Children’s ministry isn’t easy. If you serve in children’s ministry in any capacity, you already know this. And it can often be lonely. If you go to any church, the people that are often least acknowledged are those serving in children’s ministry.
I hope you don’t read this as a cry for attention. I’m simply stating a fact. In fact, I truly think children’s ministry is better off without too much acknowledgment. We have too much to do, and recognition may turn into distractions for us.
But that’s why we need community and support (arguably) more so than any other aspect of the church. That’s why I believe (and participate) in local, regional, and national family ministry leadership networks (my friend Trevor wrote a great piece on why networking is important for family ministry leaders that you can read here).
It’s also why I encourage the people who serve on our Emergence Kids teams to invite their friends to serve alongside them. This is something we shouldn’t be doing alone. We need each other.
I don’t know what brought you to this blog post. Maybe you’re looking for a new curriculum. If so, here’s my recommendation: give Tru an honest try.
(Disclaimer: David C. Cook is not paying me in any way to endorse Tru. These are nothing more than the thoughts of a “satisfied customer.”)
In case I haven’t beaten this drum enough times in this piece, we need community. God designed us for it, and the more we serve him, the more we’re going to need each other. That’s why TruCommunities exist. They serve to equip leaders who are in children’s and family ministry with the tools, relationships, and inspiration they need to do their jobs well.
I got my first taste of a TruCommunity in November when I attended a Family Ministry Conversation hosted by David C. Cook. The experience helped to validate my belief that ministry is best done in community.
Networking isn’t easy, but it’s worth it, and one of the beauties of Tru is that it provides the opportunity to network with other churches that are also a part of Tru. That alone is worth the price of admission. And even if your ministry isn’t a part of Tru, you can still participate in a TruCommunity.
I always struggled to find a robust parent partnership foundation in children’s ministry curricula, and that’s partially because it’s not easy to do. Honestly, engaging parents is up to you—the ministry leader—and no matter how stellar or poor the parent portion of a given curriculum is, your willingness to work in this area is the primary determining factor that can influence your success in this area.
That said, having a great foundation to build upon never hurt anyone. HomeFront is just that—a great foundation. You’ll have to do the work to get parents to buy in. But if you do, I can assure you that parents will be glad you did.
HomeFront is a monthly digital magazine (with a print version coming soon) that provides parents with devotion ideas, conversation starters, crafts, activities, games, and even recipes to help foster environments of spiritual formation at home. I’m not even a parent yet, but I was floored by what’s in this magazine and how simple it can be to create these types of environments at home.
Here’s the cool thing. Both TruCommunity and HomeFront are available to you as a ministry leader completely free of charge. That’s right, the folks at Tru believe in the power of networking and the importance of faith being fostered at home that they want to invite you to experience these two facets of their ministry without ever having to pay them a cent.
Oh yeah, there’s a curriculum.
I have to admit, when I first looked at Tru over two years ago I was somewhat narrow-minded about formatting a LG-SG children’s service. In my mind, all the “magic” of discipleship happened in the SG environment, and LG was simply a way to get the story across. That led to my confusion regarding the activities to which I referred in my first review of Tru.
Here’s the thing with Tru. Flexibility is key. You have to understand that when you adopt a curriculum, one of two things will likely happen. Either you’ll tailor the curriculum to fit your needs/culture/vision, or you’ll tailor your environments to fit the curriculum. The first scenario is more likely, but if your children’s ministry follows the LG-SG service format, there’s no reason you shouldn’t ask the question: what if we tweaked our service culture a bit to execute this curriculum?
Tru will force you to ask that question, and if you weigh the costs and discover that it’s not worth it to make changes to your service, you’ll find that Tru becomes a lot more difficult to execute. Not that it can’t be done. I visited a church a few months ago that was using Tru, but they were tweaking the curriculum quite a bit in order to fit it to their culture. It works, but it requires a lot more effort.
From here on out, I’m going to categorize this review so that it’s easier for you to wrap your mind around where I’m going. Also, I want to provide you with some simple ways to determine if Tru is right for your ministry.
Scope & Sequence
Tru is a chronological curriculum that teaches the Bible as one cohesive narrative rather than broken up into separate, distinct stories. You’ll often hear language like, “In this part of the ‘Big God Story’ we’re going to discover. . .” as opposed to, “In our story today. . .” A subtle change, but one that I think is really important as we share with children the idea that God is the Author of the story who has written himself into it.
Thematically, what Tru emphasizes are ten environments of spiritual formation. I won’t go into them all here; instead, you can click this link to read an overview of the environments.
Tru goes through the Bible (from Genesis to Revelation) in one year, but it has a three-year sequence that highlights different narrative threads each year. Over the course of the three years, children will discover multiple characteristics of God and how he has interacted with his people from the beginning of the story till today. Children will also discover their part in “The Big God Story” as they learn about their identity and how to live in response to what God has done and is doing in their lives.
Unlike The Gospel Project, the different age levels don’t follow an identical scope and sequence. Rather, it’s the environments that run concurrently so that parents can run that thread at home (for example, the preschoolers might be learning about Deborah one week while the elementary kids are learning about Jesus’ death and resurrection, but both age groups are in the environment of “Storytelling”).
In my earlier review of Tru I took off points in this area. I admit that my assessment was based almost entirely on a sample lesson that was an overview lesson of the entire “Big God Story” from Genesis to Revelation. Tough to do in one lesson. I still wonder if there’s a better way to do it, and while I struggle with it a bit, it only occurs once over the course of the entire time that you use the curriculum (or twice, if you’re like us, and you roll out the curriculum first at one campus then at another).
Tru actually won me over after I received access to a “live preview” (as opposed to the samples you might download from their sales website). The live preview gave me the opportunity to see current lessons; like the Orange curricula, Tru is constantly updating and revising itself to improve, so being able to see it in its most updated format was extremely helpful in assessing the curriculum’s age-appropriateness.
Tru targets its audiences really well. It provides an excellent structure while allowing the leaders plenty of creative space to execute the lessons. The preschool lessons (TruWonder) are presented in a playhouse-show format with weekly pieces that are there regularly to offer consistency for kids. And unlike The Gospel Project for Preschool, TruWonder provides easily retainable memory verses so that it’s not a stretch for children to learn them. For sake of comparison, this month’s “Remember Verse” for preschool is:
“Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story.”
In The Gospel Project, this month’s preschool Key Passage is:
Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey.
To me, the way a curriculum approaches Scripture memorization says a lot about how the age-appropriateness of the curriculum. Does the curriculum provide bite-sized Scripture passages for even the oldest children in its age range? Then the curriculum is setting the bar too low (for our church perhaps, but other churches might value the ease of use). Are the Scripture verses the curriculum uses too complex, as seen in the example from The Gospel Project? Then the curriculum is likely targeting too high. Finding that balance is difficult, but Tru does a decent job of doing so.
My word count in this post has hit a ridiculous number, so I’ll come back to my thoughts on Tru in a little while. Stay tuned though because if you’re a children’s ministry practitioner, I have a potential giveaway for you! (No promises, though)