by Neil MacQueen
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the gift of speaking in a different language, — the language of the hearer. We too are challenged with the daunting task of teaching the Gospel to the foreigners in our midst -- the children of the electronic age. The good news is that hundreds of churches in our denomination and others have been experiencing exciting results teaching with computers, multimedia software, and the Internet as part of their Sunday morning experience. Bible Computer Labs are popping up across the country supplementing and enhancing the programs of churches large and small.
The reason for this new movement is rather simple: Churches are discovering that our children, youth, and a growing number of adults are attracted to these tools like no others. They are learning, and they are returning. In a time when our traditional curriculum increasingly sounds like so much babel, computer-assisted education is showing great promise as a tool for evangelism and Bible literacy.
This new movement to incorporate computers into our teaching methods should come as no surprise. The Church has always made use of innovative technology to communicate the Gospel. The Reformation itself would have been impossible without the use of that "new fangled" machine — the printing press. One of the great contributions of Protestantism to the Church has been the insistence on translating the Gospel into the vernacular --the language of the people. When we cease the task of translating, we risk not being heard. We risk irrelevance.
Every generation is a new challenge to the Church and its teaching methods. Yet, unlike the advent of the printed word and the use of video, computers have been met with resistance, if not altogether ignored by many in the organized Church. "Why" is not hard to figure out. Teaching with computers is a new medium that few pastors, leaders or teachers have any experience or training in. They cannot use what they fear or do not understand. Our resource publishers also seem stuck in a pre- computer age time warp. They have been slow in acting on the significance and attractiveness of these new tools for education (though their offices seem well equipped). Our Presbyterian resource providers, along with Augsburg, Cokesbury and the like are all financially strapped and distracted by titanic curriculum struggles. Providentially, the winds of change are not so encumbered.
Pastors take note: Improved Bible literacy is one of the best reasons computers should not be ignored. Pastors who lament the state of Bible literacy and general apathy for learning among the young in their congregations are finding a friend in the Bible Computer Lab. The Bible Computer Lab is typically a room in the Sunday School with two or more computers (new or used) and a staff of specially trained teachers. Classes rotate into the Lab to use software as a component of a lesson plan (not a replacement) more often than not aimed at promoting recall and general Bible content. Pastors see improvement, kids are happy and proud of what they can remember, parents are amazed and supportive. We ignore these tools not only at the risk of irrelevance, but at the loss of a wonderful opportunity.
Computers are excellent tools for teaching Bible stories. Like the stories they teach, computers have the potential to vividly stir the imagination. Bible stories taught and reinforced with computer software not only attract students in droves, but take advantage of the mind's capacity and thirst for multi-sensory input.
Computers Labs are also giving our Sunday Schools something new and much needed: the ability to promote long-term retention of lesson material. Computer quiz games with the option of inputting previously taught lesson material allow us to test for comprehension and reinforce memory over the long haul. Kids love computers and they love repetition, — just ask any child how many times they've played their favorite computer game! With computers, memory verse work is also back in the realm of possibility. Shouldn't every child know Psalm 23? They can with a computer and they enjoy it.
The time has come for the inclusion of computers in our teaching methods and a number of factors are helping to make it easier than you might think. The price of new computers and access to the Internet has come within reach of most of our families and churches. The advent of the Pentium chip has flooded the "donation market" with used computers suitable for beginning the experiment. Software prices continue to decline. And while many of our leaders aren't as computer literate as they could be, our congregations typically have an abundance of people who understand and enjoy using computers and are ready to help.
...And the software just keeps getting better. New interactive Christian CD-ROMs are making a dramatic educational entry into the Sunday School. CDs such as the multimedia monster Pathways Through Jerusalem, are astounding not only children and youth, but adults and pastors as well with its wealth of historical, scriptural and archaeological information so creatively presented. Interactive, kid-friendly CDs about the Life of Moses, David, Jesus and Paul from Kids Interactive Inc. are pumping up the content and excitement. Church educators who first come upon such software are often both amazed and frustrated. They are amazed at the quality of the better titles, and frustrated that nobody has told them of its existence until now.
Another factor in the movement toward computers is the growing consensus that our Sunday Schools are in trouble. The Emperor has been discovered rather unclothed. Our children aren't learning and aren't coming back. The search is on for new methods, models, and languages whether they come from denominational resources or not. And the word about computers is spreading.
One of the terrific "side-effects" church are discovering about computers in the Sunday School is their power to attract attendance. Families with children who are shopping for churches view computers as an attractive and serious commitment to their children's education. As a demographic group, these families are purchasing computers and educational software at a brisk pace. They are demanding multimedia education in the Public Schools (and getting it). They are surprised and appreciative when they see computers in Sunday School, — and their kids don't want to go anywhere else.
Some will no doubt say we are drunk on technology. But those experiencing the results know better. We are reveling in a new breeze. Like Peter we say, "No, we're not drunk. It's just nine o'clock on Sunday morning! A time for amazement and astonishment. A time for our sons and daughters to prophesy... This is a time for visions and dreams and an outpouring of the Spirit. Come join us."
Here are a few things you can do to help your Sunday School get started using computers:
— Begin the discussion. Share this article and the series in ALERT (which has many details).
— Get your computer techies and educators together to explore the possibilities.
— Create a pilot project with one or two computers and a handful of kids and software.
— Ask around your Presbytery for churches who may already be teaching with computers.
— Ask your Presbytery resource center and education staff for training & leadership.
— Seek out computer training for your church staff.
— Provide the funds as you are able to bring your Sunday School into the future.
Text of an article which appeared in the April 1997 Presbyterian Outlook --an independent weekly serving the Presbyterian Church, USA. Permission granted by author to freely reprint "as is." To reprint with changes, contact the author
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