A recent decision by Smyth & Helwys to discontinue its preschool and children’s Sunday school curricula lines caught customers off guard and left some scrambling to find another publisher.

Smyth & Helwys announced in a December letter that due to a history of poor sales, the Macon, Ga.,-based publisher is discontinuing its FaithSteps curriculum for children and preschoolers at the end of April.

“I definitely think the decision is going to affect the local church,” said Devita Parnell, associate coordinator for congregational life for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia.

“I think that this decision may have caught some churches off-guard,” she told EthicsDaily.com. “Already, we have begun to receive emails and calls regarding alternatives.”

Parnell said Georgia CBF plans to network children’s and preschool ministers so they can resource each other in making decisions about curriculum for the summer and fall. CBF Georgia will make the resulting list of options available through its office and on its Web site.

Steve Zimmerman of First Baptist Church in Mebane, N.C., and 2005-2006 president of Christian Educators of North Carolina, said he was caught off guard by the announcement.

Zimmerman said his children’s and preschool departments began using FaithSteps only within the last year, because teachers were unhappy with the material they were receiving from LifeWay Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention publisher.

“I am very disappointed in the company’s decision to drop this line of material,” he said.

CBF of North Carolina acted quickly to organize a curriculum seminar Feb. 7 at Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“I think there are churches who still don’t even know it,” Rick Jordan, church resources coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina,” said of the decision by Smyth & Helwys to drop the children’s and preschool lines.

Fearing the prospect of churches not finding out the curriculum is no longer available until it came time to fill out the order form, Jordan contacted Janice Haywood, an age-group specialist at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, about leading the gathering. The plan is to introduce seven or eight alternatives for churches that have been buying preschool and children’s literature from Smyth & Helwys, as well as to offer tips about how to evaluate a choose the right publisher.

“We are tying to be as quick about this as we could,” Jordan said. “It’s a pretty small window for churches that need to order literature.”

Jordan said people he has heard from were surprised about the announcement and wish they had had more lead time. Yet he said he is sympathetic to the company as well. “They just have a lot of competition out there,” he said.

One positive side effect, Jordan said, is that affected churches will now be forced to “think about what is our philosophy of Christian education for our children.”

Some publishers of children’s literature, for example, emphasize humanity’s fallen state, with the intent of leading children to make a profession of faith and be baptized at an earlier age. Others lean toward a creation theology, with a goal of helping children to know they are loved and valued by God.

“Those are issues the typical Sunday school teacher hasn’t even thought about,” Jordan said. “It has the potential to strengthen this Baptist-autonomy idea…. I don’t think we need to go into a panic about it. There’s a silver lining in this cloud.”

Zimmerman said he and Youth and Children’s Minister Tripp Folz plan to attend the CBF-sponsored children’s literature workshop in Winston-Salem to see what options they can bring back to teachers before they need new material by May 1.

“We will continue, in whatever shape or form needed, to have children’s literature that not only meets their spiritual needs but has good, solid Christian values in that material,” he said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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