The following is taken from a recent interview with Crossway’s CEO, Josh Dennis, about The Biggest Story Curriculum, a new children’s curriculum based on the bestselling The Biggest Story Bible Storybook by pastor Kevin DeYoung.
When did you first conceive of Crossway producing a children’s curriculum?
The Biggest Story Curriculum took nearly ten years to conceive of fully and is a story of God’s clear leading and hand of provision. The scope and vision for the project grew along the way as we trusted in the Lord and waited for him to provide the right people and resources.
The idea began in seed form in 2013 when we received a manuscript from Kevin DeYoung for The Biggest Story. The book was initially written to be read aloud at Christmas for Kevin’s church. His original story started in the garden and ended with the birth of Christ. I loved what Kevin had written, but after reading through the manuscript, I encouraged him to expand the book to tell the complete story of the Bible. We provided Kevin with a desired word count, and he expanded the manuscript to include the rest of the New Testament. The book was published two years later, in August 2015.
We commissioned sample artwork for the original book from several artists before connecting with Don Clark. We even delayed the book's release because we couldn’t find an artist I was happy with. The first time I spoke with Don, I remember being nervous as I sheepishly explained the project, thinking there was no way he would be interested, but I was surprised when he told me he had always dreamed about illustrating the Bible. Don is an accomplished illustrator and artist, having worked with clients like Disney, Apple, Target, NASA, the USPS, and Nike. Don and I spent time determining the project's budget and scope, unsure if he could take it on. He’d never illustrated a children’s book, and the project's scope was larger than anything he’d worked on. I remember being impressed with Don’s business-mindedness and negotiation skills throughout the process. After agreeing to terms, Don took almost six months to complete the project.
After the first book was released in 2015, I started to dream about developing a suite of resources for children. There were so many stories we weren’t able to cover in the first book. Don and I dreamed about a more robust and traditional Bible storybook. Around this time, I put together a proposal for a suite of children’s resources. The idea was to publish a Sunday school curriculum, a storybook, a children’s Bible, video content, posters, and other products, all based on the same set of stories. Crossway pitched the idea to Kevin, and Kevin was excited about this next book. I’m not sure we fully realized how significant the undertaking would be.
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We began working on the concept for The Biggest Story Bible Storybook soon after publishing the original book. Whereas the first book was 3,500 words, we asked Kevin to write 50,000 words for the bigger book. The idea was to use the 104 stories from the storybook as the basis for a children’s curriculum and to use the artwork in all of the resources within the suite. It was a massive undertaking and project, with the artwork taking just under three years to complete. The book was released in late March of 2022 and was an immediate success, selling more than 50,000 copies out of the gate in the first month.
As we were developing the storybook, I began researching Sunday school curriculum.
Why? What needs did you see? What holes were you seeking to fill? What possibilities were you seeking to explore?
In thinking through the curriculum, we wanted to create a resource that was affordable, simple, easy to use, beautiful, theologically rich, and faithful to God’s word.
My wife and I taught Sunday school when our now teenage boys were growing up, and we were occasionally responsible for the lesson, snacks, and crafts. We would search the internet for craft ideas and usually relied on Bible storybooks for the lesson. It was always a challenge and last-minute scramble to come up with everything we needed.
In many ways, the idea for the curriculum and other resources came from my own experience. As a father, I wanted to create resources that my boys would be excited about.
As we researched other curriculum for this project, we spent countless hours speaking with curriculum publishers and researching existing Sunday school curriculum. We also surveyed thousands of Sunday school and children’s ministry workers. In our research, we found that most Sunday school curriculum is cost prohibitive and cumbersome to figure out and use. Much of it is moralistic and man-centered. The more we researched, the more determined we were to rethink the curriculum paradigm and set a new standard. We saw that the curriculum landscape was ripe for innovation, and we were excited by the opportunity to present the gospel in new, compelling, and innovative ways.
What does The Biggest Story Curriculum offer? How is it unique?
Our aim is to equip the church and parents to teach children the Bible through a rich multimedia experience in print, digital, video, and audio. We set out to establish a new standard in quality of content, design and presentation, creativity, ease of use, accessibility, and delivery.
Print: Everything you need to use the curriculum can be found in one kit.
Digital: We created a website where you can access much of the content for free on thebiggeststory.com. We’re also working on mobile apps.
Video: We assembled a team led by Phil Borst to create one video for each of the 104 stories, over 6 hours of animated content.
Audio: We created more than 17.5 hours of audio content that will be available online and as a podcast.
Other Resources: We created Bible memory cards and posters.
The content is theologically rich and God-centered, with meaningful application for children. Rather than taking a disjointed, man-centered, moralistic view of the Bible, we aimed to tell the story of the Bible cohesively, with God at the center of his unfolding story of redemption.
How did you assemble the team to pull off this project? Tell us something about their experience and skill set.
God provided an incredibly talented group of people to work on the project, from content creators to illustrators, animators, sound designers, and designers. We were blessed to work with an amazing team to pull this off.
Thousands of hours and several years were spent developing more than 230,000 words of content. Doug O’Donnell serves as Crossway’s senior vice president of Bible editorial and served as the author for most of the content. He also oversaw a team of writers and content creators, including Abby Clark, Ruth Haumersen, Emily O’Donnell, James Seward, Gerard Cruz, Davis Wetherell, and Marcia Turpin. It was important to us to assemble a team of both men and women serving in different denominational contexts with experience working with children and as ministry leaders.
Dan Farrell served as the creative director for the project and played a critical role in developing, conceptualizing, prototyping, and implementing the concept. We also surveyed thousands of children’s ministry leaders as we created the content and prototyped the curriculum to get feedback along the way.
Don Clark did all the illustration work, spending thousands of hours and multiple years creating the artwork. We worked with several other illustrators and many designers on the project.
Phil Borst directed and oversaw the animation of the video content, spending tens of thousands of hours on the production. He worked with a talented team, including Anna Grace Botka, Kevin Botka, Nick Chiodras, Jon Marshall, Kyle Martinez, Adam Billingham, and Grant Fonda.
Others greatly contributed to the creation of the curriculum resources, including Matt Tully, Matt Ratleph, Caleb Faires, Michael Reeves, and many others.
How do you hope The Biggest Story Curriculum will help the church throughout the English-speaking world?
There is a battle being fought over the souls of our children. Our kids are influenced by the world and the media like never before. As parents, we’re competing with the iPhone, Netflix, YouTube, and Xbox for our children’s affection, attention, and imaginations. By the time our children reach junior high, they’re being bombarded by the pervasive messages of the world, which are increasingly hostile to Christianity and are filled with lies, misplaced identity, and idolatry. Teenagers are indoctrinated by secular thinking in public high school settings and often abandon their faith on college campuses. And yet, children have an incredible capacity to learn, memorize, and be shaped by truth. We have a great responsibility to teach and instruct our children by providing a biblical foundation and Christian worldview to prepare them to face the world's distractions, temptations, and lies (Deut. 6:6–7).
Reaching children and the next generation with the truth of God’s word and the gospel is at the heart of our calling as a publisher.
Kevin DeYoung talks about how Christians (parents and non-parents alike) can help children to trust Jesus, embrace the Bible, and love others—even those with whom we disagree.
Catechesis is basically training discipleship. When we catechize someone, we are instructing them, oftentimes, in the foundational, fundamental elements of our faith.
Kids—and really all of us—are drawn to images and pictures. The illustrations in this edition present a kind of mood.
Don Clark discusses what appealed to him (and what scared him) about illustrating the stories of the Bible for The Biggest Story Bible Storybook.