Youth group curriculum reviews: What’s hot, what’s not

Youth group curriculum reviewsSome of the feedback I’ve heard about what you’d like to see added to Life In Student Ministry are reviews of different curriculum so you know what’s worth your money and what isn’t. Personally, I don’t purchase much curriculum because I like to write my own for our ministry — I feel it allows me to be much more precise in addressing the issues that are important to us while targeting it exactly at my kids, something no publishing house can do. However, I have used a couple different curriculum packages before in other settings and currently use YouthBytes to aid discussions with jr. highers. Here’s a bit about my experience with various curriculums.

Note: Since I only write reviews on products I’ve actually used, each of these product reviews comes from my personal and practical experience from actually using them in ministry with teenagers, not just by looking at a box or flipping through some pages of material.

Disclaimer: Every ministry has different values and works with kids who are coming from different backgrounds in different contexts at different levels of spiritual maturity. The following reviews are only based on my own values and experiences. Your experience(s) may be very different from mine.

The Gospel Journey

5 star rating
Published by Dare 2 Share Ministries. Website. Price: $149 for 7 lessons.

To this day, The Gospel Journey has sparked the most spiritually significant discussions I have ever had with a group of high school teeangers. In fact, it was even an influential piece in shifting my own approach to youth ministry.

Set in mountains of Colorado, Greg Stier of Dare 2 Share Ministries takes a group of teens and young adults of various backgrounds (wiccan, atheist, agnostic, and others) on a journey through the Gospel. It attempts to be a reality show, but even Greg admits it’s not really a reality show as we typically think of. Rather, it is a show about reality.

The DVD sessions mostly consist of Greg teaching through the Gospel Journey acronym followed by very significant objections and questions by youth of other religions. Watch the trailer on YouTube to get an idea of what it’s like.

The included leader’s booklet includes two different guides: one for using with your churched kids and one for using with unchurched, unsaved kids. I personally started by using the guide for churched kids, but quickly had to supplement it with some of my theology books from seminary because the high school kids took the discussions very deep. In fact, there were some weeks we went almost 30 minutes over our meeting time and no one wanted to leave.

Check out my earlier post about The Gospel Journey for a more detailed review. Also see Dare 2 Share’s new Gospel Journey: Maui.

SUMMARY: The Gospel Journey definitely gets 5 stars for it’s depth in content, creativity, and unique approach to helping teens think through very critical theological issues. Best geared for high school students.

Goin’ All the Way

5 star rating
Published by Website. Price: FREE! has an amazing amount of resources available for free, but probably my favorite for use in youth group is Craig Groeschel’s 4-part sermon series called, Goin’ All the Way. (Watch it online here.) I downloaded the DVDs of his messages, showed them in their entirety to the small group, and then led a discussion afterwards. You may think that sitting kids in front of a TV to watch someone preach is kinda lame, but it’s definitely not when it comes to this series. I’ve used this series a couple times and every group has been completely glued to Pastor Craig Groeschel, listening intently, and even answering his rhetorical questions out loud to the TV!

Craig also has a book by the same title, Going All the Way: Preparing for a Marriage That Goes the Distance, which addresses this issue in more detail. Could be used as a good accompaniment to the video series.

SUMMARY: Goin’ All the Way is an excellent sermon DVD series that talks about dating, relationships, sex, how to find “the one,” and how to make marriages go the distance. I highly recommend it. Geared best for high school students.


4 star rating
Published by YouthBytes. Website. Price: $300 for 40 lessons (individual pricing available).

YouthBytes is a video-based curriculum with content that is very solid. It focuses on only a single point, and has a very fast-pasted, professional, MTV-style production. The format of the videos is to set the youth leader up to have a meaningful discussion with kids about the topic at hand. To help leaders do that best, each DVD includes of a version of the video in different lengths: a 1-minute, 3-minute, 7 to 12 minute, and even a 30-minute version. Of course, each video includes a lesson guide that includes key scripture verses, illustrations, ice-breakers, stories, and discussion questions.

