Thanks for joining me at my Teaching Digital Natives breakout session! Below you’ll find a copy of the notes for the breakout. Have more questions? Email me at

The children, and now parents, in our children’s ministries are digital natives, meaning they do not know life without the existence of the internet. Marc Prensky, the creator of the term “digital native” defines them as “native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet” (Prensky, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”). Technically, digital natives include anyone born after the 1980s, though some argue that the first true generation of digital natives were born after 1995.

Digital natives have spent their entire lives surrounded by computers, video games, cell phones, streaming services, and all the other tools and apps found in the digital world. They learn through observation how to use these elements of technology as they watch their grown-ups use them. Their interactions with the digital world are changing the very structures of their brains and influencing the way they learn (Prensky, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”). Because of the ever-changing, constantly-connected digital world we live in, kids will have very different childhoods and will enter adulthood with very different experiences from a majority of today’s adults. They also learn in different ways too.

The former ways of teaching and children’s ministry were not bad or wrong, they were just designed for a different set of learners. As teachers of the gospel, we must recognize the differences in the way digital natives learn, relate, and process information, and we must update the way we teach to better engage digital natives with the Bible.

Intellectually, the very physical makeup of a digital native’s brain is wired differently than in generations past, and they need very different opportunities from a learning environment than in the past. Marc Prensky encourages teachers to think of digital native kids like rockets.

First, digital natives need speed. Not only do they learn and process information at a high speed, but even the very schedule of their lives is faster than ever before. Digital natives are born multi-taskers, often switching between tasks and ideas quickly. We can provide fidget toys and physically interactive elements during the teaching time to engage these multi-taskers while also helping them learn how to focus. As ministry leaders, we must wrestle with this tension between keeping up with the fast pace of their world and helping kids slow down to experience and respond to the Holy Spirit.

Second, rockets are exploratory by nature. For digital natives, learning is triggered by internal curiosity and spurred on by boundless imagination. Sometimes in children’s ministry, we get so focused on the Biblical knowledge we want kids to learn that we forfeit the development of their Biblical imagination. We may think knowledge and imagination are mutually exclusive, but they’re really 2 sides of the same coin. Imagination spurs a curiosity for knowledge. And in turn, knowledge allows for the expansion of our imagination. The imagination plays a central role in learning and intellectual development – especially for digital natives.

Too often we treat the Bible as something that we must memorize and defend, and not as a great mystery that we are called to discover and participate in. When we invite that sense of wonder into our teaching, we harness a powerful learning tool that fuels creativity and innovation for the digital natives we teach, giving them the opportunity to explore the Bible, not just learn about it. We have to help them explore the extraordinary within the stories of the Bible so they can discover the redemption, wonder, and mystery.

So what can we do to incite curiosity and encourage Biblical imagination when teaching digital natives?

  • Share the story (and the Story) – The word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and we should teach its stories as, well, stories. This means we should invite kids into the action of the plot to join the people of the Bible on their way to the climax of the story. Think about some of your favorite storytellers and utilize some of their techniques when teaching. (Also try and show the smaller Bible story in light of the overarching Story of the Bible. Where does it fit in? Go beyond just “Old Testament” and “New Testament” or even “before Jesus” or “after Jesus” and talk about how the story fits into God’s redemptive plan. Help kids make connections between the stories and see how they fit together as God’s Big Story, chronologically throughout history. I know some leaders avoid using the word “story” to help differentiate the Bible from fairy tales and fiction, but Hebrews also tells us that Jesus is the author of our faith, and He was a storyteller Himself. Framing the gospel as the best story every told invites kids into the action.
  • Laugh as you learn – The easiest way to reduce boredom and encourage engagement is to make the lesson fun and enjoyable! Digital native kids are used to “edutainment” – a combination of entertainment and education – where learning is intentionally fun. Include jokes or funny observations about the story. There are lots of things in the Bible that make me laugh. For example: Matthew 4:1-11 tells us that after 40 days of fasting in the desert, “Jesus was hungry.” Ha! I’d be hungry too after 40 days of fasting! This line always makes me laugh, but when I dig deeper into that laughter and seemingly obvious detail, I see that this detail tells us that while Jesus was fully God, he was also fully human. He hungered, he thirsted, he felt pain. The silly “duh” moment leads to a deeper understanding that I can connect with.
  • Identify the unknown – Present the story as part of a great mystery or adventure. There are lots of things we DON’T know about the Bible, and that’s OK. Draw attention to the unknown or unexplained parts of the story. It’s OK to leave some things unanswered. Unanswered questions help kids learn that faith is a lifelong journey and gives them room to explore on their own.

God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and He’s given us minds to think creatively and wonder curiously at His Story. The minds of digital natives are even more curious and creative than ever before because of the endless opportunities they have to learn from and connect with the world around them. When we intentionally invite wonder and curiosity into the learning process with digital natives, we help them cultivate a Biblical imagination that shapes a more robust Biblical knowledge and leads to life transformation.

