This story was originally published by Baptist Press in November 2018. You can view the full story here.
NASHVILLE (BP) — A Bible study curriculum for urban, multicultural environments — simply titled YOU — is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The team that produces the resource is remembering the past while continuing to look to the future.
LifeWay Christian Resources first published the quarterly YOU curriculum in the fall of 2008 as a way to minister to those who were underrepresented in LifeWay’s content and product offerings, said Beverly Sonnier, content editor for YOU.
“It came out of a desire to create a curriculum specifically designed to meet the needs of African Americans, urban, multicultural individuals and churches,” Sonnier said.
At the time, Mark Croston was president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s National African American Fellowship, encompassing more than 4,000 predominately African American churches.
As NAAF president, Croston led task forces with major SBC entities, including LifeWay, to discuss issues related to predominately black churches.
“One of the things that came out of those meetings and discussions was the fact that we needed curriculum like YOU in order to be able to speak to our urban and multicultural churches,” Croston said.
Croston said they presented the idea to LifeWay leaders, who were receptive.
“It was this beautiful thing that LifeWay was open to being responsive to the felt needs of its constituent churches,” he said.
Today, Sonnier said YOU features a modern and appealing aesthetic that attracts a diverse audience.
“It’s got a magazine look and feel that’s vibrant,” she said. “It’s colorful. The images depict people — not only people of color but the way God’s Kingdom is supposed to look, some of everybody reflected in it. Any person that picks up this curriculum can visually see themselves and see it speaking directly to them.”
Sonnier said a diverse group of writers contributes to each issue. Last year, the YOU curriculum team also implemented a unique strategy to develop its quarterly issues. For each issue, they began spearheading a lesson-development conference in a different city, held so far in Atlanta, Tampa, Oklahoma City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
In each city, a pastor is invited to host the conference, bringing local leaders to the table. For three days, they work together to conceptualize the outlines for that quarter’s lessons.
Not only does this process introduce new church leaders to YOU, Sonnier said, it also allows the editors to meet with leaders from across the nation and discuss the topics that will fill future issues.
Croston, who now serves as YOU’s general editor and LifeWay’s national director of black and western church partnerships, said this kind of diversity is integral to the curriculum’s overall purpose.
“The creation of YOU was to make sure we had a curriculum and a voice that could speak to urban issues across the country and in a multicultural context,” he said.
Recognition of one’s context is essential, Croston noted.
“Everybody experiences life in their context,” he said. “Though there may be many things that are the same, life can be very different in another context. This is why sometimes we have a hard time understanding one another because we’re usually thinking about our community, our neighborhood, the flow of people that we associate with. Everybody’s context may not be the same as the one we exist in.”
Sonnier and Croston noted that YOU’s influence has grown beyond predominately black and urban churches.
“We’ve grown to be an adult and young adult Bible study that’s used by all sorts of churches in all sorts of communities,” Sonnier said. “It’s not just limited to African American and urban churches and people that are using it. We have a good number of predominately Anglo churches that have chosen to use it.”
She said some are surprised by this, but as communities nationwide become more multicultural, YOU proves to be a helpful resource.
“Many churches are using YOU as an outreach resource to connect with the changing demographics in their immediate church communities,” Sonnier said.
In the years to come, the team behind YOU hopes to expand the curriculum’s influence to people of different age groups. Many of LifeWay’s other ongoing Bible studies — such as Bible Studies for Life, Explore the Bible and The Gospel Project — currently offer specific versions of their curriculum for adults, students, children and preschoolers. Croston and Sonnier hope to see YOU offer age-specific curriculum as well.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Sonnier said. “We’ve got people lined up — educators, children’s directors, student directors and teachers — who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get in there.”
No matter how YOU might develop in the years to come, Sonnier said users can expect it to continue improving.
“We’re going to continue to be prayerful,” Sonnier said. “We’re going to be obedient, stay focused and finish strong. But more than anything, we’re going to continue to let the Lord lead us and guide us in this endeavor because we know it’s not because of us. We know it’s only because of God’s grace and His goodness that we’ve made it 10 years, and we’re anticipating — believing by faith — He’s got 10 more years ahead of us.”