does is it nearly guarantees half-way decent teaching. It is my estimation that the bottom third of classes would be improved by replacing the teacher with Rick Warren, John Ortberg, or Andy Stanley.

We all have a tendency to "think of ourselves more highly than we ought." I heard of a survey recently where they asked tens of thousands of high school students if they were above average or below average in terms of their people skills. Obviously, half of them are, in fact, below average. Guess how many, out of tens of thousands rated themselves as below average?


Not one kid rated himself as below average. And, it is not just about kids. We all have a tendency to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Good live teaching is better than good video-based teaching. But, good video-based teaching is MUCH better than bad live teaching. Just because it is live doesn't mean it is good.

Video-based teaching makes it easier to recruit leaders

Do you ever struggle to get enough workers in your church? Of course you do. Jesus told us it would be true. The harvest is plentiful; the laborers are few. Video based curriculum helps us to close this gap.

At Saddleback, they don't recruit teachers anymore; they recruit HOSTS. HOSTS are marked by four things:

Heart for people

Open their homes

Serve refreshments

Turn on the TV

Far easer to get people to do this than to get people to dig out a lesson every week.

In short, if I were Lifeway, I would be watching this trend closely and figuring out how to take advantage of it. Let's face it, if Saddleback does it, it will be soon be a trend.

A few other thoughts on curriculum

I think there is a fundamental flaw behind most curriculum design. It is nearly universal and effects all curriculum. The flaw is this. It is an assumption that God has widely distributed the gift of being able to write life-changing prose. It is a flaw. God has not widely distributed this gift. He has, in fact, very narrowly distributed this gift, entrusting it with only a small percentage of Christians. Max Lucado has it. Charles Swindoll has it. John Piper has it. John Maxwell has it. There are others, but the list is pretty short.

The idea that we can find hundreds of writers who can produce, on demand, life changing prose is flawed. I have asked groups at times, "Many of you have been teaching and studying Sunday School your whole lives. How many of you would say that your life has been changed by any curriculum piece." More than one group have laughed out loud at this question.

This is why Lifeway is right course with the new Masterwork's series.  This series allows highly gifted people, like Billy Graham and Charles Swindoll to write the curriculum piece. This is genius.

Another example of Lifeway moving in the right direction is what they are doing in Discipleship training. Recruiting people like Beth Moore and Charles Coleson and Gary Smalley to write the curriculum is a stroke of genius. Getting those highly gifted people to do the writing is brilliant. I'd like to see more of that.

I also like what Lifeway has done with the other new series, the LifeConnections Series. This is an adaptation the Serendipity series that Lifeway acquired a year or two back and is similar to my own question and answer approach.  I have gone on public record as saying that I think the question approach is by far and away the best way of teaching adults. Way to go Lifeway.

I'd like to work with you, Lifeway

Finally, let me say, I'd love to work with you, Lifeway. I have a new book called 10 Marks of INCREDIBLE Teachers that I would love for you to look at. I do a 100 conferences a year, have close to 10,000 opt-in email address on this list with more being added daily. My two books with Group have consistently among their best sellers. I am a Baptist and would love to have a Lifeway/ Broadman & Holman book published. I think I am a pretty safe risk as a self-promoter.

And, I'd love to work with you on my conferences. I have talked to some people a time or two, and although they were polite, nothing ever came of it. I'd love for Double Your Class conferences to be Lifeway sponsored events. I don't really need money, so much as I'd love to have your promotion to help get a crowd. I have little doubt I could double my crowds if we could work together. It seems if we could work together to double classes, it would serve your interests as well. My email address is