It‘s an ’Orange’ World: A Look at the New Sunday School Curriculum

By: David Ibata

On a bus to church camp last summer, Emily Stothart asked a 9-year-old from her Sunday School class if God blinded Saul on the road to Damascus, or was the glory of Jesus too much for him? Acts 9:3 says a light from heaven flashed around Saul. “But God would never hurt us,” the child responded.

Encounters like these impress Stothart about the new Orange Sunday School curriculum,

“He’s making a connection,” said Stothart, director of Christian education at the Lawrenceville, Georgia, Corps. “If God does not hurt us, why was Saul blinded? He’s trying to talk through these things. These kids have great questions. And they know the Bible stories. The whole interaction with the Bible is fun, in a way I think I missed as a kid.”

Orange uses 21st century technology – customized lesson plans, storytelling visuals, drama, music videos and social media as well as printed material – to connect with students, parents and leaders.

The curriculum has been out about 10 years and today is in thousands of churches across 30 denominations internationally. Next year, The Salvation Army in the United States will join them – more than 1,200 corps, of which the Southern Territory has 336. The Army is Orange’s single biggest partner to date.

“Orange is a strategy for how we do Christian education,” said Captain Anne Westmoreland, associate territorial youth secretary. “(Orange) is not just a vendor. They’re a ministry. We’ve entered into a partnership with them to get access to cutting-edge material in Christian education.”

“Not just The Salvation Army, but churches across North America have had a steady decline in Sunday school attendance for years,” Captain Westmoreland said. Yet Sunday school “is one of our core programs of discipleship” – hence, the importance of the new curriculum.

The Lawrenceville Corps was the first to deploy Orange, in October 2015. The Southern Territory now has 18 corps, two from each of the nine divisions, in training. They’ll start using the materials in January and be the guides for others. Training for everyone begins in the spring, and every corps will go Orange in June. At that time, the present WordAction curriculum will be retired.

Orange, a family ministry organization, is based in Cumming, Georgia, about 40 miles north of Atlanta. During a recent visit, Ben Nunes, Orange partnership lead, apologized that the place was unusually quiet; half the staff of about 100 was gone for the annual Orange Tour, a series of Christian education conferences held in 20 cities in the fall.

“We are a nonprofit that tries to help children and families partner with churches,” Nunes explains. So what’s this fixation on “Orange”? “The color orange comes from two colors, yellow and red, combined. Yellow represents the light of the church, red represents the heart of the home. When you combine the two influences, together they have a greater impact than two separate influences.”

The children’s curriculum consists of “First Look,” for preschoolers; “252 Basics” for the elementary school crowd (from Luke 2:52: “As Jesus grew up, he increased in wisdom and in favor with God and people,” NIV); and separate middle school and high school editions of “XP3.” (An adult curriculum, “Living a Better Story,” will be included in the rollout with the rest of Orange.)

Traditionally, Sunday school materials might be delivered by UPS in a box. Not so with Orange. It lives on the Internet; everything, from posters to lessons to videos, is downloaded from a subscription website. A Sunday “252” package, for example, includes a script for large groups, a step-by-step plan for small groups, screen images and theme graphics, original monthly song, and drama sketches and production notes (a video is provided, if a live stage production every week is beyond one’s resources). A weekly social media plan has updates for Facebook, Twitter and other content, and Orange specialists are on-call to answer questions.

Being “virtual” means the content is continually updated with new, fresh material, unlike a printed product that could take up to a year to produce. The content is available two months in advance; Orange provides an overview of future topics and themes, with a three-year scope and cycle for each curriculum.

A 252 Sunday school starts with small groups, a social time for everyone to catch up and connect with their small group leader. Then, everybody gathers in a large group for worship, singing and a Bible story. Finally, it’s back to small groups, where students review the Scripture lesson, learn a memory verse and do a fun activity. Lastly, when parents come to pick up their kids, they may be given “God Time” cards and “Parent Cues” to engage with their youngsters through the week.

“The biggest difference is, many traditional Sunday school curriculums are still very much paper-driven,” said Sheila Livingston, director of Christian education for the Southern Territory. “The teacher has a book they read or teach from, and the kids have an activity or paper. Newer curriculum like Orange is video-based. You can do it with minimum printing and teach from a phone or computer. … It can be perfect for places with fewer than 30 children and one or two well-trained teachers. Now you have videos, so the children get well-taught material.”

As June approaches, Livingston said, “We’ll be releasing information on Youth Down South, and little nuggets in the Southern Spirit; every month, there will be something from our office. Meanwhile, we’ll have these 18 corps teaching it across our territory, and their responsibility will be getting the word out.”

The North-South Carolina, Texas and Maryland-West Virginia divisions have leadership training sessions in the spring; other divisions are scheduling their training.

“If you have a heart for children, this might be one of the most fun Sunday School programs you’ll ever do,” Stothart said. “It’s theologically sound, Biblically based, and has the potential to make an impact in kids’ lives, especially if you’re a committed teacher. You’re going to see relationships growing in the way Jesus made relationships with his disciples. You’re going to be in the lives of these kids and be a constant presence for them. It has so much potential.”