At first glance, this article is a far cry from most of the things that I write about here in K! Magazine … but not really. I am proud to say that I got my start with local and national exposure in children’s ministry because of puppet ministry. Yes, long before I knew anything about time management, leadership or recruiting, I was using puppets to teach kids. I came up with characters of all shapes and sizes; some were even life size. If you could put a moveable mouth in it, I used it. (I made a talking moose once using a mold from a taxidermist and a servomotor.) I don’t think doors opened just because I was using puppets creatively inside and outside the church or because I was an excellent puppeteer, but because I dared to use them differently.
Children’s ministry folks have always been some of the most creative people on the face of the earth. Sometimes we focus on being creative more than being innovative. One of the things I think is plaguing children’s ministry today is a lack of innovation. Innovation is more than making something better; it’s coming up with a new way of thinking that leads to a new way of doing something more effectively. Wikipedia defines innovation as a change in the thought process for doing something or “new stuff that is made useful.” It may refer to an incremental emergent or radical and revolutionary change in thinking, products, processes, or organizations. Now, we love the “R” word in ministry—Revolution—especially in youth ministry. But, another factor in innovation is to be willing to encourage ideas to evolve into something useful, current and relevant to today’s kids! The E-word has gotten a bad rap in certain circles, but believe it or not, it has its place … at least among puppets. When shadow puppets first slid off the walls of our ancestors’ caves and gave place to the wood, straw or fiber-filled heads, arms and trunks of the past several centuries, I suppose most people thought puppets had peaked in the evolutionary process. But remember, the E-theory suggests a survival of the fittest … enter Little Mountain Productions in Tulsa, OK. (www.newlmp.com)
Little Mountain Productions is the brainchild of Richard Carver. Richard has a background of over 25 years of experience as a senior art director. He started his career in 1970 working with national corporations and advertising agencies as a print designer and illustrator. Over the years, Richard has acquired over 200 national, regional and local awards for his numerous projects, including the National Gold Quill Award. As a television art director, he has worked on over 500 national, regional and local television spots providing set design, special effects and the creation of props. When Richard’s not on the set, he designs interiors for churches and businesses. As you view their website, you’ll see more than just creative people at work. You see innovation coming at you full force. Richard has also assembled a team of visioneers around him who are second to none. The guys at LMP had the foresight to see that without a little genetic tampering, these furry, half-foam, half-man smile-grabbers would not survive the onslaught of pixilation from a media savvy culture. What crawled out of their Petri dish was a brand new species of digital puppets! As a children’s pastor, gadget guru and puppeteer for over 30 years and someone who has dabbled in film and video production for kids, I have to say this is a welcome merging of several mediums that have been very successful in influencing children.
In a nutshell, your puppet skits no longer have to be performed by those musty old cloth puppets, nor presented through an opening carved out of much needed space in your children’s church. Oh no, this is year twenty-twenty stuff we’re talking about here! Get yourself a flat screen and you’re set. LMP provides the rest. As a matter of fact, they’ll also provide the full set-up including a hidden and secure wall-mounted steel box for the flat screen, which has built-in space for the operating components of your “cyber-filled” friends.
If you’ve played a video game in the past fifteen years, then operating these puppets will be a cinch (and even if you haven’t, it’s way user friendly). A video game controller is all that is used to activate your colorful, animated, pixilated puppets. Puppet selection includes tropical fish, tail-wagging puppies, wispy butterflies, and even an uplifting smiley face. Plus LMP is offering personalized puppets for your existing children’s church curriculum. Need a lion? How about a lamb? No problem. And word on the street is their 3-D puppets are in development right now!
As for puppet movement you’ve got all kinds of options including: full body rotations, traveling on and off screen, interactions with another puppet, head movement, eye movement, eyebrow movement, and smiles. And, of course, the mouth moves as fast (or as slow) as you move your finger on the game controller. So, what makes these power puppets so superior to the cotton-headed ninny-muggins of the past? One word—interactive.
Imagine, for example, a puppet on screen welcoming first time visitors, calling them by name and commenting on their Saints’ jersey or their sweet Adidas tennis shoes. As a teacher/performer, I no longer have to be behind a curtain or stage, but I can be where I can see the kids and interact with them. Now I’ve got their full attention and can drive home the points of the lesson, lead them in scripture memorization or just play a game with them. Besides being Disney-esque, I see some other benefits to my classes. They are not pre-recorded; they are real-time, controlled by a simple, easy-to-use controller, which means no practice ahead of time. I can use these puppets in a whole lot more than skits or songs.
They can do birthday songs, announcements, welcomings, offerings, reviews, games and even praise and worship.
The best thing about these digital puppets is that they are an innovative teaching tool that assists you in successfully getting your message across in a fun, interactive way.
I have known some of the LMP folks for years. One of them (Richard’s son, Chase) was in my children’s church years ago. I know you are thinking that Jim sure is excited about these digital puppets. I am. (I’m also excited about their iPulpit.) But, I’m more excited to see some innovation again in children’s ministry. When you find yourself face to face with a real live innovator, try to get inside their head. Try to learn how they think. Learn the questions they ask and what motivates them to change their thinking. When you learn this, you can change more than just your thinking. You can allow innovation to help you bring about change to the lives of kids. At the end of the day, why we minister to kids and families is to see their lives changed by the Word of God. Innovation is the key to staying current, being different and going where we’ve never been in the church world. Hats off to these big ideas from Little Mountain. Finally, there’s something new in children’s ministry.