A Guide to “Hacking” Curriculum – How to invent a new program using what you already have

A Guide to “Hacking” Curriculum – How to invent a new program using what you already have

“Start with the resources that are already on your shelves… If the presenter is engaging, you’ll have them begging for more.”




What is “Hacking”?
If your church is like my church, you’ve got a few years’ worth of discarded curricula hanging around in your Sunday School closet. And if your church is like my church, you’ve also got a population of harried, overworked adults, with or without kids, for whom clearing out a weekday evening every week for Bible study is simply out of the question.

So what is a modern Christian educator to do? Consider a “curriculum hack.” Take good, but maybe old materials, and hack them into new formats. Here’s a short list of ways to take curricula you’ve already got, and make it work for you.

1. Try a short-term approach
If folks won’t commit to 32 weeks (and who can blame them?), try classes in series as short as two or three, or for that matter, even one. Pick a small subset of scripture, like Genesis, the Samuel/Saul/David/Solomon saga, or the story of Paul, and go for it. Draw your material from one or more of those dusty curricula on your shelf.

2. Try a theme
Wondering what to do for Lent this year? Gather up the materials you already have, but focus on one topic. How about passion narratives in the four Gospels? Or reading through Mark, using different supplementary materials? Or taking a good look at the importance of the Passover narrative? You’ll find all of these topics covered a few times in different curricula—consider making your Lenten series a kaleidoscope of different approaches.

3. Have a Bible questions ingathering
Wondering what your parishioners actually want to know about Bible, but too afraid to ask? One Sunday, hand out paper and pens and invite parishioners to write down any question they’ve ever wanted to ask about the Bible but have been too embarrassed to ask. Pass around a collection plate to collect the questions anonymously.

Address a question per week in your newsletter, hold a Q&A Forum on a Sunday morning featuring the questions, or be exceptionally brave and answer the questions without preparation. The questions will be interesting and the answers entertaining no matter which format you choose.

You might also find a cluster of intense interest around a certain topic, which could serve as a jumping off point for short series of thematic classes. You also might discover in-service educational opportunity.

4. Pilot an online group
The stay at home dad with two toddlers might not be able to get out much, but he might be able to squeeze in a comment or two on a message board during nap time. Other folks may travel travel during the week for work. A Facebook group is a great way for a small group to stay connected and plugged in.

Be sure to have the group meet in person to set up the page, set ground rules, and establish a firm start and end date. This would be a great opportunity to dig deeper into a subset of Epistles, a Gospel, a group of lesser prophets, or anything that interests your group.

5. Put an educational spin on dinners this year
Pick one week in a dinner series and devote it to a biblical topic to get people talking and learning. This might be a great opportunity to use an online video resource, one that is fun and engaging.

6. Slide Bible topics into other church groups
That parent support group for difficult teenagers might have a lot to say about David’s and Absalom’s relationship, or the Older and Wiser group might connect with Elizabeth and Zechariah—but you’ll never know unless you try. You’ve already got the background materials sitting around, so why not?

7. Be responsive to local situations
Outside groups being particularly feisty lately? Try a one-session class about what Revelation really says. Promise to reveal who the Whore of Babylon actually is to entice people in the community to come. They’ll be disappointed to discover it’s actually a personification of second-century Rome, but they’ll learn a lot.

8. Be responsive to world events
Conflicts in the Tigris and Euphrates river valley didn’t start in the Twentieth Century; it’s been going on for millennia. Provide the back story of the rise and fall of empires in the Fertile Crescent to help parishioners understand what’s going on today in Iraq and Syria, or with the Israel/Palestine conflict. This would be a great opportunity to team teach with a local imam or rabbi (if you have one) or someone who is up-to-date on current events.

9. Try a “Bible Blitz”
Take a biblical topic – either a person, a place, a theme, an historic event – and boil it down to a five minute presentation that’s offered during coffee hour. Even the most mundane biblical topics can be interesting in this format. Start with the resources that are already on your shelves. Keep it to five minutes, offer five minutes of Q&A, and then send participants back out to coffee hour. If the presenter is engaging, you’ll have them begging for more.


Becky Zartman is Assistant Rector at St. Thomas, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC. You can read about her life and ministry on her blog, the Vicar of H Street.

This article first appeared in the magazine Episcopal Teacher.

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