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Why so few children’s outreach sites?

There are very few evangelistic sites for children which are not like Sunday School sites – ie. designed for children who have Christian backgrounds or at least some Christian knowledge. Why this should be? One answer must be that most children’s evangelism is, rightly, ‘permission marketing’. In other words, it is must be by the consent of parents or guardians who encourage or allow their children to attend Bible classes, Sunday Schools, evangelistic camps, etc. We do not take younger children to meetings, or even give them evangelistic literature, outside a parental permission context. But when permission has been granted, it is possible to present explicit Bible stories, teaching and activities.

This is not to criticize websites aimed at Christian children, only to point out that they are unlikely to engage significantly with others. Sites such as Kids4Truth are primarily for ‘churched’ children – those who have some Christian background. However, in almost every country outside USA, such children are a tiny minority of their age-group. The fact that sites such as these can successfully touch Christianized children (particularly in USA with an unusually high church attendance rate) may mask the the harder truth – they are probably not touching ‘unchurched’ children significantly.

But how do we create evangelistic sites for children? If they are online at all, they probably have parental permission and some level of oversight. They will be able to use search engines and special children’s directories. But it is not appropriate that they be in email dialogue with adults running the site without some very clear guidelines and safeguards.

Non-Christian children are most unlikely to be looking for Christian content. Just as with non-Christians everywhere, they will be searching for everything else. If we are to reach them, we need the bridge strategy used in ways appropriate for their age-group, to create pages about things that they are interested in.

Of course, wise children’s evangelists are trained to be sensitive, to avoid scaring children or pressuring them into ‘decisions’. And like everyone else, children do not like to be talked down to.

Games can be part of a children’s site. There are many free games that can easily be added to a webpage. Cartoons, either as single jokes, or as consecutive narrative comic stories, are valuable too.

Stories do not all have to be Bible stories, or even have a moral tacked on the end. Stories can be just plain good fiction with a Christian worldview &ndash think Peanuts. At the same time, the life of Jesus can be very effectively told in a very accessible way using comic strip – see He Lived Among Us in a wide range of languages – the graphics can also be downloaded and added to your site.

A children’s site could include book reviews too – and not only Christian books. It could also help older kids to start thinking through issues raised by books, TV and film stories, learning how to analyze story-lines and assess the values that are being sold to them through popular culture.

The X-Spectrum helps us to visualize more clearly the likely effective target audience of any children’s website.

Style to emulate

For younger children, there is great potential in using a style similar to the secular pre-school CBeebies, with games, puzzles, stories and audio. For older children, the style offered by BBC’s Blue Peter concept, with named presenters for children to identify with (not, please, ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’). It could also include the style of secular Adventures with PosNayko. There could be plenty of material about science, animals, technology, hobbies and a thousasnd other things: there purely to add value to the site, and which fulfils no direct preaching function at all. Help could be offered for common children’s problems. Such an outreach would need adequate resourcing, but could be very powerful. Low key or neutral bridge strategy material is not compromise, but essential to the concept. It would be a younger equivalent of IamNext for teens and students. Of course, preschoolers, 5-7s and 8-12s all need different material, probably different websites.

Designers of children’s pages should take account of this usability study.

Existing sites, and network for site producers

There is an informal network of people involved in online children’s evangelism. One problem is that is expensive to design and operate an outreach website. Yet the strategic opportunities for outreach to young people are enormous.

There are several challenging video clips from Logosdor, including ‘Aim Lower’ and ‘Reaching Every Child’, about ministry to children. Use them to draw others into children’s ministry of any sort, or to encourage your existing youth team. These are high-definition videos (30-50Mb in Quicktime or Mpeg) – download them by right-clicking the links within the Logosdor site and save to your hard drive. (It is not immediately obvious that ‘Reaching Every Child’ is in two parts.) Displayed here to watch is Aim Lower.

Here are examples of outreach sites for children.

Please send us any children’s pages that you think really communicate to kids who have no Christian background.

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