Although the videos are excellent, the lesson guides are a bit lacking. Any lesson you buy from any vendor must be tweaked and tailored to the individual needs of your specific students, but these guides leave you tweaking a bit more than you might expect. For example, the ice-breakers are typically stories that introduce the topic in some way. However, I think experiential learning is always much more effective, so I like to engage the students in an activity of some sort to introduce the subject matter, which means I have to come up with more creative introductions for each lesson. The discussion questions also do not probe as deep as I like to go with my students, so I always re-write those, too.

Check out my earlier post about YouthBytes for a more detailed review.

SUMMARY: The videos are 5-star quality, but the lesson guides do not yet have quite the same value. However, in the near future YouthBytes will be updating their lessons to include many of my ideas, activities, and discussion questions. At that time, the whole package will definitely be 5 stars. *wink* Best geared for jr. high students.

Go Wide Kit

4 star rating
Published by Dare 2 Share Ministries. Website. Price: $74 for 3 training sessions.

If you’re looking for a tool to help train your kids in normal, every day, social evangelism, Dare 2 Share’s Go Wide Kit is definitely the way to go. The kit includes several things, but the core of it is a DVD containing three sessions where Greg Stier both trains and motivates teens to share their faith with their unsaved friends. He teaches them to first Pray for them, Pursue a relationship, and gently Persuade them into a relationship with Christ by taking opportunities to steer conversations toward spiritual matters.

The reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 is because in a separate section of the DVD, Greg talks about his idea for starting an e-team (evangelism team) in your youth group. I resist the idea that sharing Christ should be expected primarily of whoever joins an e-team, and fortunately, from my own conversations with Greg, he agrees with me. If he had the choice, he’d remove references to an e-team idea, but what’s published is published.

Check out my earlier post about the Go Wide Kit for a more detailed review.

SUMMARY: The Go Wide Kit is an excellent tool for training teenagers to share their faith. It gives them confidence to “bring God up” in normal conversations with their unsaved friends. Just ignore that e-team parts. Best geared for jr. high and high school students.

The Journey

4 star rating
Published by the Evangelical Covenant. Website. Price: $12.95/student journal; $39.95/leaders guide

The word “confirmation” carries a lot of different meetings for different people in different denominations, but if you’re willing to strip away all that baggage, my denomination’s discipleship (confirmation) material really is quite excellent. It’s a small group discipleship experience for 7th and 8th graders that takes them through the entire Bible in 2 years — Old Testament one year, New Testament the next. Students are expected to complete journal work each day during the week where they interact with scripture and answer questions about how it connects with their daily life. In their weekly small groups, the jr. highers discuss their journal work and learn more about the next major event or theological issue in the Bible.

I am honestly quite impressed with how thorough the material is, how practical it is for a jr. higher’s every day life, and how well the leader’s guides are put together. The best part is that by the time every jr. higher moves into high school, they have a solid grasp on the message of the entire Bible as a whole. What a great foundation for high school!

My personal ties to any one denomination are very weak, but I’d still recommend this material for any church’s jr. high ministry.

SUMMARY: An excellent overview of the entire Bible in 2 years that encourages jr. highers to reflect on it’s practical implications in their personal life on a daily basis while having accountability and relationships in a small group. Geared best for jr. high students.

Girls and Guys Curriculum Pack

4 star rating
Published by Youth Specialties. Guys Website. Price: $11.24 | Girls website. Price: $10.94

This curriculum pack is actually two books for small groups that are gender specific.

  • Guys: 10 Fearless Faith-Focused Sessions on Issues That Matter to Guys
  • Girls: 10 Gutsy, God-Centered Sessions on Issues that Matter to Girls

My wife and I have found them to be well balanced in addressing critical issues of manhood and womanhood. Each of the 10 lessons includes several different options so you can tailor the lesson according to your needs and time restraints. The activities are fun, break the ice, and illustrate the issues very well. Interactive handouts are included to ensure that the teens are tracking with you through the whole lesson. Unfortunately, it also serves up too much text to just read to the kids, so you’ll need to feel comfortable enough with the content so you can share it in your own words.

SUMMARY: Great books for addressing gender specific issues with teenagers. I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 because I’d like to see them probe a bit deeper, but if you have comfortable relationships already built with the kids, I’m sure you may end up asking those hard questions anyway. Geared best for jr. high and high school students.