In line with their exploratory nature (and the developmentally inquisitive nature of elementary schoolers), digital native kids would much rather puzzle out the answer on their own than be told what the correct answer is. Rather than telling them the main point of the story, give them the questions to be answered and help them explore the answers in the Bible. Or reverse the review time and the teaching time. Ask the questions up front, then use the Bible lesson or story to help kids discover the answer. For example, rather than telling kids the 3 promises God made to Abraham in a large group setting, invite them to explore the Bible with their small group, make a list of what the 3 promises are, then move back to large group to discuss their findings. Think of digital natives as researchers, thinkers, and explorers, with you as the guide, goal-setter, questioner, and coach that helps point the rocket in the right direction. Ask questions that allow for exploration and discussion, not just questions that have one specific right answer. While some content review questions require simple, concrete answers, try to push beyond factual questions and into open-ended questions that allow for personal and practical answers. Ask “why” questions or “I wonder” questions. This type of questioning allows kids to develop their biblical imagination as well as their biblical knowledge.

Tap into digital natives’ curiosity by giving kids the freedom to explore and discover the lesson on their own. Let’s shift from the expert grown-up teacher telling kids what to think to exploring the story together, valuing what kids notice and share. Modifying teaching in this way may require an adjustment in your small group ministry and large group teaching time. Both contexts are still highly valuable. But both need some modification to better engage digital native learners and allow them to explore. Remember, when their curiosity is piqued, their engagement will be too.

Third, just like rockets that need to be launched into space before truly becoming rockets, digital natives learn best by doing and experiencing, not by listening, so create time and space for kids to be involved in the lesson. How can you invite kids into the teaching of the lesson itself? This may look like inviting kids to act out the story, solve a puzzle, consider a question, stand up and complete an action, vote on what they think will happen next, provide sound effects, or any variety of interactive storytelling techniques. Remember those “choose your own adventure books” that allowed the reader to have some say in how the story ended? Apply that mentality to your Bible teaching. Offer “simulations” of the Bible story and give kids options of what they think will happen next. Then explore the results of their choices and teach what really happened. Think less lecture, more partnering when it comes to teaching digital natives. Make a shift from a grown up talking and kids listening to multi-sensory and experiential learning.

In the spirit of doing, engage their bodies and not just their minds. Use gestures, play charades, or invite kids to make faces as to how they would react if they were a person in the story. What pose might represent the different people, cities, places, actions happening in the story? Seek patterns, look for repetitions, or put it to music: “If this part of the story was a drum beat, what would it sound like? If this part of the story was a sound, what would it be?” Speaking of sounds, engage the senses as much as you can. How would different parts of the story feel, touch, taste, smell, or sound? For example: ask kids what they think the ark might have smelled like.

And if you can turn learning into a game? Even better! All kids love games, but this generation of digital natives in particular find games to be the preferred way to learn. They enjoy the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge when it’s presented as a challenge to overcome rather than a list of facts to memorize. There’s no reason kids can learn 100 Pokémon cards but not learn the books, stories, and people of the Bible – it all depends on how it’s presented. According to research, using games in teaching can help increase a child’s participation and foster social and emotional learning, something all kids need after 2 years of a worldwide pandemic that left us all isolated and socially distanced. Kids are able to engage with the lesson (rather than just listen to it being told to them) when gamification is involved, and games can help keep their attention and focus. Game-based learning gives kids ownership over their spiritual learning and development, which improves both enjoyment of the learning process and overall retention of what they learn.

So whether the lesson itself becomes a game or you gamify the review time, finding ways to incorporate play into the learning process will help us better connect with the digital natives we teach and will help the digital natives we teach retain more.

Finally, we have to let go of control. We have to recognize that we can aim rockets in the right direction, but we don’t have complete control over their course or speed once they’re launched. Digital natives hold the same great potential for discovery and exploration, but it requires that leaders let go a little. As a control-freak myself, this is scary! But it’s so valuable to engaging digital natives with the gospel. How can you give leadership and responsibility to some of your older kids to help you teach the lesson? What would it look like to invite kids to create the teaching elements of the lesson or divide the story among your small groups and let the small groups come up with a way to teach the rest of the group?

One of my favorite ways to release control is through prayer stations or a worship response time. During a worship response time, there may be 1-3 prayer activities available for kids to participate in, and they get to choose which one(s) they want to do. The activities vary in type (and sometimes noise level) but they all connect to the lesson in some way or provide kids the opportunity to process the lesson with God. They allow children to express their responses to God about what they are learning and who He is. Each station looks different and gives the child an opportunity to respond to God in a different way. After the lesson, kids are released for 5-10 minutes to complete the prayer station(s) of their choice on their own, at their own pace. The first time I tried this, I was convinced complete chaos would ensue and we’d end up with a room full of crazed kids. But they surprised me, and the Holy Spirit worked through this time to speak to kids’ hearts in new and profound ways.

Ultimately, digital native kids have huge potential. Just as a rocket’s mission to space can provide astronomical results, when we embrace the rocket-ship analogy of how digital natives learn, God can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine with the next generation.


Want to dive deeper into the world of digital natives and how it affects your ministry?

Consider joining the launch team for my book all about this topic! Set to release in fall 2023, Time For An Update will offer practical ideas for incorporating digital discipleship into your children’s ministry strategy, including more details, ideas, and tips for teaching digital natives.

Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about the launch team here.