Video series teaches "God is a great big God"

July 12, 2007

Jul. 6, 2007

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)-Children all across the United States are leaving church on Sunday mornings with these words ringing in their ears:

"God is a great big God. God loves us with a great big love. We are part of God's great big world, God is a great big God."

They are also talking about Bongo, Mr. Z and Ms. Lucy, "The Station" and "Common Ground Café." Along the way, they are developing lifelong faith and a love for Sunday school.

That was the dream behind "Live B.I.G." when the United Methodist Publishing House produced the first year's Sunday school curriculum in 2006 for children ages 3-13. One year later, there is lots of evidence that the dream is coming true.

In the first seven months of production, sales were up to $2.4 million and 4,575 churches had bought the new curriculum. In a survey to first-time users, respondents said the DVD was helpful and that more children were attending Sunday school.

"We have achieved many of the things we hoped for and we have taken some big risks," said Marj Pon, director of children's resources at the Publishing House.

"A couple of weeks ago, I heard about a small church that started using Live B.I.G. in January for their Wednesday night program. They began with six children and have now grown to 19 children, adding a child per week. Their goal is to help more and more children come to know about God's love for them-and with the help of Live B.I.G, they are succeeding!" Pon said.

High-tech world

In 2004, the Publishing House started planning for ways to capture children's attention in a multimedia world.

The average U.S. family watches eight hours and 11 minutes of television a day, according to a report from Nielsen Media Research. Children are growing up in homes equipped with multiple televisions, computers, video games, iPods, CD and DVD players-many in their own bedrooms.

"Live B.I.G." is an annual resource with 12 DVDs, a teacher's book and student books. The interactive video study is designed to cover the Bible in two years.

Bongo the Bible bird, Mr. Z and Ms. Lucy help preschool children (ages 3-4 and 5-6) through age-appropriate activities including puzzles, crafts and booklets to take home and share with parents.

Elementary-age children (7-8 and 9-10) are led by young teens and Ana in "The Station 2." Kids ages 11-13 participate in "Common Ground," a coffeehouse with host Will and teenagers Kayla, Becca, Ty and Clay. There is also an option for small churches that may only have one Sunday school class for children of different ages. The one-room option uses segments from the elementary age group.

Each month features a "Big Idea," and each Sunday includes "The Big Picture," "On the Road" and the "Big Sound."

"The Big Picture" shares pictures of children in different settings living out the week's Bible scripture. "On the Road" is a video segment shot in different locations showing children and churches in mission, and the "Big Sound" is music. Original songs were created for the preschool and elementary age groups, and contemporary Christian songs are used for preteens.

Risks and successes

One of the major risks of launching "Live B.I.G." was the high cost of production for the fast-paced, interactive video curriculum, according to Pon. The alternatives were doing nothing or continuing smaller offerings, and the Publishing House decided the risks were worth it.

So far, sales are covering production costs but are not generating enough to cover related operating costs, Pon told the last board of directors meeting of the Publishing House.

But Pon also reported positive feedback from across the church.

"I wish you could know just how deeply Live B.I.G. is touching the lives of our children and teachers alike," said Pam Cotton, children's director at Elmwood West United Methodist Church, Abilene, Texas. "It would take a book to tell you the stories, but this is the best thing to happen to our church in many, many years.

"When I see a teacher crying because they are so touched by the Big Picture and the Big Sound, it warms my heart, and that leads the teacher to interact with the children in a way that is real and the love of Jesus just flows," she said. "It is so exciting and THIS IS COMING FROM THE METHODISTS!"

When "Live B.I.G." was created, the hope was that the new curriculum would:

  • Develop lifelong faith;
  • Prompt children to ask to come to Sunday school;
  • Make it easier for teachers and aid in teacher recruitment;
  • Offer built-in help and experts each week;
  • Provide faith-filled teen role models; and
  • Keep children, parents and church leaders involved through the week at iLiveBIG.com.

"This is more than curriculum," said Neil Alexander, publisher and CEO. "This is an evangelism tool that is increasing children's church attendance and making disciples for Jesus Christ."

"We are thrilled with the overwhelming response to Live B.I.G. in its first year," said Pon. "It has far exceeded our wildest expectations. Sunday schools for children in all 50 states are being transformed. Live B.I.G. is achieving the goal we set of assisting churches as they help their children come to know and love God through Jesus Christ."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.