Design for Discipleship

4 star rating
Published by The Navigators. Website. Price: $6.99 each

Design for Discipleship is the series I use for one-on-one discipleship with new believers. It consists of a 6 workbooks that walk a new believer through the core foundations of Christianity. Although a leaders guide is available, I don’t use it. I just complete the workbook assignments on the same schedule as the guy I’m discipling and meet with him once a week to discuss our answers together. It lends itself well to very meaningful discussions and questions.

The workbooks include passages to read, a bit of explanation, and many questions to answer about the scripture text that was read. What I like best is that the questions are not asking you to list the obvious — they require some engagement with the passage, thinking, and processing through observation, it’s meaning (interpretation), and application, which is great because that leads to self-discovery, the most significant way to learn and take ownership of something.

SUMMARY: I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 because I would prefer that there was a bit more teaching in the workbooks to balance all of the questions. Otherwise, it’s great for one-on-one discipleship. Geared best for jr. high and high school students.

4 star rating
Published online at Price: $9.95/month for unlimited access. isn’t a curriculum as much as it is a youth ministry resource site that includes almost 15 years worth of Bible lessons (with accompanying PowerPoint presentations) for youth groups. If there’s a topic or passage you want to talk about, I can almost guarantee that has something for you. The lessons are easy to use, simple to modify, and include all the handouts you could ever want. If you want to use the lesson as a small group discussion, there’s a sheet for that. Or, if you’re an up-front-and-preach kinda person, there’s an outline version for “preaching,” too. Of course, you could easily combine the two options together in a sort of “I preach, then we discuss” fashion, too.

The weakness of TeenLifeMinistries is that the lessons all start to feel a bit similar pretty quickly. After a couple months of the outlines, format, and questions, my teens were saying, “I can tell exactly where this is heading” and would somewhat check out mentally due to the repetitious nature of the structure. Fortunately, it’s a subscription-based site so you can cancel whenever you want.

SUMMARY:’s real value is in having a goldmine of very flexible resources and ideas to kick-start your own lesson planning. As stated earlier, you should never use anyone’s lesson “as is,” but be especially intentional about not doing that here.

You’re Next

3 star rating
Published by Dare 2 Share Ministries. Website. Price: $29 for leader’s guide

This is Dare 2 Share’s response for the “go deep” part of their Deep & Wide ministry strategy. Greg Stier goes through the 30 Core Truths (found in the Deep & Wide thesis downloadable from here) and shares youth group lessons that are intended to take kids deep into God’s Word in a systematic approach to theology. While the concept is great, especially because the lessons are highly practical and heavy on application to real life, it really doesn’t go as deep as I think it has the potential to go. I found myself using it for ideas on how to introduce one of the 30 Core Truths, but took most of my “depth” from one of my systematic theology books and integrated that into my lessons instead.

I gave it 3 stars because, even though much of the content is based on stories from Greg’s life, if you substitute his stories with ones from your own life and mix in some deeper theology from another source, it has the potential to be pretty powerful. I know that sounds like I’m saying you basically need to re-write Greg’s lessons, but it’s not quite like that. He lays a solid framework for which to work when taking kids deep into God’s Word.

SUMMARY: This “go deep” tool doesn’t go as deep as the Go Wide Kit goes wide, but it still provides a decent framework for addressing the 30 Core Truths with the youth group. Geared best for high school students.

Soul Fuel

3 star rating
Published by Dare 2 Share Ministries. Website. Price: FREE!

You sure can’t beat the price of this weekly curriculum from Dare 2 Share Ministries — FREE! Every week it shows up in your email Inbox and includes a devotional sheet for teens, a youth group lesson plan, and a parent sheet. They each loosely address one of the 30 Core Truths in some way.

Although each lesson follows an outline, most of the content is written as a transcript. I know some people prefer reading something word for word, but it doesn’t seem to work too well in this context because the lessons are intended primarily for small groups, not preaching from a pulpit. It just doesn’t feel right to discuss some questions as a group and then make students sit and listen to you read the next paragraph to them, ya know? If you can memorize it, that’s great, but I mostly just shared it in normal conversational English using my own words to keep the dialog going.

The length of the material is also fairly short — probably enough for a 15-20 minute discussion. Most of my teaching in my youth group goes for 30-60 minutes, so this is a bit short for us.

