Out of the Silo

How would you list the activities and ministries your church does?

I suspect, in many churches, the list would go something like this:

  1. Worship (perhaps including professional-quality music groups)
  2. Bible study, education, Alpha or Pilgrim courses, Lent/Advent groups, home groups, etc
  3. Fellowship and relationship-building
  4. Serving the community – things like Foodbanks, lunch clubs for the elderly
  5. Supporting national or international charities/justice efforts
  6. Stewardship and governance decisions
  7. Children’s ministry
  8. Youth ministry

If asked about what Children’s Ministry consisted of, the response might be something like, “we have Junior Church, and our weekly toddler group, and Messy Church once a month.”

Which is brilliant! An active children’s ministry like this takes time, effort, commitment, and a lot of love. And it makes a real difference in the lives of children and their families.IMG_20190624_094632

But where are the children and young people in the rest of the list?

Often, we get so used to “children’s ministry” as a separate category that we forget that we can include children in other things the church is already doing. We can have things specifically aimed at children and families – baby and toddler groups are lifelines to many new parents – but we can also look at the list above and, for every item, not just the children’s ministry one, think, “could we include children in this?”

The Children’s Society Good Childhood report has come out today. You can read it here. In it, children express a growing concern about crime, and environmental issues – deep issues of concern for Christians who care about building peace, and caring for God’s creation. If your church is doing anything on crime, creation care, or poverty, could children be involved?

Statutory agencies and schools are also undergoing a cultural shift in how children are involved in decision-making – and churches have an opportunity to follow this example. Children are especially vulnerable, and can’t vote, but almost every decision made by adults in charge of institutions and governments affects them disproportionately. Can you include children in any decision-making processes in your church – about priorities in spending money, about programmes, worship, or choosing a new vicar, children’s worker, director of music, etc? Can children be present at and included in your annual meeting? What would be needed to make that happen?

Here are a few ideas for how this could work in practice:

  1. Invite children and young people to visit the PCC three or four times and year and talk about what matters to them at church, in their community, and in wider issues of justice.
  2. Have a “children’s table” at the annual meeting, facilitated by someone who knows your church’s children, and who can help them share their thoughts and contribute (and provide pens and paper for them to scribble and draw to keep the fidgets at bay).
  3. Think about how your church’s community service, and wider action on social issues, could include children. The church where I was children’s worker includes older children and teenagers on a local charity’s annual “sleep-out” for homelessness – they are sponsored by their teachers and friends. We also include children and teenagers in our pub quiz for Christian Aid. Could your junior church join in fundraising events? Could they make posters or speak in worship, to encourage other church members to get involved? Could you include children in deciding which charities or causes the church supports?
  4. How do you include children in worship? Are they doing what adults tell them, or do they have a chance to share their own ideas?

Children can be involved in the full, broad life of the church – indeed, they should be, because that’s how they learn that Christian life includes thinking about our common life together, reaching out in love to the community, and advocating for a world that reflects God’s values of justice, equality, and dignity for every human being, and stewardship of the earth he has given us. Including children in activities and decisions outside of children’s ministry also gives your church:

  1. The chance to foster inter-generational community.
  2. A reminder to the older members that children are full disciples and members of the Body of Christ.
  3. The enrichment of the ideas and contributions the children bring.

We are all richer when all our voices are heard.

Faith at Home take-home

Most church leaders would love for children and their carers to talk about church together – about worship, faith, and their experiences. Often, parents are uncertain how to do this, unsure of whether they “have the answers,” hesitant about how to start a conversation with their children about these topics.outnumbered

And it’s difficult, in most churches, to get a group of parents together to start learning about faith at home, and to build the confidence needed for these conversations.

So I’ve put together a simple take-home “cheat sheet” that can help parents start these discussions. It can be used every week in any church – it’s not tied to a particular worship style, and the questions are flexible enough to be used around the year. They are open-ended, and stress that there’s no right or wrong answers. And, crucially, the idea is that children and adults respond to these questions. So the discussion is a mutual one; it’s not children answering questions for the adults, but rather some conversation starters to get children and their parents or carers sharing together about their experiences in worship.

You can download it here: Take Home Sheet for Parents and Carers (Word)

Take Home Sheet for Parents and Carers (PDF)

Making Church Websites Family-Friendly

I spend a decent amount of time on church websites, due to the nature of my job. Some are brilliant. Some are awful. Most are … okay.

Most parents of small children are under 40 – this means they’re Millennials or even Gen Z, and have had internet access since their early teens, at the latest. You can pretty much count on your church being Googled before parents rock up at the door – and whether or not they give you a try may depend on what they get when they Google you.

