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Jesus Theatre – telling the gospel story in new ways for kids

 

A Jesus Theatre performance in full swing at Equip Camp in Queensland.
BY ANTHONY CASTLE

Jesus Theatre is a creative presentation of the gospel for children. First developed for Salvation Army summer camps in the United States, the performances include actors, theatre and visual arts elements.

 

Brought to Australia by Shushannah Anderson, a Worship Arts Coordinator for the territorial Worship Arts Team, Jesus Theatre has connected with young people across the country. 


“I was praying about what drama ministry in Australia could look like when God put Jesus Theatre on my heart,” Shushannah says. “I was chatting about it and thought, ‘Although it’s designed for summer camps it could work here’. God’s hand has been all over this project.”

 

Shushannah’s skillsets are in drama and the arts, spending a year at The Salvation Army’s theatre-based ministry in New York, The Glory Shop. The Jesus Theatre performances became so successful in their American summer camp context that they became a territorial initiative with different productions developed each year.

 

“In the past year, the theme was ‘Bounce’, using yoga balls to tell the gospel story,” explains Shushannah. “Our relationship with God is represented with a yoga ball. In the beginning, when our relationship with God is good, the yoga ball is inflated. It’s fun, you can throw it up, you can bounce it. But the enemy comes, tempts us to move away from God and deflates our yoga ball, representing a now broken relationship with God. You can’t do nearly as many fun things with a deflated yoga ball. Until Jesus comes, he offers to take our deflated yoga ball – our sin, pain, hurt, brokenness – and gives us an inflated one instead. He restores our relationship with God again.” 


A Jesus Theatre show in progress at Connect Camp in Victoria.

The Jesus Theatre performances typically run for 30 minutes. They use metaphors such as books or kites to explain the gospel, and popular music is woven throughout them. Jesus Theatre productions have run for nearly 10 years now, and over 50,000 children have responded to the gospel message.

 

“There’s a discipleship element for the cast members as well,” explains Shushannah. “Jesus Theatre also preaches the gospel to the people who are acting it out. When you’re a cast member, you experience the story for yourself during rehearsals and the performance. God can reveal things in a new way when you physically act out the story. The cast then becoming living testimonies on stage.”

 

Jesus Theatre has been performed at Salvation Army events across Australia, such as JCAC and Connect Camp in Victoria, Boost Camp in South Australia and potential performances coming up in Western Australia and NSW/ACT divisions. It has also been taught at Equip NSW/ACT and Equip Queensland. The performances end with a response time for the audiences, where children can choose from a range of options to express how they feel about faith, validating all the places people can be on the journey.

 

“I was nervous at first,” Shushannah says. “There are similarities between American and Australian culture but there’s a whole bunch of differences too. However, it has been really well received, and the opportunities God has opened up have been amazing. The first time we did the performance, the kids loved it. Adults love it as well and have found it really powerful. Since that first Australian performance we have had a number of children become ‘friends of Jesus’ for the first time. I praise God for the way he is using Jesus Theatre to reveal his love for people and draw them into a closer relationship with himself, whether for the first time or 100th time.” 


A Jesus Theatre rehearsal taking place in the SA/NT Division.

The Worship Arts Team is excited to see Jesus Theatre utilised across Australia more and more and is working towards performing the new Jesus Theatre piece in July.

 

“Jesus Theatre works well in camp spaces, but it can also work well in church services,” Shushannah says. “It can replace a sermon, and although geared towards children, it is great for all age groups. If people are keen to hear more or want to have Jesus Theatre at their church or event, please email me.”

 

For more information, email shushannah.anderson@salvationarmy.org.au, and visit the Jesus Theatre Homepage from the USA Eastern Territory: https://arts.saconnects.org/jesus-theater/

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