SUMMARY: Soul Fuel gets 3 stars mostly because it’s free and consistent every week. It’s probably better suited for quick devotionals with kids than it is for youth group meetings.

Talking the Walk: 31 sessions for new small groups

3 star rating
Published by Youth Specialties. Website. Price: $13.59

This book is probably one of the best books I’ve seen for solidifying a new small group of teenagers together. It’s cram-packed with ideas and activities that will grow new friendships, build trust, and create an environment that feels safe for everyone. If you have a new group of teens in a small group who don’t know each other very well, this book is perfect for you.

However, I find it odd that it seriously lacks a spiritual influence. There are scripture passages in each lesson, but both myself and my leaders had difficulty figuring out how it connected with the rest of the lesson, as weak as the lessons already were. The focus of this book is definitely on building community in your new small group, not really on Bible study.

SUMMARY: If this book had stronger Biblical content, it would be an excellent resource for new small groups of teens who don’t know each other very well, but without it, the group-building games and activities need to be combined with an actual Bible study from elsewhere.

Jr. High Grapple

1 star rating
Published by Group Publishing. Website. Price: $89.99 for 16 lessons.

Grapple is one of the few curriculums I’ve ditched mid-way through. In fact, I only used it for about 4 weeks before I stopped wasting my jr. higher’s time with it. The format is to introduce a topic to your teens, watch a short video that illustrates it, and then continue with the discussion. Sounds good in theory, but videos were very weak in both content and production value. For example, the video that introduces the topic of salvation was based on a visit to a pet shelter where animals were asked if all dogs go to heaven, and it looks like it was produced in iMovie.

Furthermore, my adult leaders found the discussion sheets to be very difficult to understand and follow, partly because the sheets tried to communicate too many points in one lesson or that the points didn’t seem to connect very well with the main idea of the lesson. Anyone who works with jr. high knows that they need only one solid point driven home in a variety of ways, not multiple points that are weakly connected to the main idea.

However, the one thing that Grapple offers that I absolutely love are the parent sheets included with each lesson. These sheets are designed to send home with parents after the jr. high meeting to inform them on what was discussed. The parent sheets include a couple discussion starters for parents to use with their kids and take the topic deeper at home, which is a great way to help families have spiritual conversations at home.

The other thing I really appreciated about Grapple was that all of their lessons, parent sheets, videos, and discussion sheets were available for download from their site, which meant that I could easily embed the video illustrations in PowerPoint presentations, email discussion sheets to adult leaders in advance, and make parent sheets available for download on our website.

SUMMARY: I would’ve given it 0 stars, but it’s availability in digital format and parent sheets are definitely worth at least 1 star. Best geared for jr. high students.

Add your own review

If you’ve used a curriculum you’d like to recommend or would like to warn people to way away from, please write about it in the comments below. I just ask that you only review it if you’ve actually tried using it in a youth ministry context.

Thanks for helping youth workers around the world make an informed decision about the material they use at youth group!

NOTE: Reviews and links from publishers and advertisers will be deleted.

Posted on January 8, 2009

  • Thanks Tim, I really like this post. It’s very helpful as we sort through tons of material that comes across our desks in the form of preview packs. I currently use Soul Fuel for my large group meeting. I arrange it for a 20-30 minute talk (so I supplement with more scripture) and save the discussion questions. We have “D-Teams” which are student led discussion groups that they go through the questions with after. We use KNOWN- a lifeway curriculum for our small groups on Sunday Morning. I would love to write about it, but we only began the study last week!

  • I have not been a Youth pastor now for a abotu 8 months as I am inbetween jobs. However I have used alot of what you have on here before. However I have also used stuff from what I have enjoyed when I did use it was the fact that you had the powerpoint and everything right there and then you could change the message around and make it your own. Also you have postcards you can send out and handout weeks before the series promoting the upcoming series. Just my opinion.

  • Great post! Have you seen/heard of Dave Ramsey’s Generation Change? I know it’s not designed as a bible study curriculum, but you are a big DR fan!