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I had to Google photos of someone Googling and this is the most meta thing that has ever happened to me.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Make your service times easy to find. On the front page of your site if possible. And make sure they’re up to date, including special events. A family may feel more comfortable coming to your Crib Service or your Harvest Festival than to a normal Sunday morning service, so make sure those dates are up there.
  2. Include pictures of children, if possible – and definitely of people. I was on a church website recently that had about 30 beautiful photos of every part of their stunning building. But nothing showing that this was a community. If you can show pictures of children, particularly, this reassures anxious parents that your community values children and they’ll be welcomed if they come. (Of course, you need permission from parents/carers for any photos you do use.)redbourn
  3. “New here? Here’s what to expect!” The Revd Ally Barrett has a wonderful blog post here about why you should include a section on your website about what to expect if you’ve never been to church before – and how you can make that section work. Many parents may only have been to church occasionally before, but feel a desire to come now they have children. If they can read up ahead of time about what the experience is like, they will feel more prepared and less hesitant. It also sends the message that your church is open to newcomers – they won’t be expected to know everything. In our own Diocese, St Paul’s Letchworth has a good example of this kind of page.
  4. Christenings! Most church websites have information about baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Great! However, this may be hidden away under some tab with insider language like “Life Events.” How would I know, if I wasn’t a church professional used to that kind of language, that that’s where to look for information about christening my child? And while we’re on the subject, the word “christening” is much more familiar to society at large than “baptism” is. If your website uses “christening,” you’re more likely to come up in Google searches in the first place, and much more likely to get people to click on that tab and contact you. You can then use baptism preparation to help broaden the parents’ understandings of the different words used to describe this sacrament. But don’t put them off before they’ve even started by using language they won’t understand or won’t search for.

    flitwick-christening
    A smiling vicar, a cute baby, clear and simple descriptions of what happens – a good Christenings page on a church website.
  5. Connect the dots. If you have things for children during the week – toddler groups, Messy Church, Scout groups, etc – make sure these are prominent and easy to find. Don’t hide your lights under bushels. Your church website isn’t just about the history of your building, and Sunday morning – it’s the front door of your whole community.

Any good website tips I’ve forgotten? Leave them in the comments!

Employing a Children’s/Families Worker

This is one of the things I get asked about a lot. As a general guide, you can’t beat Paul Godfrey and Nic Sheppard’s book on the subject, which you can find here.  Usually, if you’re in St Albans Diocese, we’ll send you a free copy if you ask.

And for questions about terms ofemployment employment, supervision, pay and benefits, etc., you should always go to an HR professional and not your Diocesan Children’s Ministry Advisor.

But here are a few of the things I’ve learned in advising at least a dozen churches in this process over the years.

(As always, there are exceptions. There are no hard and fast rules.)

Motivations:

Think about why you’re hiring someone now. Is it because you have no children and need to build up from scratch? In this case, you’ll probably need a visionary leader with entrepreneurial skills, who can help get things off the ground, help existing leadership to inspire the congregation, make changes to worship, programmes, etc, to make them more child-and-family-friendly, and probably start entirely new initiatives. Or is it because you have a great team of volunteers and just need someone who can pull it all together, support them, make sure everyone’s singing from the same hymn sheet, and resource and equip the volunteers? In this case, you’re probably looking for a facilitator, an encourager, a manager, and a mentor. Those are two very different people.

Very few people have skills to be a pastor, a visionary leader, a detail-oriented team manager, a mentor, a facilitator, an administrator, a teacher, a liturgist, a specialist in children’s spirituality, a theologian, a preacher, a musician, and a communicator/marketing person who can get your church noticed in the community. Yet when I go into meetings and ask “what are you hoping for from this appointment?” I often get a list of skills that include all of those and more.

Think of the top three skills that you’re looking for, and prioritise those. A children’s worker cannot be all things to all people, and cannot singlehandedly save your church. Especially if yours is a part time appointment.

Which brings me to …

The Tooth-to-Tail Ratio:

This is something I heard from a friend who served in the military – in deploying personnel, the army considers how many “behind the scenes” people you need (the tail) for every one soldier on the front line.

The same is true in terms of how you deploy your time. Children’s ministry – especially in smaller churches without large staff teams – requires a lot of behind the scenes TIME for every one hour of actual contact with children.

Here’s an example: a family whose child was baptised at your church a few months ago walks through the door on Sunday morning. They have three children – the baby, and then a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. The four-year-old goes to your Diddy Disciples Group and the seven-year-old goes to your Junior Church. The baby stays in church with its parents. That’s a total of three hours of contact – one with each child.

What’s it taken to do this?

A welcoming phone conversation at the initial baptism enquiry, sending the baptism form (with a box to tick for permission to be added to the mailing list), preparing and running baptism preparation alongside the vicar, sending multiple follow-up emails reminding them of other things happening in the church, recruiting volunteers to run those Sunday morning groups, training the volunteers so that Junior Church is spiritually nurturing and not just “here’s the moral, here’s a colouring sheet, done,” setting up the Junior Church spaces on Sunday morning, buying resources for Junior Church, planning the session you’re running, working with the congregation as a whole to make sure they won’t stare daggers at the family if the baby makes a tiny bit of noise, developing and maintaining a Pray and Play area for the baby (if you have such a space), and encouraging people to talk to new families after church.

That’s a LOT of work for three hours of in-person contact.

And remember that any community contacts – schools, uniformed organisations, etc – take huge amounts of time to build before you start to see any real results.

