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Slimed (In the Name of Jesus)

Steve Alley

How to use current methods to attract today's kids -- without ever compromising the integrity of the gospel.

What do Rush Hour 2, Lizzie McGuire, The Simpsons, the Harry Potter series, Steve Irwin, and Jessica Alba have in common?

They were all top picks in the 2002 Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards for (in order) favorite movie, favorite TV show, favorite cartoon, favorite book, and a tie for best burp.

Nickelodeon knows what kids want because they keep tabs on kids. At the 2002 Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California, more than 6,000 kids celebrated their favorite actors, actresses, music groups, movies, TV shows, and sports heroes. Millions of people watched, making it one of Nickelodeon's most successful shows yet.

These big-name actors showed up: Brad Pitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Will Smith, B2K, Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Mike Myers, Amanda Bynes, Frankie Muniz, and Jim Carrey. Nickelodeon's trademark "slime" flowed freely on stage and then spilled out into the audience of screaming kids as Jim Carrey slimed dozens of kids close to the stage.

This wasn't just another "kids show"; it was a significant event in the world's eyes. The money spent on the high-tech stage and special effects was just short of that spent on the Academy Awards show. The world's top marketers-Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's, Nike, and more -- bought the prime commercial spots.

Our Conundrum
There's no doubt that Nickelodeon's success has affected children worldwide. If we ignore what's going on in children's entertainment, we risk extinction and failure to reach today's children. Many megachurch children's ministries are carefully adopting some Nickelodeon-style programming into their ministry plan. The use of video clips and fast-paced, interactive, messy experiences is the regular topic of monthly planning meetings. Still, many churches are hesitant to move in the direction of "slimy" tactics for fear of compromising the spiritual essence of what we know as ministry.

There's nothing wrong with using the slime philosophy unless we give in to the temptation to water down the spiritual aspects of the program because we somehow believe that "today's kids are just not as interested in that stuff anymore." The danger, though, in making fun instead of a relationship with Jesus the goal is that we'll miss what God has called us to do.

Holly Peters writes in the Biola Connections newsletter that "perhaps most disturbing is the Barna statistic that although two out of three teenagers are involved in church youth programs, only one out of three plans to attend church when they move away from home. This lack of commitment among young people is the logical outcome of the 'entertainment-oriented brand of Christianity' being presented in many youth ministries."

As we seek God's wisdom regarding the challenge of appealing to kids while being true to the gospel, we need to remember some of the basics about children's ministry:

• Our calling is to communicate
the gospel message to today's children.
• The gospel message is unchanging, but the presentation changes based on the audience.
• To minister to today's children, we must understand them and adapt our presentation to them.
• The fruit of the gospel message is affected by the personal views of the person who hears it.

What Kids Want
Consider these truths about kids as you wrestle with how you'll present the gospel to them.

1. Kids want to have fun. If today's kids say an experience is fun, they're more than likely describing something that makes them feel good. This means the experience satisfies a known or unknown emotional or physical need. A child won't say, "This was an emotionally rewarding experience because it satisfied my deep need for a relationship with a male mentor in my life," but that's what he may mean when he tells his father that an experience together was fun. Experiences that make kids laugh will always be classified as fun. Anything that creates good memories will also be recalled as fun.

Today's kids are programmed to want to have fun. If something isn't fun, they'll judge it as unimportant and do all they can to not repeat that experience. We minister to a generation of kids who've been exposed to so much entertainment that they now demand to be entertained. The challenge today is to make education (both secular and spiritual) more entertaining. Leonard Sweet, the Christian futurist, calls what kids are looking for edutainment.

2. Kids want to be empowered. A recent C&R Research Services, Inc. survey of kids' preferences shows what kids view as important today. A product or service is appealing to kids when it:
• is fun to do
• generates sensory experiences
• excites or creates tension
• surprises
• makes me laugh
• relaxes (as in physical sports)
• provides an emotional, imaginary escape
• satisfies
• gives me choices
• can be customized
• is something I do myself
• gives me ownership
• encourages me to aspire or feel grown-up
• allows me to break the rules and take charge
• builds skills and reinforces my competency
• provides outlets for creativity and self-expression
• offers ego-boosting promises
• recognizes my importance
• establishes my unique identity
• allows me to interact with others
• helps me fit in
• makes me feel special

3. Kids want visual experiences. Today's kids are very comfortable with fast-moving visual images. Their ability to process and learn from visual input is amazing. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says, "This postmodern culture hears with its eyes and thinks with its feelings." Our programs and presentations must include more high-tech, fast-moving visuals if we want kids to view church as fun or valuable. For ideas to do this, go to www .cmmag.com.

4. Kids need relationships. The essential basic of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is to invade the world around us and build relationships that are significant enough to produce disciples for the Lord. We've been challenged by Jesus to be involved in the needs of the world and yet to teach and preach a pure, uncompromised spiritual message.
Today's generation isn't really interested in sitting and listening to speeches or lessons about God; they want to experience the reality of God and see it lived out through significant relationships with faith-filled mentors.

Today's kids are possibly the most disconnected generation of kids we've ever seen. The pace of society, the breakdown of the family and family traditions, and a growing population of parents who weren't raised in stable homes themselves has created a world of kids who desperately crave significant relationships.

A Balanced Ministry
Kids need to be educated and entertained; they need depth without sacrificing fun. They need a balance between the thrills of high-energy, messy, slimy fun and the life-changing impact of the gospel.

We need to create environments that are exciting and kid-focused. We need to do all we can to attract kids to church with exciting programs and experiences, but we can't do that at the expense of carrying out the Great Commission. We can't give the kids more slime than gospel. Yet, we can't give kids the gospel without a little slime, either.

Jesus was a master at this balance. He knew he had to attract people, but he also protected the greater calling of communicating the gospel message. His balance between the attraction and the teaching is clear. Jesus' first priority was teaching and preaching. The techniques he used to attract the people were only temporary, less important tools to bring people close enough to hear the message of the gospel. He even rebuked those who were only interested in the attention-getting acts and not in the gospel.

How do we then create a balanced ministry that speaks to this generation? How do we attract kids and yet make sure their time in our programs affects them spiritually? How do we ensure that the hour they spend with us will make them more able to be bright lights for the Lord at school tomorrow?

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