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Tech Basics

E.C. Cunningham

PhoneI remember the first time in children's church that I said, "Let's open our Bibles"-but it wasn't a Bible I opened. I pulled out my PDA Palm Pilot, and all those little ears ignored what I said while their eyes were awed by what they saw. That'll forever go down in history for me as a great "wow" moment. That was in 2001.

At the time, the PDA was the newest and best technology around. We were using a rather large VHS player connected to an even larger projector to show videos on a stand-alone screen in our gymnasium where we held children's church. My message was big, but I read it from a small device that fit in the palm of my hand. I believe, for that day and the rest of the week, the Palm Pilot changed how each child saw church and Jesus.

A lot has changed since 2001, and we children's ministers are using more technological tools than ever to create professional ministries. Check out these 11 tech basics to see how you can be even more effective in your ministry.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media is worth the time when you look at the results. Dwayne Riner, the creative and curriculum director for children's ministry at The Ark Church in Conroe, Texas, said his "aha!" moment came when he looked at free analytics on his children's ministry's Facebook page and saw that their 400 "likes" gave them the potential to reach 112,000 people.

"I realized that using the latest technology increases our capacity to share the gospel," says Riner, who uses some pretty cool technology to help keep everyone connected. With a church attendance of 4,000, he says communication is key, so he taps into four easy-to-use social media tools that multiply his ministry.

Facebook

Each week, Riner's children's ministry team communicates with friends and their followers through social media on their Facebook page (Facebook .com/Ark Kids). Using Facebook, parents and volunteers can keep up to speed on the latest happenings in the children's ministry department.

If you haven't yet gotten connected through Facebook, it's easy to get started. Simply go to Facebook.com/pages/create.php and create a fan page for your ministry. Pages, which are different from personal profiles, will give you more options. From there, just follow the on-screen instructions (church and other religious groups can be found under the "Company, Organization or Institution" option).

Twitter

Riner's team also uses short-message sender Twitter to communicate and share information. It's quick to get started using Twitter; simply go to Twitter.com and follow the instructions to create an account. This will allow you to post messages of 140 characters or less for people who "follow" you. People can even get your messages-called tweets-sent to them by text message.

Pinterest

Riner's ministry started using Pinterest (Pinterest.com), an online social-media picture and bulletin board, for posting pictures that match upcoming Bible lessons. "This gives parents the opportunity to prepare and discuss what their children are learning each week in our children's ministry, as well as the ability to gather arts and craft ideas and materials for daily home devotions…and it's free," says Riner. "Everyone has the ability to use it."

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, you can't join Pinterest with a simple click; you need an invitation. Just go to Pinterest.com and request an invite to join, or ask someone you know who's already on Pinterest to invite you. Until you're invited, you can view boards and get some great ideas. (Type children's ministry in the search bar at the top to get started.)

Start updating. Once you've set up accounts, don't let them just sit there. Update on a regular basis. Upload photos, post event reminders, and communicate with new friends.

MULTIMEDIA MESSAGES

With the tools available today, professional-looking projects, messages, and videos are just a click away. And, they will help you connect with people in new ways that'll grab their attention.

Adobe Creative Suite Software: Riner uses multimedia content solutions such as Adobe Creative Suite software (Adobe.com) to create handouts, graphics, announcements, and video lessons. "We even do video announcements with our children and have created over 70 lessons on video using this software."

ProPresenter Presentation: Using all of these tools is a great teaching bonus for kids, Riner says-especially when the team projects content in the children's areas with ProPresenter Presentation software via a Mac computer. "When I create presentations in my office during the week," says Riner, "I can import all of the videos, announcements, and lessons into one file and export them onto any number of computers in our facility."

Riner explains his passion for using such technology exists because it gives his ministry a relevant "current" feel. He says, "We should want to give our ministries a professional quality and look. You don't have to have a ton of money to do quality multimedia, and you don't have to outsource it. We want to make our kids laugh and enjoy their experience in church and camps. When you look at the Arkkidscamp.com website, you can see the results of the church's $150 investment to stay current, relevant, and fun."

SHARING AND SYNCING

Reaching out beyond the church walls is important to Shawn Michael Shoup, a former youth pastor and next generation leader for several years, and now the district nextgen representative at Gateway District of Foursquare Church and technology pastor of Destiny Foursquare Church, in Rapid City, South Dakota. Two top technologies Shoup uses in his ministry are Spotify and Dropbox. He says using these file-sharing sites give him "further reach and influence with kids and leaders." He points out how much wider his audience has grown. "I've made connections and gleaned training and resources that I'd never have without using the latest technologies," says Shoup.

Using Spotify (Spotify.com), a music sharing site, gives Shoup an easy way to share songs with teams and leaders for worship. "They're already immersed in technology, and anytime I can add the technology to nextgen ministry, it helps us all connect." Spotify can be used free or with a premium account that gives access to all types of music on nearly all Internet-ready mobile or stand-alone devices.

Dropbox: The free online service Dropbox (Dropbox.com) lets you take your photos, documents, and videos anywhere to easily share with others without using email. It's a great resource to connect communities of parents, volunteers, and staff teams. You get 2GB of free space with every new account or you can purchase extra space to make room for even more resources.

Technology can touch-and benefit-all generations, and Shoup and his team have written several informative articles on how they use technology in ministry. You can find these articles on childrensministry.com.

WIRED FOR SERVICE

If you want to amp up your tech expertise, remember that it's important not to become tangled up in the mission to be wired. Sometimes the best use of technology is using it as a means to connect with others in person.

Glen Woods, a writer, editor, city missionary, and former children's pastor in Oregon, actually uses an iPad 2 to minister to kids in his neighborhood. He says, "It's pretty simple. I bring the iPad out to the neighborhood. We play games on it, laugh, and share conversations."

You, your team, and your ministry play a key role in guiding kids' lives toward Jesus. A big part of that is inevitably wrapped up in speaking to kids in ways they can relate to. No one wants technology to become a burden by asking for piles of funding, remodels, or shiny new gadgets. But when we lay our heads on our pillows at the end of a ministry night, we want to know that we've done our very best, "doing everything [we] can to save some..." And that means we invest, and benefit, in the latest and best technology as partners in the gospel.

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