At a time when young people are leaving the Church in droves, Annie F. Downs is on a mission to encourage Christian adults to champion the next generation for the sake of the Gospel.
“One of the ways to [help] kids who grow up in Church stay in Church is having five non-parent adults in their lives and people of other generations,” the New York Times best-selling author and founder of the “That Sounds Fun” podcast network told The Christian Post.
“The thing I want most for the people that I love, and the thing I want most for kids, is to experience God in a way that makes you never want to leave Him. I pray that for kids, that they will experience Him in such a profound way that no disappointment or tragedy or pain will make them turn away.”
Though she doesn’t yet have children of her own, the Nashville resident continually invests in the lives of her friend’s children, who she refers to as her “mini BFFs.”
“It feels like God has answered my prayer for kids in a way that I could not have imagined, in a way that has multiplied my joy,” she shared.
“I’m so thankful that I’m so loved. And it’s more than I could have asked for or imagined. … The neat thing about what our community has done for me is the kids look at me the way they look at every other grown-up in our community. We’re not their parents, but we’re another adult that they love and trust. I pray for them like their parents pray for them.”
As a former elementary school teacher, Downs believes that in addition to prayer, a crucial part of championing the children she loves is having fun with them. It was this belief that inspired her latest book, What Sounds Fun To You?
Written for kids ages 3 to 8, the book encourages children to find fun wherever they are — the farmer’s market, the library or the kitchen.
“If we learned anything in the pandemic, it’s that big expensive trips are not the only way we get to have fun anymore,” Downs contended. “Everybody learned how to have fun in the house that they live in and in the life they already have, with the budget that is much smaller than those big-trip budgets. I wanted to remind kids of that, and the adults who are reading it. ... I wanted them to remember what sounded fun to them, too.”
The majority of the children illustrated in the book are based on childrenin Downs’ life, the author explained: “If a kid can see themselves in a book, they will believe the book.”
“They’ll believe what they see,” she said. “We worked incredibly hard to make sure any kind of kid can see a version of themselves in the book, no matter your skin color, your hair color, what you like to wear, what you like to play. We have kids in a wheelchair. We have kids with hearing aids. We have kids with glasses. We wanted every kid to see someone who looks like them.”
Kids, Downs stressed, have “a lot to teach us.” She pointed out that throughout Scripture, God encourages His children to approach Him the way children approach their parents — without fear of rejection or dismissal.
Every Monday, Downs reads a children’s book on her Instagram Live as part of her “Mini BFF book club,” where she specifically names the children watching. Recently, at a live event, one of her young viewers ran up to her to hug her, oblivious to the adults lined up in front of him.
“This four-year-old comes barreling at me … who knew me and loved me through Instagram,” she said. “He’s running at me and hugging me, and it just reminds me … that when you love somebody, just run and hug them. Run toward the people that you love. There are all sorts of things like that that just remind me of how I want to be with God, how I want to be with the people that are in my lives.”
Downs acknowledged that it’s a difficult time to be a parent — especially with the rise of technology and social media. She advised parents: “Don’t put a tool in the middle of your family until they can learn how to use it really well.”
“My encouragement to parents is: use the tools that help your kids walk toward the Lord and walk toward deepening their own relationship with God, whether that’s books or TV shows or Instagram or whatever,” she said. “Stay away from the tools that they aren’t old enough to know how to use well yet.”
One of the most sought-after Christian speakers today, Downs influences millions through her books and her popular “That Sounds Fun” podcast, which has been downloaded over 54 million times.
When the pandemic shut down her live events, Downs pivoted and launched her own network that recently signed other podcasts, including Lauren Akins’ “Live in Love” podcast, Kailey Dickerson’s “Coffee with Kailey,” Ben Higgins’ “Hope Still Wins” podcast and more.
“The longer I’ve done this, the longer my audience trusts me,” she reflected. “They tell their friends about shows that matter. Many of them appreciate some diverse points of view that we get — not all of them. But I don’t appreciate everything that gets said on my podcast either. I don’t appreciate everything I say. I edit myself before we put those out more than anybody else.”
“I am really thankful for this medium, that we can be in people’s ears when we’re podcasting, that they’re at the grocery store and minding their own business, but we’re right there with them,” she added. “And it just feels like a massive honor to get to do.”
Though appreciative of her audience, Downs stressed that she views herself as a “bridge.”
“I never want to be where people stop. ... I’m the bridge to whatever guest is on the show. ... Through my books, I want to bridge people to their own story. I want them to take a piece of my story that walks them toward their own story and their own reality.”
But ultimately, she wants to point listeners of all ages to Jesus.
For example, Downs and her team worked hard to getWhat Sounds Fun To You?in mainstream stores like Target, public schools and libraries so that unbelieving parents could possibly pick one up and be directed toward the Gospel.
“That’s been my prayer,” she said. “Lord, put this in the right house and the right school and the right classroom and in the right baby shower gift. Let it bridge someone to Jesus who doesn’t know Him already.”