“These kids were born into a digital TV land,” Cyma Zarghami, president of Viacom Inc.’s Nickelodeon Group, stated in a New York Times article this past Sunday. The challenge is clear. How do stations like the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon compete in an era when kids “barely distinguish among a television set, a laptop, a tablet and a mobile phone?”
Have no fear. Kids still watch TV. It’s just consumed differently. Kids use every device available to get at the same content. In the same New York Times article, readers are given Neilson’s Cross-Platform Report for the first quarter of 2014. On average, kids are consuming 111 hours and 47 minutes of content per month (or almost 4 hours a day if you’re counting).
While we could discuss parenting or other factors that relates to children’s consumption of shows, concepts, worldviews, etc. over those 4 hours a day, I have a different question: How do we relate to these children in our ministry structures? Are we to begin to morph our ministries into cross-platform theo-tainment venues where children are inundated with more of the same, but with Jesus and better morals?
I would argue that in a cross-platform, entertainment-driven culture, we need to up the ante, but not through the development of new religious programing or Gospel-centered apps. Instead, our communities of faith hold the key to reaching the next generation for Christ.
How? There are seven main ways your congregation can still reach digital citizens without capitulating to the same methods.
1) Gather a phenomenal team. Passion matters. You want young adults, senior adults and college students who long to see children encounter a living God. Their enthusiasm should be contagious to those the parents they encounter and the children they teach. This creates an environment of joy that overcomes almost every negative stereotype projected of flannel-graph toting, bun wearing, frown showing Sunday School teachers that make people recoil in horror.
2) Resource your team. Your kids ministry should be the most exciting place on earth to serve. Love your volunteers. Train them. Help them understand just how essential their place of service is in the overall kingdom! They need not feel as if they are biding their time in kiddie purgatory! Stoke those fires of creativity and listen to the gifts and skills of your team as they seek to make a difference.
3) Create a safe environment. Safety is paramount. Please – I know it costs – but PLEASE background check every volunteer and worker in your kids (and youth) ministry. Institute a tag system for all kids in your ministry. Most of these are available through the data-management software that your congregation is already using. Use it and train your team in using it. Be safe. Keep the kids safe. In the wake of ministries in the news lately, please take steps to protect every child in your care.
4) Help families worship together. Kids need to see mom and dad worshipping God. If we want children to connect with the truths of Scripture, every kid needs the opportunity to worship God in the context of the broader community of faith. They will be loud, they may bug their parents or those around them, but get them in the service. How else will they know what it’s like to see people moved by the power of the Gospel or understand the calling of Christ in their own life. Corporate worship is essential. If mom and dad don’t attend, have families ready to sit with them in service.
5) Give families opportunities to serve together. Moms and dads should be serving with their church in fantastic places. Kids should also have ownership over some ministry aspects where they can serve the congregation at a developmentally appropriate level. Maybe as part of the greeter team or helping with check-in to the kids ministry along with trained adults. In addition, try to create a church-wide, family mission trip each year where your 3rd-6th graders can serve in your community with mom and dad. This is life altering for many kids.
6) Don’t short the Bible. Kids should have fun in your ministry, but they also should learn. They should be connecting to the truths of Scripture week in and week out. In churches I have pastored, we have used great curriculum from David C. Cook that helps parents teach the lesson before the kids arrive on Sunday encouraging home discipleship. I also really like the approach of the Gospel Project for Kids where they can get the main ideas of the Scripture. Both worked well. Both emphasized a meaty lesson for kids. Both brought the Gospel and connected it with real life. Both built into the heart of children the disciplines of Scripture memory.
7) Jesus must be the center. Point each child to Christ. Make sure your team is well versed in Evangelism. They should be soul-winners in their personal life and intentional about sharing the Gospel with kids as they come into contact with your ministry. But not just the kids! Parents need the Good News of Jesus as well!
Increasingly, our reality of engaging kids each week will become more challenging, but your church can still exercise creativity and accomplish what God has called us to do!
In what ways are your church engaging the kids in your neighborhood?
John Mark Yeats