Monday, February 13, 2012

Essentials vs. Bells and Whistles

I don't know about you, but I'm easily distracted by bright, shiny objects.  I walk into Wal-Mart to get cat food and the next thing I know I'm looking at home theater systems.  I don't have the money to buy one, and I certainly don't need it, but there I am anyway.   Meanwhile, the family cat is at home calling animal protection because he's starving.

Sometimes I see the same tendencies in Children's Ministry.  It's easy to get wrapped up in the stuff that doesn't matter at the expense of what brought us there in the first place.

When putting together a creative program for kids, you have to be able to distinguish between essentials and bells and whistles.  Some of the most effective storytelling I’ve ever seen has been low tech and simple.  Some of the worst programs I've ever seen have been loaded with smoke and mirrors.  Unfortunately that's all they were.

Before you get the wrong impressions, let me say I love bells and whistles.  I use them frequently and often go big..  When used well, bells and whistles can take an already solid Bible story or program to the next level and beyond.  It's just a matter of putting first things first.

Which is Which?

So what's an essential?  What's a bell and whistle?  It kind of depends.

For me essentials are:

  • A solid, well-thought out Bible lesson that's kid-geared and God focused 
  • Lots of prayer
  • Memorized storytellers
  • Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal 

Bells and whistles could include:

  • Video projector
  • Computer graphics
  • Flashy props
  • Professional lighting
  • Stage
  • Sound system and mics
  • Theatrical set
  • Drama
  • Dance
  • Puppets

All of this stuff is great, but it's no substitute for a killer lesson and a well-prepared storyteller who knows what they're doing.  I've seen people spend hours making clever videos for a weekend program and then the storytelling absolutely stunk.  Great video but ultimately it was en epic fail, because we did not communicate the Bible in a clear and relevant way to our kids.  It was a missed opportunity that we'll never get back.

I've also seen precious rehearsal time eaten up by trying to get some tech detail right.  So we end up with the right lighting cue but the storyteller has no idea when to come on stage or how to use their props.  Again, epic fail.

Remember, it's more important to be clear than to be clever.

When Bells and Whistles Are Essentials

Sometimes, of course, bells and whistles become essentials.  When you have a certain size crowd, you need tech to be seen and heard.  But again, don't become enamored with this stuff.   If you can't afford it, don't worry about it.  If do have bells and whistles, great, but don't use them as a crutch.  Every lesson should be able to stand on its own.

What's the Bottom Line?

Bells and whistles should only enhance, never distract or detract.  They are not the main attraction.  Adapting your curriculum and developing master storytellers is where your time needs to go.  Amazing creative programs don't have to cost a dime, but they always cost you time. Crafting lessons and developing communicators takes effort, but I promise you, the pay off is totally worth it.  So use bells and whistles with caution and only as needed.  They are icing, but never the cake.

How about you?  Do you have bells and whistles at your disposal?  If so, how do you use them and do they ever get in the way of what really matters?  

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