Sesame Street and the Seeker Sensitive Church ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sesame Street and the Seeker Sensitive Church

A radio interview with the author of a new book on Sesame Street (you know Oscar, Grover, Big Bird, Bert & Ernie, and others who made Jim Henson and the Muppets stars), got me thinking about media. Seems like the philosophy behind innovative productions like Sesame Street paved the way for changes captured in today's "contemporary" church services. How's that?

One Day in Charlotte...

Driving around Charlotte this morning, I caught an interesting interview on the Diane Rehm Show with Michael Davis who wrote an interesting new book,

Like you, I grew up watching Sesame Street singing"Sunny days, Every thing's A-Ok...." I enjoyed hearing about how the show got started.

Most interesting to me is how the show's producers had an astounding confidence in the ability of preschoolers to learn.

The Philosophy of Sesame Street

The idea started at a dinner party when someone asked if it was possible to do more than simply entertain children through television. Can we expect more from tv?

Apparently, Sesame Street came along at a watershed moment. Until that point, young children were seen as passive and could only be kept busy until they could mature enough to properly learn.

Young children were suddenly seen as able to do more than just be distracted. People started to believe toddlers could absorb concepts and ideas.

Sesame Street took up the challenge, using a mix of people and puppets to promote a new form of sharing ideas -- even ideas as complex as the notion of death when the show dealt with the death of Mr. Hooper.

Reaching a "Bi-Modal" Audience

Even more, the show wasn't satisfied with a children's audience. Believing that learning was accelerated when parents and children watched together, Sesame Street wanted to reach a "bi-modal audience," two age groups, with scenes that were funny to parents as they taught their children.

Let's teach and keep it fun.

It began just after Head Start and embraced the growing concerns for raising the educational level of impoverished children. The show accommodated both entertainment and pedagogy. The producers of the show kept the "fun" while saturating the content with educational material -- sponsored by celebrities like the letter P and the number 3.

Entertainment and Church Ministry

The philosophies of Sesame Street and Seeker Churches connect in the ministries of churches like Willow Creek. Why? Because church leaders like Bill Hybels who jump-started the move toward "contemporary" Bill HybelsImage via Wikipediachurch services have no problem with entertainment.

Religious programming (if you will) took a turn toward a "bi-modal audience" -- services sustain the faithful while capturing the attention of the uncommitted. Keeping things interesting is important -- even a religious duty -- especially when there is a missional imperative to draw in those not interested in religion at all.

I remember an interview with a staff member when doing my research at Mosaic. I asked him if the use of videos, dances, and dramas at the church was a gimmick. He said,

We believe it is entertainment; entertainment is getting people's attention. We use that tool--we use that gimmick--to gain their attention. And it's ok.

In short, perhaps the transformation of children's programming, especially in resolving the tension between entertainment and teaching, was one of the first resolve the tension of "frilly" goals like entertainment and intertwining them with the noble goals of "education" and "personal development."

It's not too far to go from there to find justification for re-packaging liturgical services into outlets that combine entertainment with spiritual development.

More on the Interview

Here's another audio file of the show.

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