  • Like Tim, I write a lot of my own studies, lessons, and curriculum, but when doing three Bible studies a week, it can save a lot of time to go with something already done. The main thing that comes to mind that I tried fairly recently, (and ditched halfway through, which I rarely do) was Revolution from BluefishTV. It’s a 13-week curriculum with 5 video lessons. The videos are very well made, featuring Doug Fields and a few other people, but I would say, Doug and the videos were the saving graces to the curriculum. Aside from well-made video segments, the rest of the study was problematic. First, each lesson had so much material in it that even with a group of 15-20 kids, it took nearly and hour and a half to go through each session, leaving very little time for worship, announcements, or anything else and it was murder on the jr. high attention spans. Second, the subject matter was very dark, deep and heavy. I believe we have some MAJOR cultural issues that the church needs to address (sexuality, eating disorders, self mutilation, drugs, etc.) however this curriculum, I felt, was almost depressing because it focused so much on the problem behaviors and less on the Answer (Christ). Some of my parents even commmented that they felt it was depressing and that the issues were way heavier than what kids in our group were facing. If you have a bunch of emo kids who are right there on the edge, this may be the study for you! The final demerit I would put on this curriculum has more to do with the publishers than the study itself. While Bluefish has made some good bible studies and has some great stuff that is downloadable from their website, they are notorious for asking you to preview their curriculum. This stuff always sits on my desk and I never have time to look at it, and it usually winds up going back to them late and unopened with a bill from them for the full amount of the study passing the package in the mail. The last time this happened I sent them a polite note not to send me any more stuff, but they called me on my cell phone the other day to tell me about some new thing and I didn’t understand that they wanted me to view it. I thought they were just informing me about it. Well it came to the church yesterday and is sitting on my desk! My personal preference is for people not to do business this way. If they sent a free sample or emailed me a link to something I could preview, great. But please, dont’ send me the full curriculum and make me pay to ship it back to you if I don’t want it.

  • @Jason Huffman: I haven’t used just for the fact that they send us stuff automatically and expect us to return if it we don’t want it, as you mentioned. Like I have nothing better to do with my time than remember to check out something I don’t want in the first place. It’s definitely a turn-off for me.

  • @Brandon: I am a Dave Ramsey fan! And I have checked out that curriculum before, but have never used it myself so I can’t really write an honest review about it. It doesn’t really fit our “Deep & Wide” vision anyway, so it’s likely that we won’t use it anytime soon either. Bummer, but ministries don’t stay focused by doing everything that’s available out there no matter how good it might be, ya know?

  • Jill

    We have used the free sample clicks from youthbytes per an earlier recommendation and my review would look almost identical to yours. Any idea when they might have their study guides “up to par?”

  • @Jill: No, I don’t have an ETA for when the discussion guides are going to be updated and republished. My guess is that it will be a while since I haven’t even started working on that project yet. I wouldn’t let the discussion guides keep you from making the purchase, though. You’re going to have to tweak and refine the lessons for your kids no matter what you use or who you get it from anyway.

  • Another resource I bought a while back and revisited was “The 13 Most Important Bible Lessons for Teenagers” from Group. In terms of lesson topics and scripture support, the study is fantastic. In terms of teaching plans designed to be relevant to teens it’s horrible. While the topics are very appropriate for JH and HS students, the suggested teaching methods (childish games, searching for clues, dressing as Bible characters, immitating Sherlock Holmes, etc.) were straight from a 3rd-4th grade curriculum. I ditched it after 3 lessons, but recently I came back to it. Since the content was so great and the methods were so terrible, I took the general concepts of each lesson and re-taught it in a way that connects better with my teens.

  • We have a Family Ministry model at our church meaning from pre-school to senior high, we have a common theme in mind. For the past 2 years we have used XP3 curriculum by ReThink, Reggie Joiner’s (NorthPointe in Atlanta) company. It come with videos, powerpoints, sermon scripts, small group dialog, worship playlist, set design, games, background music playlist and an outreach event for each series. Every series is 3 weeks long allowing for you to have about 12 weeks out of the year for trips, and other things that you might want to do. i.e. The Online Mission Trip. It also come with an email blast to send to parents and students to keep them informed on what series is next. I have been very pleased with it so far. My only complaint would be that sometimes the messages are a little watered down…but that comes with “canned” messages. I enjoy taking their ideas and making them my own. Check them out.

  • Jimmy H.

