Wonderborn Studios has launched RaiseUPFaith, a new platform for children's ministry leaders that brings together high quality multimedia resources in one place. Duncan Reid, of Wonderborn Studios, speaks to Christian Today about how churches can offer a children's ministry that meets the expectations of youngsters growing up in a multimedia world.
CT: How challenging a time do you think it is right now for children's ministry leaders in terms of trying to run a good quality children's ministry for the youngsters in their congregation, while at the same time the Church in general is struggling to attract and retain young people?
Duncan: I think it's hugely challenging. In fact, we created RaiseUPfaith to help answer what I think are the three biggest challenges that kids' ministry leaders are facing in a post-Covid world.
The first is that young people are simply not coming back to church. Research suggests that most people come to faith by the time they're 19 - some 84% of Christians - but the 0-16 age group is the fastest declining demographic. This is a massive existential challenge for us as the Church because in 20 years' time, where are the leaders going to come from if we're not investing in young people right now?
The second challenge is that young people themselves actually expect multimedia. During Covid, schools adapted remarkably quickly to online virtual learning. It wasn't always easy but in general, schools adapted quickly to that blended learning where there was a mix of in-person learning and digital resources.
That has to some extent continued and at the same time, there is now a growing expectation among young people that there will be some sort of multimedia element to their learning. But they also have really high expectations around the quality. The average young person, by the time they're 18, will have spent 35,000 hours on screens - that's the equivalent of about four years of their life by the time they're 18.
By contrast, churched young people between the ages of 0 and 18 will have been in church for just 900 hours during the same timeframe, which adds up to just over one month of their life by the time they're 18. So there is a stark contrast between how much time young people are spending in front of screens as opposed to how much time they're spending in church. And this is the challenge that children's ministry leaders are facing: how do you create content that stacks up against everything they have come to expect?
The third big challenge is that volunteers post-pandemic are just much thinner on the ground. Volunteer rotas have been slightly decimated which makes it harder for churches to even put on kids' church. In fact, a study last autumn by the Evangelical Alliance found that 24% of churches had reduced or discontinued youth work since the start of the pandemic, while 17% had reduced or discontinued children's work. And this is at a time when 0-16s are the fastest declining demographic.
CT: The pandemic pushed the Church online but was there a lot out there in terms of multimedia resources for children's ministry when the pandemic started?
Duncan: Wonderborn, the studios that have produced RaiseUPfaith, have traditionally been a children's TV production company creating shows for the likes of CBeebies and CBBC, but most of the guys who work here are Christians and so at the start of the pandemic, we decided we wanted to create broadcast quality video content to help Christian communities. But when we started looking for someone to partner with who was already doing this, we couldn't find anyone doing exactly this sort of multimedia content.
There are loads of fantastic providers out there creating quality content for kids' ministry but not a lot of it is multimedia, it tends to be words on a page, which has its place but as we know, children are increasingly expecting multimedia.
The other thing is that a lot of the existing curriculum providers - especially those from the US - are really expensive. We have a real missional heart for what we call 'the 94% church' - in other words, the 94% of churches that have 500 people or fewer in attendance. These are the churches that are under-represented and under-resourced. They don't necessarily have the big budgets or a deep bank of volunteers but they've got a massive heart for their community and the kids that are in their churches.
We wanted to create a great product for these churches at a mission-led price that they could actually afford and we wanted them to be empowered to deliver this content, because generally there will always be those few passionate people in every church who want to serve and see lives impacted and changed by the Gospel and the good news of Jesus. They're the people we really want to empower.
It's about trying to maximise the variety of content to satisfy the kids who have a massive appetite for high quality multimedia, while at the same time ensuring value for churches that don't necessarily have limitless budgets. We believe that RaiseUP is unique because of both its variety and its value for money.
CT: What kind of feedback are you hearing from children's ministry leaders in terms of what they need?
Duncan: In building RaiseUPfaith we have made sure to have input from children's ministry leaders all the way through the process right from the resource's incubation in January 2021 so that we can give them exactly what they are looking for. The marker of success for us is if people come away saying 'where has this been all my life?!' and thankfully, the feedback from people we've shown it to has been that this is what they were looking for.
It's really hard for children's ministry leaders to meet all of the different challenges and that's why we've created this resource. A lot of the people who use the platform will be of an older generation and so may not necessarily be confident technologically. We've worked hard to make the technology do all the hard work so that children's ministry leaders are free to get on with their work.
Lifeway Research in the US actually did some research on kids' ministry leaders and found that 92% of their time is spent in preparation and admin, and only 8% of their time is actually spent with young people. No one gets into kids' ministry because they love prep and admin! They get into it because they love the young people in their church and they want to build those relationships. We want to free up time so that kids' ministry leaders can do the thing they actually want to do and build those relationships, which at the end of the day is the really important bit.
We also want to give kids' ministry leaders some versatility in what they offer because while there are people out there creating content, you often have to buy into one stream of content, so we have brought all the different content providers together in one place. This means kids' ministry leaders are in a better position to plan high quality programmes that offer a lot of variety but without all the stress.
CT: How do you see this sort of multimedia resource complementing what Sunday schools or children's ministry leaders might already be doing?
Duncan: Our heart is that we really want to make Sunday mornings the best part of the week for young people. The multimedia element can be used complement what kids' ministry leaders are already doing; it can really help bring it all to life.
RaiseUPFaith has about 400 pre-built lessons that can be used right off the bat. But there are also 3,800 separate activities within those lessons that can all be used individually so that kids' ministry leaders can pick and choose elements to plug into their existing schemes if they want to.
For example, if you were doing a lesson on the fruits of the Spirit, you could search around that theme and find Bible stories, video games, crafts, prayers and Bible stories to complement that. And you can even upload your own resources to incorporate into your lesson. In that sense, RaiseUP can act as a 'content vault' to help bring to life or complement what churches are already doing.
CT: What about less digitally equipped churches that may not have the best Wifi?!
Duncan: Absolutely, that was really key for us. Everyone in the team comes from a mainstream business background so we were acutely aware that we need to develop this for real people in real situations wherever that may be. We know that churches are not exactly renowned for their wifi! And to be fair, they are not really ideally set up for it.
We were aware of that so we wanted to make sure it was easy for them. That's why the lessons and resources can all be downloaded as a powerpoint file with videos already embedded so that they can then be played on a laptop or through a TV without a wifi connection. And if you do have good wifi, then you can simply choose your lesson, turn on display mode and the website will turn into a powerpoint. It's all about making something that requires as little preparation time as possible so that kids' ministry leaders can get on with what they really want to do.