From Gather ’Round to Shine

For the last 18 months MennoMedia and Brethren Press have been working collaboratively to imagine a new children’s curriculum to succeed Gather ’Round: Hearing and Sharing God’s Good News.

Gather ’Round is based on a four-year Bible outline cycle, with new materials every quarter. It started in Fall 2006, and I was among the staff hired back in 2005 to bring that exciting project to life. The curriculum was designed to last for eight years (two times through the four-year outline), so 2013–14 will be the final year of Gather ’Round.

So what’s next? And what does that mean for you and your congregation?

I’m delighted to announce that Shine: Living in God’s Light will succeed Gather ’Round starting in Fall 2014. We dream of raising a generation of children who are inspired to shine God’s light in the world around them. The products and guides we create will help children do just that.

asiangirls.Mom Some of the exciting new things about Shine include:

  • the Early Childhood grouping (ages three and four) will have a separate Bible outline;
  • the Shine Bible outline covers the Bible in three years;
  • Shine will incorporate the latest understandings of best practices in pedagogy. This means a completely new line of teacher’s guides and student pieces in line with changing user needs. One of those new pieces will be a hardcover story Bible (more details coming soon).

And best of all, the main things that you love and value from Gather ’Round will remain the same:

  • the curriculum will still be Bible story-based;
  • it will be grounded in a prophetic interpretation of Scripture that lifts up Christian discipleship, peace, simplicity, service, and community;
  • it will use wondering questions and activities to help children reflect on the Scriptures and apply them to their lives in age-appropriate ways.

Like Gather ’Round, also co-published by MennoMedia and Brethren Press, Shine is designed to be new every year. This allows us to keep the material fresh and to respond to user feedback in an ongoing way.

Gather Round Product 006

You might wonder what will happen after three years. Rest assured that MennoMedia and Brethren Press have every expectation of continuing to produce excellent Christian formation resources for children and youth—curriculum for Mennonite and Brethren churches as well as for other churches to whom our style of thoughtful, Anabaptist curriculum appeals.

Recently we’ve been asking how our children will learn to know the biblical story. Join us with Shine as we seek to guide children in: learning to follow Jesus, exploring Bible stories, and growing as people of God.

BibleStory

Amy Gingerich, editorial director

Amy Gingerich

P.S. This weekend our Shine writers and editors begin their work on the first quarter. Keep this meeting in New Hamburg, Ont., in your thoughts and prayers.

Collaborate and Innovate

Last week I spent three days in New York City attending the Tools of Change Conference, an annual gathering of innovators and thinkers about the future of publishing. I attended last year so my anticipation was high. Next week I’ll give a better summary of what I experienced this year, but today I’d like to just highlight a workshop on collaboration I attended this year called “Booksprints” and why I think it’s a way for MennoMedia to become a leader and innovator in our field.

(Photo from Booksprints.net.)

Booksprints is not a technology, but a process, a methodology, which brings together a group to produce a book in three to five days. Considering that the typical lead-time in book publishing is 12-18 months, curriculum is six-12 months and film documentary is one to two years or more, this concept is quite literally counter-intuitive. I was intrigued at not only how they work, but also at how they use open-source software to produce the end product. Considering that an e-book can be produced almost instantly, as soon as the content is ready, and that Print-on-Demand (POD) technology can generate a physical product in a little over 24 hours, this concept completely blows apart the traditional production schedules and lead-times that most of us are used to.

I realize that not all produced content will fit in this model; works of fiction, literature, and other researched topics will still take as much time as authors and content-creators need; but much of our work could benefit from this type of creative process. Imagine bringing together a team of curriculum writers, editors and illustrators for three to five days and in an intensive process, produce a whole quarter of curriculum which is press-ready as they depart. Not only would it make content more up-to-date, but the short lead-time would allow for quicker and faster response to customer feedback. Right now, it may take us three or more quarters (up to nine months) before we can implement a significant change that our customer base may ask of us. I am told that Hymnal: A Worship Book (Mennonite hymnal published in 1992) took a decade to produce. What if we stretched our creative and collaborative mindset and imagined creating a new hymnal in five days? Considering that the longer projects take to produce, the more they cost, this could have the effect of slashing overhead costs greatly and still produce a high-quality product for much less. My dream is that several at MennoMedia get trained in facilitating this type of process and make us leaders in our field—our future. As I heard asked elsewhere last week, “How do you change the future? You change the story that people tell themselves about how the future will be.”

DSCN0625  ~Russ Eanes

A Cause for Celebration

A week ago, I asked our Facebook users what they were celebrating in their lives. Today I have several reasons of my own for celebration.

If all went according to plan, I successfully made it down to Florida yesterday to surprise my fiancee on Valentines Day. Today is also the day when Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations is finally available for pre-order.

I started thinking about marketing plans for Celebrations more than 5 months ago at the end of August. Since that time, our marketing department has changed significantly, but we are still just as excited about launching this book as we ever were.

For the first Mennonite Girls Can Cook (cookbook), we took pre-orders as soon as the Girls announced they were writing a book. This time around we opted not to do that for several reasons. First, because of software constraints and design, our webstore is inefficient in handling large quantities of Canadian web orders. Second, when a books is ordered through a webstore like Amazon’s or Indigo’s, the visibility of that book is temporarily increased. When multiple copies are ordered by different people, the visibility of the book on the website is increased drastically. By delaying the availability of pre-orders, we have insured that companies like Amazon, Indigo, and Barnes & Noble all have Celebrations listed and available for pre-order.

Our first big challenge with Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations has been keeping people excited and talking about the book ever since the Girls first announced it in October.  We’ve been trying to use social media and other teasers to keep this book in elevated visibility for people to think about (for example, we are going to be inflating 1 balloon in our office on the day of the book’s release for every one like that our Facebook page has when the book is released in May).

Some of the other big aspects of launching a book are reviews (places like Publisher’s Weekly require you to submit manuscripts to them something like 4 months early), publicity (we have hired the wonderful Ellen Graff-Martin to be the publicist for this book), and actual advertising (which we started reserving space for back in November and December. The first actual advertisement related to Celebrations was due on December 24).

Even when the book is finally out, our marketing work won’t quite be over. Once the book is out, our marketing will switch from publicity and visibility to sales marketing. We need to sell enough copies in the first few weeks to build on all of our publicity efforts that are already in place.

While we still have quite a ways to go before marketing efforts are over for Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations, it is going to be incredibly fun to continue thinking of ways we can make this book launch unique and different from all others!

Evan McCarthy

Trade Book Sales (I spend a lot of time on Amazon)

& Inventory Manager (I’m really good at finding lost stuff)