Hardware. Software. Migs. Gigs. RAM. I/O. Mac. PC. DVI. Malware.
If you can pick out which word above does not belong, then read no further. This article is not for you. If your face has broken into an expression that is a cross between bewilderment and disgust, don’t panic. Help is on the way!
The word “technology” elicits a variety of responses from parents and educators ranging from reverent worship to vile disgust. Depending on the time of day, you can find researchers and experts who point out that technology increases creativity in children or that it erodes attention spans. The debate leaks into children’s ministry. How much technology does a children’s ministry need in order to be relevant? The answer to that varies from church to church depending on budgets, the size of a church, and the culture of the community where a church is located. I think it’s safe to say, though, that any children’s ministry wanting to reach kids and partner with parents needs to take advantage of technology to enhance its presentation of the Gospel, as well as improve its communication with families.
So, what does it mean to use technology in children’s ministry? There isn’t an easy answer to that. For the purposes of this article, I’ll highlight two broad categories of technology that children’s ministries can leverage: hardware and software. Then, I’ll attempt to define these categories, as well as offer suggestions on how to use them in children’s ministry. By no means will this be an exhaustive list of technologies that can be used to enhance ministry. Additionally, as technology is constantly changing, the specific suggestions in this article will become outdated in time … probably in just a short time.
Hardware refers to the physical parts of your computer or anything connected to it, like your monitor (aka screen), printer, mouse, projector, and keyboard. While the list of hardware categories is lengthy, there are two that most people in children’s ministry will have to work with. The first hardware category answers a question that is becoming more globally universal: “What kind of computer should I get?” The other piece of hardware many children’s ministries have to deal with is for presenting visual media like videos, pictures and words on some sort of large screen for an audience to see.
Desktop vs. Laptop
Before you can take advantage of computer technology in children’s ministry, you need a computer! The first decision to tackle is whether to get a desktop computer or a laptop. While a desktop may seem like a more economical route, especially if you are from a smaller church with little to no budget, portability is becoming more and more a necessity. Jared Massey, a bi-vocational children’s pastor and blogger at SmalltownKidmin.com, says, “Because of our limited space, a laptop is necessary for our presentation needs. It replaces a larger computer, allows me to move it for different functions/needs, and it also serves as a DVD music player.”
Laptops come in a variety of prices and specifications. There’s also the question of whether to get a Mac or a PC. While there are very heated debates over which type of computer is better, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Macs certainly are trendier right now, and they have a reputation for being very easy to use. Macs also come preloaded with some great software to create movies, slide shows, music and even DVDs, which can come in handy on a low budget and limited know-how in those areas. The biggest drawback with Macs is the price. The cheapest Mac laptops are around $1,000. PCs, on the other hand, are priced much lower. PCs are also cheaper and easier to upgrade, and there is a wider variety of software available for them. On the downside, PCs are highly vulnerable to security breaches from viruses and malware. These are programs that can damage your computer and even steal personal information from you.
Whatever your choice of computer, Matt McKee suggests that you get as much RAM (that’s the memory your computer uses to function and run programs) as you can. You also want to have a large amount of space to store programs and projects. As of the writing of this article, 500 GB (gigabytes) is a good amount of space.
Regardless of your budget, with a little creativity and determination there is little reason any children’s ministry shouldn’t be able to get a computer to meet its needs. Being in a smaller church, Jared Massey has had to be resourceful in procuring a laptop for the ministry he leads. “Nearly everything I use was donated or purchased used, including my laptop. With technology ever changing, many businesses (and churches) need to keep equipment up to date so they upgrade from stuff that still works. I just ask around and many times people are willing to donate their unused stuff. Again, this stuff works great; it just isn’t the newest/best thing available.”
Projector vs. Television
Once your children’s ministry has a computer and accompanying videos, pictures and other visual media, you need a way to display all that wonderful material for the kids. This can be done by plugging your computer into a projector and projecting the images onto a projection screen or a blank wall. You can also plug your computer into a TV or monitor to display your pictures and videos. The biggest factor in deciding which route to go is the environment you will be using to display your visual media. Budget really isn’t too much of an issue if you’re purchasing a TV or projector, as the price difference between the two pieces of equipment isn’t drastically different until you start wanting to display larger than six feet across. If you have a dedicated space, a large flat screen TV provides a clearer and brighter picture. The drawback is that a large TV is not portable and is more easily susceptible to being broken by a stray object being thrown in the room. If you need something more portable or require a relatively large image, then a projector would be the way to go. Before purchasing a projector, though, be sure to consult with a couple of companies that either sell or install projectors to find out what will work best for your environment.