So if you’re hiring someone for sixteen hours a week, that’s maybe eight hours of actual programme time – Sunday morning, and one other thing every week. A 16-hour contract is Sunday morning, toddler group, and maybe some special events at Christmas and Easter. So often, I have seen jobs that claim to be 16 or 20 hours a week, which expect the person to run Junior Church (and all its volunteers), Messy Church every month, Toddler Group every week, build relationships with schools and do assemblies and support RE learning, do community events and holiday clubs, plan and lead All-Age services, start teatime Sunday services for families, and more. That’s a full-time job. Allow at least one hour behind the scenes for every one hour actually leading something. Building mailing lists, keeping in touch, planning and publicising events, and building relationships with the community all take time.

As a general rule, full-time posts get more applications. If you can’t afford a full-time worker, be prepared for the fact it may take a while to fill the post.

Boundaries Are Good:

I’ve seen several posts that are advertised as providing housing – sometimes in a parishioner’s spare room.

First of all, if you’re providing housing as part of compensation, speak to an HR professional. This can count as payment in kind, and there are tax implications.

Secondly, while I respect the generosity and hospitality inherent in the offer of accommodation, I would advise against providing it with a parishioner, or in the house of another member of staff. This blurs the boundaries between work and home, and limits the children’s worker’s ability to relax and be off duty.

The relationship with parishioners is a pastoral one – imagine if the vicar stayed in the home of someone they pastored, 24/7. You would need to continually be in “vicar” mode. That boundary between pastoral role and human being is one that needs careful protection, or burnout can happen.

Also, despite best intentions, sometimes living arrangements don’t work out. And it’s easy for a problematic domestic situation to then spill over into how the parishioner and children’s worker treat each other at church/work, as well as at home. The end result of this can be factions, cliques, rumours, blame, etc.

And finally, it’s not healthy for the children’s worker to be so dependent on someone outside official line management and complaints procedures.

Providing housing in the home of a parishioner or fellow member of staff could end up creating problems that require a huge amount of time, sensitivity, and money to sort out.

Speaking of Dual Roles … :

When I became a children’s worker, I lost my priest.

Because I was now worshipping at the church where I served, and the priest there was now my boss.

There are things I would happily tell my priest that I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling my boss. So when they became the same person, it presented a difficulty. I ended up with nowhere to go for spiritual and pastoral support. For years.

Think of what opportunities your children’s worker will have for spiritual and pastoral support that are not provided by their line manager.

And think about what opportunities there will be for retreat and reflection – especially if your children’s worker is leading a Junior Church group almost every Sunday. The same problems that can arise with clergy – always leading, never simply receiving – can affect children’s workers. But they don’t have the official support networks that clergy do (which are often meagre enough, let’s be honest).

In St. Albans Diocese, the SIM (Support In Your Ministry) scheme is available to paid children’s and youth workers as well as to clergy. And Sheldon retreat centre offers its minister’s discount to lay ministers as well as ordained ones. But it’s also worth thinking about who in your area could be on hand to be your children’s worker’s go-to person for pastoral care – it could be someone in your own clergy team who isn’t their supervisor, or it could be a neighbouring priest, or someone else.

Practicalities:

Where to advertise: don’t overlook your local area, especially if you’re a village or rural area. But we will also put your advert on our Diocesan website and social media, and on the Going 4 Growth national church website (especially if it’s full time). If you have a budget to pay for advertising the post, then consider Youth and Childrenswork Magazine and/or The Church Times.

How much to pay: The Living Wage Foundation recommends an hourly rate of at least £9 nationally and £10.55 in London, to meet the actual cost of living. Considering that you are looking for specialist skills and possibly for anti-social hours, I recommend you do better than this if at all possible. Most posts I see are between £20,000 and £27,000 for a full-time role. This is an enormous sacrifice for most churches, and still provides barely enough for someone to really live on. That disconnect is a problem nationally.

How to choose: I recommend including children in the hiring process if at all possible – in drafting the job description and person specification, and in interviewing. You will definitely get a different perspective and a better understanding of their needs.

If you don’t have a clear front-runner, or you have someone towards whom you’re feeling, “well, I guess they’ll do, I suppose,” then don’t appoint. Go through the interview process again. It may feel like you’re failing, but it’s much better to hire the right person after six months than the wrong person immediately.

Book recommendation

I’m going to recommend a book that is not for children, not about children, not about children’s ministry, not about church, doesn’t mention God once, and which may be one of the most relevant books for ministry you can get.

It’s called “That’s Not How We Do It Here!” (sound familiar?). The subtitle is “a story about how organisations rise and fall – and can rise again.”meerkats

It’s an easy read – I read it in an afternoon – because mostly, it’s a story about meerkats. The meerkat colony’s habitat is changing, there are new threats, and the old way of doing things isn’t working. So young meerkat Nadia leaves the group and finds a new colony with some fresh ideas – but their way of doing things has problems too. Can Nadia and her fellow meerkats figure out the “best of both worlds” and help both colonies function well and adapt to change?

Definitely one for your PCC to read and discuss, if possible. I have a copy in the office, so do let me know if you’d like to borrow it and we can post it to you!