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June 07 - Church Army Gospel Rocky - How will they hear?

With attendance at Sunday school declining, Church Army’s Gospel Rocky Theatre Company has begun sharing the good news with children in their homes – via the web. Frank McGregor tells Inspire how …

Psalm 78

Listen, dear friends, to God's truth, bend your ears to what I tell you.
We're not keeping this to ourselves, we're passing it along to the next generation—
God's fame and fortune, the marvellous things he has done.
He commanded our parents to teach his Word to their children
So the next generation would know, and all the generations to come —
Know the truth and tell the stories so their children can trust in God
(The Message Bible)

As a Church Army Evangelist engaged in sharing the Gospel with children, I have found the words of Psalm 78 to be a great inspiration as well as a constant challenge! How do we ensure the message is continually passed on to, and heard by each generation? 

What Would Jesus Do? Would he text, e-mail, instant message, blog, and upload his videos on MySpace and YouTube? As I surf the internet, it’s good to see that the Church is beginning to engage with others along the way. That’s where I am too, just at the beginning, learning, trying to use this generation’s tools to pass on the good news.

Back in 1993, I came up with the idea for Gospel Rock – a simple stick of seaside rock with the name of JESUS in red letters through the centre. It was an instant suck-cess!  A fun, tasty way of passing on the Gospel to children, reminding them that Jesus is with them from the beginning to the end of their lives, and that a Christian is someone who puts Jesus at the centre!

Fourteen years and 120,000 sticks of rock later, I find myself sitting at my computer still pondering memorable things to say – but this time for a very different generation. The message I’m typing won’t be given in a school service or church but via e-mail. Today’s Year 6 children are masters of new technology – and computers are the norm. 

The challenge for us is to present the Gospel message in a relevant way. The stick of rock idea is now a theatrical character called Gospel Rocky, travelling around the UK in his own full-scale theatre shows with a dozen singing, dancing children called the Rocky Kids. 

Locally, Rocky also has an established ministry around Stoke-on-Trent with production team members Carl and Mary in the guise of panto-style fun characters “Mother & hapless son”. Together they visit 16 primary schools every term, entertaining 4,000 children with a fun, dramatic collective worship time.

Now in our fifth year visiting schools, the team felt that a solid foundation had been laid through the schools and it was time to make a real connection between Gospel Rocky and some of the children enjoying our assemblies. We looked to the internet as the way forward.

We asked the schools if we could invite all of the children to join an online Gospel Rocky Kids Club. All the Heads said “Yes”, and so this Spring term we launched the club through our assembly theme “God's Word on the Web” based on Psalm 78. Those children who don’t have a computer at home were encouraged to join the club through school.

In just a few weeks, 120 children logged in their details and officially joined the club and we are now in touch every week with a lot more children than the average church has in their Sunday school. It also struck me that some parents are probably reading our e-mails too!  We have a whole new area of ministry, which since our first message to all club members is now keeping us very busy on a daily basis answering children’s replies. 

At the start of each month all members receive an e-mail letter with a full colour Bible story, courtesy of who gave us permission to use their considerable resources. This is then followed by weekly e-mailed messages from Rocky based on the story. A link from the e-mail takes them back to the site where they can take part in a quiz and colouring competition, again based on the story of the month. And of course there are prizes!

We also run a “joke of the month” competition. There’s space to post prayers, ask questions and make comments.  Many children previously unknown to us have done so, and it has been very touching and encouraging for us as well as for them. We know that some of the children signed up  have little or no connection to church. This e-mail may be the only Bible they will ever read.

It’s very much early days for our online club. We realise we need to be a site where children come and visit on a regular basis, not just visit once and never return. So we are working hard to keep the site fresh, so that a lively traffic flow between us and the children is maintained. We need to involve our Rocky Kids too, so that at least some of the site is run by children for children.

We recognise we have a long way to go and lots to learn from others already years ahead of us on the net, but it will be fun discovering just what we are capable of producing.

How will they hear? I’m increasingly convinced the answer lies in helping ensure our Christian internet presence gives a safe place to play, learn, explore and discover more about Jesus.

Frank McGregor is a Church Army Evangelist based in Stoke-on-Trent. Tel (+44) 1782 683786

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