If budgets are too tight to purchase a projector or TV, then use what you’ve got on hand. In addition to finding someone to donate a new or used TV to your children’s ministry, some stores might be willing to donate their old floor models to your ministry.
Software refers to the programs that computers run for various tasks. Software can be purchased in stores on DVDs or CDs or purchased online and downloaded to your computer. There are a vast number of categories of software. We’re going to look at software dealing with productivity, presentation, and video editing.
When it comes to word processors and spreadsheets, Microsoft Office is the most widely used software and is available for both PCs and Macs. There are a number of options available for Microsoft Office and pricing depends on which parts of Office are included. At the least, you’ll want Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets and PowerPoint for visual presentations. Of the different productivity software options in this article, Microsoft Office is the priciest.
Apple has its own suite of productivity software called iWork, which includes a word processor called Pages, a spreadsheet program called Numbers and presentation software called Keynote. Individual modules can be purchased for around $20 each on the online Apple App store. iWork programs can open projects created in Office and can save files so that the Office programs can open them.
In addition to these programs for purchase, there are some free ones out there. One of the free options is provided through Google and is part of what is now called Google Drive (formerly known as Google Docs). In order to use Google Drive, you need to have a Google account, which is also free (http://drive.google.com). You can create word processing documents, spreadsheets and visual presentations all online, and all the files are saved online. This feature allows you to work on your files from anywhere and on any computer with an Internet connection. Another nice feature of Google Drive is the ability to share projects online and work on those projects collaboratively online. The drawback is that you have to be connected to the Internet and have a Google account.
If an online option is not for you, there is Open Office (http://openoffice.org) and LibreOffice (http://libreoffice.org). Both programs are free and have the ability to create projects similar to those that can be created in Microsoft Office and iWork.
When it comes to worship presentation software, there are two popular programs: ProPresenter and MediaShout. Both programs are available for Macs and PCs and provide versatility in how visual media is presented. While there is a bit of a learning curve for both programs, once presentations are set up, changes can be made on the fly. The biggest drawback is the price of these programs at about $400.
A couple of other options for presenting visual media is PowerPoint (Microsoft Office) or Keynote (iWork). Both programs allow for video and sound to be placed on slides. The drawback is that slides cannot be changed on the fly and you cannot jump around between slides during a presentation.
A couple of free options are OpenOffice and LibreOffice that have presentation programs. They both have similar limitations as PowerPoint and Keynote.
While editing and creating your own videos may seem like a way to save money, it takes a lot of time to gather video, sort through it, cut the parts of video you want, and piece it back together. When it comes to most videos, it is better to find a video already made that you can purchase or borrow. Another option is to recruit someone who owns video editing software and equipment, and who knows how to take the videos and edit them.
If you are determined to do videos on your own, a couple of popular high-end video editing programs are Final Cut Pro (for Mac) and Adobe Premiere (for Mac and PC). These programs are rather complicated to learn and very expensive to use. Most children’s ministries won’t be using these.
If you’re interested in making short videos to recap an event, create a training video or simple video announcements, there is iMovie (included with Macs) and Windows Live Movie Maker (included on PCs with Windows). These programs aren’t as complicated as those previously mentioned, but they are easier to piece videos together with some stylistic transitions. Your videos won’t be of the highest quality, but when you want something simple, they’re the way to go.
If you are simply interested in putting together a slide show with music set to it, there is an online option that will put one together for you. All you have to do is upload the pictures and the music. The video is automatically put together for you. The service is called Animoto (http://www.animoto.com). There is a nominal fee for using it, but when you want a slide show that has a bit more style to it, this is a great option.
Using technology in children’s ministry has become more of a necessity. While it is important to not be dependent on technology in ministry, there is much that leveraging technology can do to enhance your ministry to children and families. You don’t have to be a technology guru to use it. It’s also important to garner the help of a “tech nerd” who already exists in your church. Technology isn’t something to be afraid of. Remember—at one time those snazzy flannelgraphs and mimeographs were new technology!