Welcoming the Stranger, Part III

You’ll notice, from the fact that this is my third post on the topic, that welcome is REALLY IMPORTANT.

It’s the absolutely crucial element in taking your church from the “few or nought” category in terms of children’s work into a thriving inter-generational community.

And many churches are already getting crucial elements wrong before families even come through the door.

3216745066_58ea64fda9_o (1)Here are a few questions to ask yourself when it comes to being welcoming in your outreach and communications:

What happens when someone Googles your church?

Your church should have a functional website and/or a complete profile on A Church Near You.  Most parents of young children these days were children or teenagers when the internet started – they’re going to Google your church before they attend a service or event. If they can’t find out anything about you, they’re going to move on.

What happens when someone visits your website?

Your website should be easy to navigate (not cluttered), and up to date.  The following information should be ON THE FRONT PAGE, or at the very least, one EASY TO FIND CLICK away from the front page:

  1. The church’s address
  2. Information about public transport and/or parking
  3. Service times – and times for other events, like Messy Church
  4. The vicar’s name, and, preferably, a photo
  5. The phone number and email address for the office and/or the vicar

What happens when a family calls the church office to enquire about a Christening?

Does someone say “congratulations! Is this your first child?”  Do they sound genuinely warm and happy?

Are they given clear information about scheduling a christening and what preparation is required?

Are they invited to church and warmly greeted when they do come?

Are they added to existing church mailing lists for children and family events?

What happens after a Christening?

Are they invited back for child-friendly events?

Are they taken off the mailing list at some point if they don’t come to those events? (Hint: the correct answer is no.)

 

What happens on Sunday morning or at other events is absolutely crucial to welcoming children and families. But your online presence and your communications are the backbone to getting people through the door in the first place.

 

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Christenings!

Christenings are REALLY important. Every year, hundreds of children are christened in our Diocese, many of whose parents don’t come regularly to church. It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate with new parents and get to know them, hopefully bringing them into our community and walking with them and their child on the journey of faith.

And there are so many ways to make the service memorable, to make it a really special celebration of this child’s relationship with God, their share in new life with Jesus, and their place as one of the communion of saints.

On our Lay Leaders of Worship course in May, I met the lovely Dawn Abbatt, who has done some really brilliant stuff with her kids’ christenings.  I’ll let her tell it in her own words:15A3ABA5-A703-4617-9C8C-F9B4E5899D61

I have been to so many [christening services] where the baptism is almost an annoying add on to a service, and an important opportunity for celebration and outreach is overlooked.

I have three children.  For Tabitha, her baptism was one of three children being done in one service, the vicar kept getting the children’s names wrong!

For Jasper’s 3 years ago, I was in a new church with vicar (Roni) who is also my friend, I was able to discuss how I wanted his baptism to be a real celebration and also to help my friends who aren’t familiar with church to feel comfortable and introduce them to how church can be. What real Christians do. I felt it was part of my job as a Christian to help show others.

We showed part of the Lion King movie- the beginning where all the animals come to celebrate the birth of the baby lion- and that’s how baptism should be, a shared excitement that we are adding one more to our number.

The pictures here are from Hetty’s baptism earlier this year; we asked everyone to come wearing a crown. This was fantastic as we had people crafting, I encouraged competition between my friends on Facebook, some got to wear wedding tiaras again, some wore flower crowns some feathers, some home made, some bought.23A92705-23D0-4F52-992B-18CE138EF117

Everyone was welcomed, children could be around and were included, people were encouraged to join in putting the oil on Hetty’s head and then the children were splashing everyone with water from the sprigs of yews.2ED1A7B9-0DE5-43F0-BDFF-FE2C10492FB4

All the children were helping to ring the bell beforehand. We had vicar selfies, and the meaning of the crowns was explained during a brief talk by Roni. Hetty’s feet were dipped in too as she wanted to climb in the font.0D5A231E-8BD2-4F27-BF3D-ABA7CEEC68FB

As you can probably tell I am a little pleased with how the day went and lots of my friends have been encouraged as a result. They have felt comfortable in church and they did not burst into flames or get judged or have to keep their children still.63460FE1-B37F-4791-8BE8-C82812E23481

Storytelling!

We had a lovely morning on Saturday exploring storytelling. The Powerpoint for the keynote address, “What Story Are We Telling?” is at the bottom of this entry – it looks at what the Bible has in common with Cinderella, includes a quote from The Princess Bride, and also asks us how the stories we tell ourselves might be holding our churches back. A lot of it was inspired by the Revd. Ally Barrett and the Revd. Jeremy Fletcher, from their work at the “Formed By Story” conference for Children’s Work Advisors. They’re credited in the document.

Here are a few photos. Unfortunately, since I couldn’t be in every workshop, and I was leading one, the photos are fairly limited! If anyone who was there has some more, I’d love to see them.

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Exploring Multi-Sensory Storytelling – we turned a tent into a whale, cutting and sticking on eyes and teeth.
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We did this while listening to the story. Children who find it hard to sit still and listen may take in more of the story if they have something to do while listening.
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Then we actually went INTO THE WHALE. The tent was set up over a full immersion font. If your church doesn’t have this, there are many ways of creating a similar dark space. Use an under stairs area with a curtain, or make a den out of chairs.
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Inside the whale, it was dark. We heard whale noises. We smelled and touched fish.
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This is from the second workshop, exploring Beulah Land – the feltboard storytelling resource.  We have Beulah Land available to borrow from the Diocesan Resource Centre – it comes with the script and all the felt pieces.
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It’s not that scary to have a go … here, Jessica tells the Exodus story.

What story are we telling (PowerPoint presentation)