c. 2000 Religion News Service

You are 12 years old. Sunday school may not be the first place you would choose to spend your time. But you're here. So what would you rather do: sit around a table for 75 minutes listening to a teacher read Bible lessons out of a book, or go online and learn the same lesson playing computer games patterned after "Wheel of Fortune" or Hangman?

Well, duh!

"It's a funner way to learn. Reading out of a book makes you want to sleep," said Brian Stuckey, 12, taking time out from a "Bible Grand Slam" baseball game in which he and his classmates would rack up a 146-2 lead over the opposition by correctly answering study questions. "I think we're more into it with the computers," adds Jimmy Strickland, 11. Translation: They actually pay attention.

One of the most resistant institutions to change in the church --the Sunday school program -- is catching up with the digital age. Computer Sunday schools, where students learn their lessons on banks of computers, are making inroads.

The movement started slowly, with individual teachers bringing in bulky personal computers in the mid-1980s to quiz students. But it is growing rapidly as Sunday schools start to catch up with the technology kids accept as part of their daily life.

The Rev. Neil MacQueen, founder of Sunday School Software in Hilliard, said his company serves about 2,500 churches around the country. He estimates the number of churches using computers in Sunday schools is probably double that figure.

While many churches are resistant to change, he said, others are willing to try computers as they watch Sunday school attendance drop. Computers are one part of a trend toward rotation workshops. Art, drama and computers are used in rotating weeks or months to give kids an enjoyable alternative to traditional Sunday school.

"Jesus taught the adults and played with the children. Why do we do it backward?" asked Arlene Strauch, director of Christian education at Avon Lake Presbyterian Church. "I try to get the story out there in as many interesting ways as I can."

Kids love it. Parents like not having to drag their kids to Sunday school. And it makes it easier to recruit teachers when they know they are not going to have to ride herd on a group of kids who don't want to be there.

At Lyndhurst Community Presbyterian Church, kids in grades one through seven spend one Sunday a month in the computer lab, where they learn Bible lessons with a combination of religious and secular software. Art and drama workshops also are part of the program.

One of their favorite computer games is "The Fall of Jericho," in which players advance from Egypt to the Promised Land by answering questions of varying difficulty. Answering more difficult questions allows the players to move more quickly toward the Promised Land. They even go on the Internet. In learning about Jesus feeding the multitudes, for example, kids went online to visit hunger sites and learn more about contemporary approaches to feeding the poor. At Avon Lake Presbyterian Church, students rotate among computer labs and art, theater and game show workshops as part of their Sunday school program.

"It keeps it interesting for them," said teacher Mike Richardson, who supervised sixth-graders in the computer lab on a recent Sunday. "When they come in here, they have a lot of fun with it. They like computers in general."

Around him, three girls are talking excitedly over a Bible journey game similar to "The Fall of Jericho." A couple of boys are jawing over the questions in "Bible Grand Slam," while in another corner a small group of boys joins forces in a game of Bible Hangman.

"It's like one of my favorite activities," said Margaret Mackie, 11. "I like playing with the computer. It's a fun way of learning about the Bible."

What would Jesus think about the use of computers?

"He would think it would be an easier way to learn, and he'd like it a lot," said David Reichlin, 11.

Strauch, the Christian education director, agrees.

"He [God] created the computers. He made them possible. I think he's thrilled when we use anything he created to help learn his stories."

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