By Paul Hontz
Paul Hontz is former consultant (Fortune 500) turned product founder. He runs a software as a service company, called KidMin App, and lives in Holland, Michigan.
Before getting into kidmin I was a corporate tech consultant. But as a Christian, I was always a bit frustrated that the tech tools I could use to get people on board with a company were not available for getting people into church. As you may know from your own experience, the software available in churches is typically pretty bad.
But since my kidmin calling hasn’t changed my other calling as a tech nerd, I want to “consult” with you by discussing three tech trends that kids are following, and how we can navigate these trends to help us with outreach, spiritual formation or discipleship.
Trend #1: THE TECH MINDSET
You probably know that the biggest search engine today is Google. But did you know the second largest is YouTube? And kids love YouTube—it’s simply an indisputable fact. What do they like best? Typing in a search for: “How do I do [you name it]?” They love watching how things are done.
The trend here is the paradigm shift we’re seeing toward interactive entertainment and away from passive entertainment. YouTube is rewiring kids’ brains regarding how they see entertainment. That’s not a bad thing per se; it’s just what’s happening.
Whereas TV is passive engagement, YouTube is active engagement. Today’s kids spend more than twice as much time on YouTube as they do watching TV. YouTube triggers a different part of brain than TV does. It also offers a universe of customized content that kids can select from. TV does not.
How can we take advantage of this? The basic draw of YouTube is video content. Because kids engage so well with video, creating videos for upcoming events in your kidmin is a great way to reach kids. Personalized videos increase their engagement because they see places and people they know. Consider adding videos to your Facebook group. Then add your parents to the Facebook group to keep them engaged as well.
Trend #2: PHONES AND YOUNG KIDS
The trend with smartphones is that kids are getting them at increasingly younger ages. My daughter, before she was 2, could unlock my phone, swipe, and say, “Pop! Pop!” when she saw the balloon-popping app I had on my phone. (And, no, we haven’t given her a cell phone!)
What are kids using phones for more than anything else? Messaging. The most popular apps today are ones like Instagram, Snapchat, and others that are message- and community-driven. Again, the content platform is primarily video, not text. So the more you can use video in your kidmin the better.
Trend #3: GAMING
Gaming is hugely popular with kids, so the challenge to us is how to use this trend as an outreach tool. One massively popular game that lends itself well to creating an outreach event around is Minecraft. It’s sort of like playing Legos on a computer.
To build an outreach around Minecraft, find a techie in your church and set up a “Minecraft Party.” Because the game can be played by multiple players at the same time, you can have pockets of four or five kids who play against other pockets of kids. Put together a competition to see who can build the best house, the best church, or recreate the coolest Bible story. A Minecraft Party is not hard to set up, and it’s cheap.
Use your own kidmin videos to advertise and invite kids from the community or neighborhood, or have the kids in your Minecraft group invite their friends from outside the church. Make sure an adult or kidmin leader is present, order pizza, have some prizes for the winners, and you’re good to go. In one church that held a Minecraft Party, 70 percent of the kids who attended were new; they’d never been to the church.
Each generation must make the shift to adapt to new technology. Let’s be the one that does it for our kids!
Tips and Tools
Is it a bad thing for kids to spend so much time in the “tech world”? It could be, of course.
But, rather than asking how much screen time kids are devoting to it each day, I prefer to ask these three questions:
- Is it affecting their schoolwork?
- Does it affect their physical education (i.e., time outside, time spent playing)?
- Is it affecting their peer development and interaction?
Also, considering the enormous popularity of YouTube, how do you protect kids from “what’s out there”? First of all, there is no perfect software protection. Things get through even with family filters. To its credit, YouTube has an app just for kids, but it isn’t foolproof.
The best way to protect kids is to be active and present. Ask them what they are watching, and watch it with them. The trouble comes when parents check out and don’t interact with their children’s viewing habits.
Here are a couple of simple, free tools you can use for creating and delivering your content:
- Clips. This app for iPhones makes it super-easy to create videos that are virtually the same style of content kids are consuming in YouTube. It enables captions, so kids can watch and understand the dialogue without turning up the volume.
- Email Lists. I consider these to be highly underrated by churches. They are especially effective when marketing or selling via email. Email lists are also great for promoting your video content. One I like is MailChimp. It’s a marketing platform for small businesses, but it works great for churches. You can use it free of charge for lists of up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month.