Communication 101 – tips for children’s ministry

A few months ago, I put together all the random natterings I do in my live training events on “the dreaded ‘shhhhhh'”  and it’s been my most popular post ever. You can read it here.

One of the other things I get asked about a lot is COMMUNICATION, and so I reckoned I’d put together all the random natterings I do in live events about that topic as well.

 

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For much of this, I have to thank the Revd Dr Sandra Millar, of the Life Events team, for the basic training she’s given in follow-up and invitation, based on her research and her marketing background. You can find the Life Events stuff here.

I also have to thank Becky Guynn, the Families’ and Children’s Minister at Christ Church in Bedford, who did some stuff on marketing at one of our Getting Started events.

Okay. So, how do I get people to come to church?

You invite them.

And then you invite them again.

I know that sounds simple, and fundamentally, it is. Think about where you’re initially making contact with people, then make sure you gather their contact information (with their consent), and then let them know about what’s going on, that they might be interested in.

Those are the basics.

Here’s an example of how it could work in practice:

When a family comes to you for baptism, you have a box for them to tick on the baptism application, saying it’s okay to contact them about events at your church. Once that application is received and hopefully the box is ticked, you add them to an email mailing list (for example, in Mailchimp).

You also have little sheets of paper at things like Harvest Festival and your Crib Service, which people are handed when they come in, and say something like, “welcome to our Harvest Festival! We’re so glad you’re here. We’d love to invite you to other events – if this is okay, please fill in your details below.”

A sidesperson is on duty to gather in these slips as people leave the church at the end of the service, and pass them on to be added to the mailing list.

When you have an event coming up – e.g. a Mothering Sunday service – you send out email reminders to everyone who’s allowed you to have their details. You may send out one big mailing, or you may change it slightly for different audiences. Send out a reminder maybe a month in advance, another a week in advance, another with 48 hours to go. Having templates or standardised wording can make this as easy as possible. (nb: for privacy reasons, if you’re using regular email and not a programme like Mailchimp, put your own email address in the ‘To’ field and have every other email address in the BCC field, so nobody can see who else the email is going to.)

Okay, so print media is dead and it’s all email now, is it?

Nope! You can also print out leaflets for your events, and, especially if you have a lot of foot traffic past your church, use your noticeboard. Dr. Millar says it takes seven different contacts for someone to take one action. Just think – you don’t book cinema tickets the second you first see an advert on the side of a bus, do you? You note the poster and think, “ooh, that looks good.” Then you see a preview, and go, “oh, yes, I must remember to go to that!” Then you see another poster. Then your friend mentions they’d like to see it, and you think, “yes, I keep meaning to see that!” And finally, eventually, you buy tickets.

If you have connections in the community, with schools or businesses, ask if you can leave leaflets out in their premises. Many chain coffee shops, and some supermarkets, also have Community Notice Boards where people are allowed to put up flyers. You can also, if you have the volunteers, individually leaflet every house in the parish, but this may be reserved for once or twice a year only.

Announce your event at services – and if you have multiple congregations, don’t assume they won’t be interested in each other’s events. If your Sunday morning congregation is doing an All-Age Mothering Sunday Service, your Messy Church families might like to come, and vice versa. Mention your church’s pancake party at your Baby and Toddler Group. Cross-pollinate your events.

Are there any places in the parish that might specifically be interested in this particular event? One church I’m working with is planning their first ever pet blessing service – if you have a veterinary surgery or a pet shop in your parish, get in touch with them and see if they can take leaflets or promote it for you.

A note about leaflets, from Becky Guynn – every leaflet should have your church’s logo on it, and contact information. Ideally, they should all be in the same colour scheme, and roughly the same layout. This will create a recognisable “brand” for people in your community – “oh yes, that church with the red and orange lettering, and the logo with a boat on it – I’ve seen their stuff around.” Our memories are very visual – make it easy for people to remember you and connect you with things they’ve seen before! See below for how I’ve put this into practice with some of our events:

There are also success stories of using paper invitations to invite baptism families back to events. The Church Print Hub has some ready-made ones you can buy and add your own details onto. If you have large numbers of baptisms, a small group could work on writing the invitations so it’s not the vicar doing it all – possibly the PCC could spend 15 minutes of a meeting doing this.

What happens after the event itself?

There’s stuff you can do even at the event itself. Not just gathering in new contact details, but taking the time to mention what you’re doing next, and invite people.

So if you have families who have come to a Harvest Festival, include the date of your Remembrance Sunday service, or your Crib Service, or whatever is your next big thing, in the materials on the day itself, and mention it during the service. You can also pitch your Toddler Group, your Messy Church, or your wonderful Sunday morning services.

After the event, you begin again – add the new contacts to your mailing list, print off new leaflets for your next thing, and start getting the word out.

That sounds like a lot of work.

It may take some time to make sure it all gets set up – to create a basic leaflet template, set up a mailing list, brief the sidespeople on gathering in contact details, figure out how to use Mailchimp. But once the system is in place, it’s simply doing the same thing over and over again for each event. It becomes much more routine.

If you want a short video tutorial on how to use Mailchimp, you can find it here.

Do I have to know all about Facebook and Twitter now in order to get people to come to church?

