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

New eBookGo
Focused Youth Ministry ebook

85% off!

Focused Youth Ministry

This practical "how to" ebook will walk you through a 30-step process to discovering God's vision for your unique ministry context. The process also shows you how to implement that vision and put metrics in place to evaluate what is moving the vision forward and what isn't.

Price: $12.95 Limited time: $1.99