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The Great Commission 2.0: children's ministries go online

 

Dozens of Christian groups are rethinking flannel graphs and 10 a.m. Sunday school classes, finding that there may be a bigger, better way to fulfill the Great Commission – just add wireless.

Children of non-religious parents who may be discouraged from attending church can often connect with church ministries on the Web, said Emily Trotter, who manages the website for Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). The organization’s own WonderZone.com invites kids to take video game adventures with cute, digital animal characters – and get a full-fledged Bible lesson on the side.

One recent WonderZone visitor from Alaska emailed the site, telling CEF that it was the first place he learned about the Bible.

“His dad forbids him to learn [about Jesus], but his dad will let him play online,” Trotter said.

The last time the U.S. Census Bureau checked in on national child computer use in 2003, 50 percent of first- through fifth-graders used the Web and 91 percent used computers. Those numbers are on a steep climb.

The anonymity provided by such evangelistic Web sites can be both a blessing and a curse. Gone is the walk-up altar call and face-to-face contact. But gone too are nervous inhibitions.

A perpetual challenge is ascertaining whether or not a child understands what a spiritual commitment means. And what happens when a kid “falls off the face of the planet”?

Is it realistic to expect that kids can genuinely learn from a two-minute slideshow or a flashy video game on the Internet?

“Children are starving for relationships, and online isn’t going to cut it,” said Janice Haywood, a preschool and children’s ministry specialist with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. She believes that when it comes to spiritual and moral lessons, kids learn through relationships, which Christian Web sites cannot replicate.

“That’s good supplementary material, but the relationship doesn’t happen there,” she said.