    Thank everyone for your posts. God is so good! As a new youth worker, initially I was grinding a lot of gears, and loosing a lot of sleep in receiving weekly Sunday school lessons from the Lord. In seeking the Lord during this time, He lead me to a much easier approach. Show them JESUS! Bless God! We just went through one of the best studies I have ever been through, In Pursuit of Jesus. It is offered by Group, and introduces the learner approach to ministry. The heart of this study is for participants to meet Jesus, again perhaps, or even for a first time, as He really is. Our youth were challenged to answer for themselves, Who do YOU say that Jesus is! We rejoice in God that we have seen a number of decisions for made for Christ, and request for baptisms, among the youth who have participated in this study! Highly recommend this to you all. (Small adjustments will have to be made to tailor to your group, and a few of the selected songs are dated (mostly Michael Card tracts) and might be opted to be replaced with more contemporary ones. Hillsong's latest album, The I Heart Revolution, is a favorite with our youth. Blessings to you all!

  • In my ministry experience which dates back to 1985, I must say that there are advantages and disadvantages to using ciricculum. There is definately some great cirriculum out there and you need to use whatever works for you. I have used cirriculum in the past but I’ve discovered something very important and it has completely changed my ministry.

    I firmly believe that a person can only share what God has imparted to them personally, not someone’s else’s ideas. I’ve found that some cirriculum can be binding and it’s easy to become almost dependant on it. Stay away from the ” little preparation required” stuff.
    We need to be in the Word and in prayer ourselves. We need to be prayerfully prepared and sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. As far as I’m concerned the Word of God itself is the best ciricculum. You can’t go wrong with it. Be yourself, be real and simply feed your teens what God has fed you. Teens love to eat. This is true physically but it’s also true spiritually. Get them hungry for the Word so they want more. You’ll find that when they have a hunger for the Word they won’t be able to get enough of it.

    • Great comment, Pastor Glenn! I totally agree.

    • Pastor Glenn I really appreciate what you have said. Youth workers (and all else who follow Christ) do need to be in the God's word and not rely on canned messages.


      I am a 'youth rep' for a major city in Canada and my job is to visit, encourage and equip youth pastors in my city. It's been difficult seeing so many stressed & burnt out youth workers a step away from resignation. In my experience, youth pastors have a ridiculously large portfolio in which preaching is one of many major tasks they are asked to do regularly. They are so busy doing everything that in a lot of ways they are doing nothing (at least doing nothing well!).

      Quality curriculum can be a life-saver. At the end of the day, we aren't preaching anything new. If we are it's probably heresy! Our jobs aren't to be original but to be faithful. Youth pastors spend so much time attempting to be creative & original in our corporate worship & teaching times that really important things slip through the cracks: leadership development & reproduction, student mentoring & sometimes our families!!

      The XP3 curriculum has been an incredible blessing to me and many of my friends in ministry. It's not perfect & it will need to be adjusted to your particular setting, but it's allowed me to concentrate on other important kingdom principles of leadership that otherwise…I just wouldn't have the time to do.

  • I agree above that the XP3 curriculum is good in content. But the best curriculum in 18 years of youth ministry was the 'To Save a Life' Curriculum that went with the movie that came out in Jan. of 2010. Not only did that movie impact our kids, but the curriculum was the best we had used ever. It was creative enough that we didn't need to add much or anything to it. It motivates youth to reach out, and it really did work. The curriculum stated that your youth group might double, (we've all heard that one) but I actually took notice of during this series, and amazingly it did. We went from a 25-30 number to over 50 by the end. And since then the youth are bringing their friends, which is such a huge step for many of them. I will say, watch what you pray for. Leading a group of 30 youth and leading a group of 60 youth means many changes. Things that worked before, may not work now. They created a second curriculum for the movie as well. If you haven't show the movie to your youth group, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU DO SO.

    • It's interesting that you thought the “To Save A Life” curriculum was so good. We used it at our church, too, and actually quit half-way through because we thought the content was poor and kids totally weren't engaging with it. We went with it's themes, but didn't really follow the lesson plans or content at all. Just goes to show that ministry context is everything. What works for you may not necessarily work for someone else. That's why you gotta know your kids so well before jumping into a curriculum, right?

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