- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The paper-only Sunday school quarterly is going digital with a goal of daily involvement by children and parents. One of the country’s oldest evangelical Christian curriculum publishers, David C Cook, is launching a digital initiative aimed at children and their families.

The change was made because those 12 and younger “are truly [a] digital generation where their screen is a big part of their life,” said John Aden, the Colorado Springs publishing firm’s CEO.

That electronic connection may be more important after the pandemic, a report from Lifeway Research indicated. The group surveyed pastors in February and found 44% reporting that they had not restarted Sunday school and 29% saying they were having difficulty recruiting volunteer leaders for children’s ministries.

Mr. Aden said he thinks a shift to new technologies can help reengage at least some of the missing church children.

“We’re moving into an environment where we think discipleship and life change happens every day, 365 days a year, and in every way from 360 degrees around a person,” Mr. Aden said in an interview. “We’re trying to create a digital platform that will deliver relevant content into the lives of the students every day and in every way.”

The first of those efforts, launched this month, is Wonder Ink, a digital resource for youngsters in two groups: ages 3-5 and kindergarten through fifth grade. Mr. Aden said the curriculum is centered on four “core values” that the firm wants to convey: “God Knows Me, Jesus Loves Me, the Holy Spirit Leads Me, and I Am a Child of God.”

“The whole idea of Wonder Ink,” Mr. Aden said, “is that it ignites the curiosity in kids and inspires them to want to understand their identity and God’s big story, which is just a different learning format.”

He said the goal is “to create a digital platform that will deliver relevant content into the lives of the students every day and in every way.” Instead of tear-out pages in a printed booklet, it uses “digital customization” as well as resources for “volunteer development” and “family engagement,” the WonderInk.org website states.

Mr. Aden, a former head of international operations for Walmart and former president of Mac Tools, said “innovation” is at the heart of the efforts.

“We have a number of brands that we’re looking at gamification, virtual reality, augmented reality, all these things,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got all this percolating now inside of this organization called the innovation team, [and] this product Wonder Ink is the first of those products. It’s both a curriculum and a digital platform that we’re combining to serve the church with.”

Kirstin Hitchcock is a children’s pastor for The Practice Church in South Barrington, Illinois. She was a beta tester for the Wonder Ink curriculum. The congregation, she said, is a new venture — a “church plant” — where 15 children are a major part of the 75-member assembly.

“What’s been really encouraging,” she said in an interview, “is seeing my kids get excited to actually enter into the story. And what I mean by that is [their] favorite part is what we call the ‘experience it’ script that’s in the curriculum, when the kids actually get to do an interactive retelling of the story that they just heard.”

She said the curriculum can fit a variety of circumstances, whether it’s a large classroom group or a smaller one.

“Being able to help kids be curious and wonder about God is going to allow them to enter the story differently, and that’s what I want them to do,” Ms. Hitchcock said. “I want them to enter into God’s story because they need to know they’re a part of it. And that’s what I really truly believe Wonder Ink does.”

Jana Zachman, who leads the children’s ministry at Bucklin Free Methodist Church in Kansas, some 30 miles from the Oklahoma border, said the digital program “will equip small churches to be able to do what big churches do” in terms of children’s ministry. “Being in a little rural church that has no staff, [I] will have the same resources and the same capabilities [of] a church that may have 100 people on their staff.”

Ms. Zachman got an “inside track” on the Wonder Ink curriculum because her principal job is as the Cook firm’s vice president of services and innovation. She said Wonder Ink will help keep children interested after Sunday worship ends.

“One of the things that is really cool about what we’re doing with the portal that Wonder Ink goes onto is connecting Sunday to Monday,” she said. “We have a great at-home piece that is going to engage families to get together and is not just a take-home paper that gets thrown on the floorboard of the car.”

Instead, she said, the web portal offers activities the youngsters can do with their families online and earn badges for completing them. “They can set up an [online] avatar, have fun activities, [there’s] worship music so they can have a worship dance party in the evening or something like that,” she said.

Unlike the tear-out paper, Ms. Zachman said, the portal allows ministry leaders to track what each child is doing or not doing.

“I can see what activities they’ve completed at home,” she said. “If they’re not doing anything, or maybe they’re not getting the content, I know I can follow up with them and I can help reinforce some things.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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