Sesame Street is 45 years old today. The show debuted on November 10, 1969, and has become the longest-running children's show in U.S. TV history. Things have changed over the decades—now Cookie Monster sometimes eats fruits and vegetables. But that's only the beginning of the story.
What can Sesame Street teach us about ministry? Consider three answers.
One: know your audience. There was a day when Cookie Monster hosted "Monsterpiece Theater" as Alistair Cookie and held a pipe, imitating the real show's host Alistair Cooke. He would then eat the pipe rather than smoking it. However, any reference to smoking today is unacceptable, so the pipe is no more. Children want more frenetic energy than in the past, so the show features fewer human actors and more puppets in skits with animation or other technology.
Jesus set the standard for demographic strategy. Our Lord met felt need to meet spiritual need. He knew the thoughts of those he sought to reach (Matthew 12:25) and spoke God's word to their hearts.
Two: do whatever works. Millions of kids now use phones and computers to watch Sesame Street on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, SesameStreet.org, PBSKids.org, and some 50 apps. The Sesame Street YouTube channel has a million subscribers and 1.5 billion views. Kids use touchscreen apps to trace letters or point to colors and shapes, engaging personally in the episodes.
Paul would agree with their creativity. The apostle quoted Scripture in synagogues and philosophers in Athens. He went wherever the people were and did whatever would reach them. His motto was simple: "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Three: measure success by results. Sesame Street measures audience share, but its larger goals are educational rather than economic. Its creators have defined cognitive and affective goals that motivate writing and production. Evaluations prove that their strategies work: children who watch the show regularly demonstrate marked improvement in a variety of educational skills.
The Lord measures our ministry by a similar standard: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). When you stand before him one day (2 Corinthians 5:10), he will not ask you about your bank account or social status. His question will be simple: did you "make disciples"?
Do you know your audience, those you will influence today? Will you do whatever it takes to share Christ with them? Who will know Jesus because they know you?