I’ve been teaching with software in Sunday School 25 years?
Here’s how it happened…
I love teaching Sunday School.
Started when I was 17, and it led me into the ministry.
Then as a young youth minister, in 1990 I stepped into my first Sunday morning “computer lab.”
- Didn’t have a CLUE about how it would turn out.
- Didn’t know how to install or run a program.
- Wasn’t even my idea to get the computers.
Bill Gill, a young dad in our congregation, had just bought an IBM 386sx PC for his kids, and he asked me if I’d like computers for Sunday School. “I’ll buy the computers and you find the software,” he said.
I said “sure” –not having a clue what to do with them. (Sometimes it pays to be young and bold!)
We were deep into a creative way of doing Sunday School that became known as the Workshop Rotation Model, so Bill bought us TWO PCs, -using his mother’s memorial fund. She had been a Sunday School teacher too.
Pictured above right: Coco and Daniel sitting at our first Sunday School computer at the Presbyterian Church of Barrington Illinois in suburban Chicago. It had a 5.25″ floppy drive, -to which we added a 3.5″ drive, an 11″ screen, and less than 1 mb of memory.
At first, I could only find 1 Bible program, -a four color Bible trivia game with a pixelated fishing boat. Soon I found some free Bible “shareware” quiz games, and the kids loved them all. In fact, we couldn’t get them to leave the classroom. Within a year we found more quiz making and Bible games software, all of which were primitive. It was so experimental that I didn’t tell anyone outside our church what we were doing for two more years. And when we did, some people thought we were nuts. Most people didn’t own computers back then, and by 1992 we had three.
By 1993, a number of Christian computer games had come out, and we were trying them all. “Bible Adventures,” “Onesiumus,” “Exodus for PC,” and “Captain Bible.” Many of them started as games developed for Nintendo and were modified when the PC revolution hit.
Then I wrote about our teaching experiences in a new magazine called “Christian Computing” -and soon found others interested in what we were doing. Early adopters of the Workshop Rotation Model were also asking questions about our lab, so I put together some handouts and lists of software, and published the occasional article in various Christian Education newsletters and magazines. And several churches from the Chicagoland area visited our lab to see how they too could join the experiment.
I continued to be the “Lead Teacher” in our lab each Sunday, training myself! …and several volunteers, -several of whom were in-turn training me how to work with our computers. (Thank you Richard McKnight and Tom Klemens!)
Back in those days we had nobody to learn from, so it was trial and error. Mostly, we relied on our instincts as teachers (not techies), and desire to figure this thing out.
Here’s a photo of me standing young and svelte in our first computer lab, circa 1992. Back then, software came in big boxes, which you can see decorating the wall.
By 1995, the Windows and Mac PC revolution was full-on, and so was the first wave of Christian software development. I was doing seminars, churches were coming to tour our facility, and the phone was ringing in my church office. To deal with the response, in March 1996 two church members and I created Sunday Software Inc. We hired fellow church member Dave Ruter to answer our new phone number, sell a few program disks, and mail our manual. The idea was to keep me working full-time as the Associate at the church. FAT CHANCE. By the summer of ’96, my wife and I were ready to take a leap of faith. We moved to our hometown and started Sunday Software full-time, with the goal of eventually creating the kind of software I wanted to teach with (which finally started happening in 2001).
But this is a story about 25 years of teaching…
Through it all, I have continued to teach with software in Sunday School. In 2013, I set up my fourth new computer lab at my new church in Bradenton Florida where I became their Pastor for Children, Youth and Family.
What’s changed? Only the software. I find it strangely comforting that (Almost) Everything I Needed to Know About Teaching with Software, I Learned in 1990.” That’s the title Chapter 1 in my book.
The software and equipment has changed a lot since then, but the best way to teach the Gospel hasn’t. In the computer lab, we call it, “Guide by the Side” and it’s the same model we settled upon back in the early 90’s. It’s a cooperative model with an engaged teacher.
I stand on a lot of other people’s shoulders. I’m here because Bill Gill gave, and my committee encouraged. And I’m still here because many of you believe in the results and promise of teaching with software.
Together for Christ
and the kids,