Missionary Into the Digital World

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by David Wakerly

David is a kids’ pastor and Creative Director of Hillsong Kids and has been part of the team at Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia for over 13 years. He is passionate about children, the generations, and leadership that makes a difference. t:@davewakerley

The most popular destination for children online is YouTube. It used to be that when you asked, “Where are the kids?” you were talking about a physical location. Now, it just might be a digital location in a world called Minecraft.

The kids are in places that just simply weren’t places when I was a tiny human. Children don’t know life without the Internet. They don’t know a time when they didn’t have access to the entire history of recorded music. They’ve never experienced the latest release being booked out at the local video store. And just as an aside, the number one song when teens (who are entering college this year) were born … “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. But this is not an article designed to make you feel old, but instead impress upon you the idea that you and I are immigrants into another culture. We are missionaries trying to reach another world of natives. In fact, the generation born 1995-2009 have been described as “digital natives”—the first global generation shaped by the 21st century connected by devices and engaged in social media. And, there are about 2 billion of them worldwide!

If you are a missionary entering another culture you should know the most important first step … learn the language. I suggest that, as a leader, you see yourself as an immigrant into another world. Ask questions, seek to empathize and understand a perspective on the world that may be different than yours. So how do you go about being a missionary into the world of children? 

Be There!

As a missionary into the world of kids, you need to know where they are and be there! As I mentioned earlier, today they are on YouTube. You’re not looking to “go viral.” You’re not looking to make your ministry budget from running ads on your videos. You’re looking to simply show up. Your content doesn’t need to have perfect artwork with pretty thumbnails for each video, but you need to be there … on YouTube!

It’s highly likely your children know another kid/teenager who is on YouTube. As a 10-year-old watching MacGyver on TV I knew that making a show costs a lot of money and I certainly didn’t know anyone making TV shows. It was out of reach, impossible! Today our children not only know that it’s possible that a million people could watch their video in one day, they think they probably could make it. 

You cannot afford to not be there. How strange it could seem for a child to see their 10-year-old sister on YouTube but not their 30-year-old kids’ pastor? “Does he not know how to upload video?” they silently ask. The creators rule this generation. As the saying goes:  “The haters hate and the creators create.” If you aren’t creating, you’re just consuming. In a world where, as a leader, you believe you must influence lives, you need to be a creator! 

One of my goals with Hillsong Kids is to avoid creating dualistic lives where the “church world” children know exists separate and apart from the family/school/friend world which they spend most of their time in. I see a generation of children where the kingdom of God is integrated into every area of a life, every moment of the day.

Let me sum this up:  Jesus wants kids to come to Him. Be where they are so you can show them the way.

Even YouTube themselves know that kids are huge users of their service. The greatest development recently is the YouTube Kids app (itunes.apple.com/us/app/youtube-kids/id936971630?mt=8) currently launching around the world. This app is designed just for kids; they can discover, learn, and be entertained by videos that are kid approved and family friendly. Parents can now have more control of the YouTube Kids’ experience by adjusting the settings such as, turning off “search”, reducing the chance that children will find content that they don’t want them to watch, or even set a built-in timer to let kids know when it’s time to stop watching. So How Do I Do It?

Google it. Someone already made an instructional video about it.

But here are a few tips that will set you in the right direction. There are many misconceptions about the equipment you need to make great video. My recommendation is that your phone is enough for video. The cameras in modern smartphones are phenomenal! If you are going to invest in anything, buy audio recording equipment. People will forgive bad video to a certain extent, but bad audio is the number one video creation sin. Your one purpose is to communicate something and if your audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying, you’re wasting your time.

There are microphones available that will plug in to your phone, or you could buy a portable unit with an external microphone. The budget here is from $100 to $1200 for a professional boom microphone. (A good place to start is a Zoom iQ5 or a IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast.)

What Do I Post? 

Here’s your first step, make a video and tell your families about it.

Upload a video that teaches the memory verse that you are teaching your kids on the weekend. Keep it under a minute, and make sure you are well lit or outside (during the day). Don’t even introduce yourself. Save that for the end. Get right to the content, straight to the point. At the end introduce yourself and the ministry name, then say, “See you next time.”

Play it on a Sunday for your kids. As they are being picked up, put a sticker on each child that says something like “Hillsong Kids is on YouTube. Watch Dave at: youtube.com/hillsongkids.” Tell the kids to bug their parents for their phone on the way home. A massive win is 50% of your kids watching.

 Winning on YouTube is all about having regular new content, so where to next? Here are some ideas for content. 

• Memory verses

• Play video games

• Jokes they can tell Dad

• Preaching messages

• Teaching theme overviews

• Funny promotions for upcoming events

• A weekly series 

• Game, book, or music reviews 

There are two forms of videos on YouTube—short form, which are videos 1-3 minutes in length and long form, which are videos 4-7 minutes. So make sure you keep your content short and to the point. 

The journey of our own channel is all about building subscribers one by one. Here at Hillsong Kids, we started reasonably late in YouTube history, but now have a couple of million views and almost 20,000 subscribers. Our most watched videos include memory verse songs and clips that were a hit at conferences or weekend programs that kids want to watch over and over again. 

The sky’s the limit with where you can take your YouTube channel. You’re now creating content that kids can watch at home, watch with their family, and share with friends. Your ministry now extends beyond Sunday and into the mission field where the kids are! 

Being that this is about YouTube I should really include a video where I talk about just this topic: youtu.be/R7Owq5hina8