Organizations step into role of religious curriculum publishers - Word&Way

Organizations step into role of religious curriculum publishers

Local congregations aren't alone in discovering that developing Christian education resources can meet a critical need. Other organizations have expanded their missions to include creating Bible study materials.

Both the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Nashville, Tenn.-based Baptist Center for Ethics began producing materials for Sunday School and other small group classes in about 2000. More recently, Baptists Today, a national newspaper published in Macon, Ga., began offering Bible study resources for churches.

Leaders at all three organizations agreed their initiatives were responses to new expectations from churches and their viability was increased by the rise of the Internet.

"There's been a proliferation of churches using a variety of Bible study sources, and from that churches have branched out to write their own," said Phil Miller, director of the BGCT Bible study/discipleship team.

That reality prompted the BGCT to create a publishing arm—BaptistWay Press—which develops undated, quarterly-based studies for preschool, children, youth, college students and adults.

"BaptistWay was created to be a supplement," said Miller. "We have for years been an advocate of churches using whatever material they feel is best for them. They'll always look at their context and the needs of their membership."

But he added that the number of churches using BaptistWay materials increases each year. The publishing arm provides free online resources—including study guides in languages other than English—and offers training to teachers.

The Baptist Center for Ethics, founded in 1991 to provide ethical resources for churches, began producing four-week undated study guides about 10 years later, through its imprint.

"The success of those initiatives moved us down the road to producing more online, undated curriculum units," said Robert Parham, the center's executive director. "Our focus is not primarily on theology or church history, but is tightly in keeping with our mission statement of providing moral resources to churches. That makes us different from other curriculum providers."

A key component of each unit—currently aimed at adults—is making practical applications for students to apply, he said.

"If you look at the broad scope of our material, almost all of the units have related to the moral life or addressing implications of Christian faith or exploring what the Bible has to say about how we live our lives," Parham added.

The BCE is widening its online resources to include material available on smart phones and tablet computers.

Last June, Baptists Today, a monthly newsjournal founded in 1983, launched its Nurturing Faith Bible study curriculum for youth and adults with Scriptures based on the Revised Common Lectionary.

Though the newspaper long had published commentaries on the Formations series developed by Smyth & Helwys publishers, the new initiative was sparked by executive editor John Pierce's experience while serving as interim pastor.

"I noticed that Sunday School classes were using everything—Formations from Smyth & Helwys, LifeWay (publishing arm of Southern Baptist Convention), a lectionary Bible study from another denomination and the dreaded 'I-found-a-book-at-the-Christian-bookstore-can-you-order-18-copies.'"
A subsequent survey undertaken by Baptists Today confirmed that pattern existed among churches in general. When the paper redesigned its print publication, it decided to include Bible study materials as a new content component.

Collaboration with several partners—including FaithLab, a Macon-based church resourcing group; both the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and its North Carolina affiliate; and Tony Cartledge, a professor at Campbell University School of Divinity in Buies Creek, N.C., who is the primary curriculum writer—has resulted in both online and print resources for churches.

The initiative has resulted in about 3,200 additional readers for the news journal, Pierce said. Additional materials for children will be produced by the end of this year, he added, and will be part of an expansion of Nurturing Faith, which will be announced at a meeting of the paper's board of directors later this month.