SojournKids

Disney

Children's Ministry Environments: Children's Hospital, Kids Museum, or Disney?

UncategorizedJared Kennedy4 Comments

There is a lot of talk in the children's ministry world about creating attractional environments for kids. This is for good reason. At the very least, "Let the children come..." means removing every hindrance that stands in the way of connecting kids to Jesus. Attractional environments--fun and safe kids’ facilities, excellent hospitality, and exciting kids events--are children's ministry's front door. But attractional environments for kids come in all shapes and sizes. Which one is most like children's ministry? Here are three options:

1. The Children's Hospital. A few weeks back, I had to take Lucy to Kosair Hospital for some tests. I have a love/hate relationship with the place. I hate having to be there, because it means usually means that my child or someone else's is sick or hurt. On the other hand, I'm always intrigued by the children's hospital, because it is one of the most kid-friendly environments in our city. Waiting in the lobby for an hour before a test is more pleasant at the children's hospital, because there is an interactive video projection game in the lobby. Draining a staph infection goes more smoothly there, because you can play games on an iPad and Rapunzel is showing on the ER television. The entire place is designed to build a child's trust so that healers can provide care. Do you see the connection to kidmin? Our environments are like the children's hospital. Attractional environments build a relationship of trust so that kids can be led to the Healer.

2. The Kids Museum. I was talking about how to create attractional environments with a seminary class recently. One of the students objected, "That sounds like Nickelodeon." Without thinking, I answered, "No, it's more like PBS Kids." Sure. There is an entertainment factor, but there is an goal in mind that is larger than selling a product or a character. Like the interactive exhibits at the kids museum or the skits on Sesame Street, we have an educational goal in mind. My friend, Dave Ainsworth, put it this way: Attractional environments lead kids to hands-on, real-life, engaging discovery. Thinking through this has helped me to see why it's important to do more than theme your environments in a kid-friendly way. You must also use the kid-friendliness to teach. We need environments that lead kids to engage with the Truth of the Bible. I wrote a bit about how we do this at SojournKids in the December/January edition of K! Magazine in an article entitled, "God Has the Best Imagination" (pages 48-51).

3. Disney. We visited Disney World for the first time as a family this past year, and we loved it! There are so many things to love about Disney's attractions and amazing hospitality, but we fell in love with Disney for the way they took care of our Lucy. Lucy has special needs and a very unique diet. Disney asked about special needs before we arrived, and, when they discovered Lucy's diet, they took care of her.  Whenever we ate at a park restaurant, the chef met us at the front and showed us menu items that would work best. Their excellent hospitality allowed us rest and simply enjoy the Disney experience. After all, that's part of their mission, right? They want you to lay down your worries and get lost in the Disney story--where dreams always come true. Tim Keller has written about how excellence and higher quality production communicates something about God's transcendence. In other words, the excellence of an attractional environment can help lift eyes above temporary things to the bigger story God is telling. In another context, Paul Miller said it this way, "Disney is right. Because of the intrusion of a good God into an evil world, there are happy endings. Some of God's last words in the Bible are, "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5 KJV).

  • Do you think it is important to have an attractional environment for children's ministry?
  • Do you agree with these three analogies?
  • What other analogies would you suggest?

Photos courtesy Jared Kennedy (at Louisville's Kosair Children's Hospital), Art Sparks at Louisville's Speed Art Museum, and Amy Embry (at Walt Disney World)

What does theology have to do with Hannah Montana?

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

This article originally appeared as "Kids Have Questions. Do You Have Answers" by Jared Kennedy and Sam Luce in the May/June 2011 edition of K! Magazine. I just had a conversation with Jane. She’s in our children’s ministry. She’s excited because she’s going on a date with her dad tonight. They’re going to snack on Sprite and bananas and watch the latest episode of “Hannah Montana Forever.” It sounds like a blast! Right after that conversation, I came back to my office to write this essay on teaching theology to kids using a catechism. As I start to write, I can’t help but feel a little bit out of touch. Are kids today really interested in learning “theology”? If they are, is a centuries old catechism the best tool for teaching them? Can’t I find something more relevant for the generation of Miley Cyrus? After all, wouldn’t I rather watch TV than study an ancient doctrinal statement?

Do kids need to learn theology? We probably all agree that kids need to know Jesus, that they need to be changed by His love, and that they need to be welcomed and accepted by a Christian community. But do they really need to learn doctrine? Can’t the dry and boring stuff wait until they’re a little older? Maybe you’d never voiced that out loud in a staff meeting, but at least some of us have thought it. But have you ever wondered why we think of doctrine as dry and boring? I would suggest that it’s because we’ve failed to really understand the big truths of the faith and how they relate to salvation through Jesus.

The fact is that our kids already have theology. They have lots of thoughts about God. They’re thinking about spiritual things all of the time, and they have questions. When our children’s ministry studied the story of the cross from Matthew 27:32-54 last Sunday, the teacher read about how God turned His back on Jesus, because He could not look at our sin. John, a third grader, piped up and asked, “Isn’t Jesus God? How could God turn His back on Himself? There is only one God, right?” What great questions! But how many teachers or parents would be prepared to answer them? Read More!