Social media is useful, but not essential. However, here are a few ways you can use it that might be helpful:

  1. If your local area has its own Facebook group, where people get together routinely to complain about potholes, ask about car boot sales, get recommendations for plumbers, and publicise their Pilates studio, why not join it? Don’t just use it to post adverts for your church and run – engage in conversations about other topics, and when your church is doing something, post about it there. You might get some sarcasm in the comments section, but people have endured worse.
  2. If your church has a Facebook page, use it to promote your events, but recognise it will mostly be seen by people who already “like” it. You can make the most of this by setting up Facebook Events from your page, inviting everyone who likes your page, and encouraging them to invite others. You’re most likely to be reaching parents, not young people themselves, on Facebook.
  3. Twitter is useful primarily for conversations and connections, rather than to flog a specific event. If you engage with it regularly, and reliably, and get to know people, and build a following, you may find you start getting an audience for when you do post information about events – but this is a long-term strategy, not a quick win.

What about our website?

For most people under 40 – so this includes a lot of parents – they will Google you before they contact you. This means your website is your new front door.

Make sure the front page – the VERY FRONT PAGE – has:

  1. Where you are and how to find you.
  2. Your service times.
  3. Any upcoming special events – and I don’t mean your Holy Week schedule from 2011.
  4. The contact details for getting in touch with the vicar or parish office.

You get bonus points if you have a photo on your front page that has people in it, and not a beautiful panoramic image of an empty building.

And you might want to consider including a “first time in church?” page, easily accessible from the main page. Ally Barrett’s blog has some tips on how to make a good one.

Your weekly newsletter, and the 10,000-word essay on the history of the church building, can be a few clicks away. They’re not what first-timers need.

Okay, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. This seems like a lot to do. What do I do first?

Establish a system for INVITATION, COLLECTING DETAILS, and SIGNPOSTING, which you can then repeat ad nauseum every single time. This checklist might help.

So you have a family-friendly event coming up! Hurrah! Have you:

BEFORE THE EVENT:

  1. Made a leaflet, with the church’s logo, and basically the same layout and colour scheme as all your other ones, and contact details?
  2. Sent an initial “hey, we’re doing this thing!” email to everyone on your mailing list?
  3. Distributed the leaflet around your community, to every business/organisation/school you have a connection with?
  4. Put it up in coffee shops, supermarkets, your noticeboard? If people hire your church hall, will they see it when they come in and out?
  5. Sent a second, follow-up, “hey, we’re doing this thing!” email?
  6. Sent paper invitations if appropriate?
  7. Announced the event in all your services and groups?
  8. Prepared “we’d love to contact you” sheets for people who come to the event to give you their details?
  9. Figured out what your next family-friendly event is, after this one?
  10. Sent a final “we’re doing this thing, really soon!” email?

AT THE EVENT:

  1. Briefed the sidespeople, so they know to pass out and collect back in the “we’d love to contact you” sheets?
  2. Announced the next event after this one?

AFTER THE EVENT:

  1. Added any new contact details you gathered from the event to your mailing list?
  2. Started the process again for your next event?

 

This is simply a question of building habits. Once you get used to it, it will become routine, and people will get more used to hearing from you, which means you’ll be higher in their minds! Good luck, and be persistent!

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Free Holy Week stuff!

12Tomorrow is our day on Creative Holy Week for All Ages – so for those of you who can’t be there, here are all the resources.

You’ll find:

  1. A script for a walk-through of the whole Passion story. This is great for Messy Church or clubs or other settings where the children probably won’t be in church for Holy Week itself and may not get anything between Palm Sunday and Easter (or not even that). This is in the file labelled “Risen With Christ Resource Pack” and is based on the Prayer Walk in Gretchen Wolff Pritchard’s book Risen With Christ, which you can get here. (It’s worth dealing with the antiquated website and having to order by email or post – it’s a very useful book.)
  2. A summary of how we used the imagery of trees throughout our worship in Lent, Holy Week, and Easter (also in the first file below).
  3. A plan for an all-age Maundy Thursday service. This works for groups up to about 20 – for larger groups, you’ll need to rework it. We have our all-age service at 5:30 and our main Eucharist at 8 – the all-age service tends to attract families and older people who don’t want to be out late, while the Eucharist gets those in between.
  4. The Beulah Land Exodus story script, which is used in the Maundy Thursday service.
  5. The service sheet for my Children’s Stations of the Cross, which provides pretty much everything you need to re-create the service.
  6. Materials which make the transition period of the Great Vigil of Easter much more interactive and dramatic. Many of these are also based on what’s found in Risen With Christ, which in turn was largely inspired by Rick Fabian and Don Schell, who planted the church of St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco (in this setup, the service starts with the kindling of the New Fire and then moves on to the Old Testament readings, instead of vice versa):
    1. The Noble Joseph” – Orthodox Bulgarian chant, used at the end of the Old Testament lessons.
    2. The Litany of the Saints – used for procession to the font before the Exsultet.
    3. The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom – used after the Exsultet, culminating in the first proclamation of the resurrection

Don’t forget to also check out my Lent and Easter Pinterest board – and send me anything you find that you think I should add to it!

 

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easter-sermon-of-st-john-chrysostom

Holy Week Ideas, Part III: Good Friday

Today, a few questions to guide your thinking:

Who are the children that we might see on Good Friday?

Are these children from the regular congregation, or visitors, or a mixture? How much will they know of the story? What will they know about Jesus apart from his birth at Christmas and his death?

Will they be back for Easter Sunday?

At my last parish, when Good Friday fell the day after school broke up, we had several families come to our Children’s Stations of the Cross.

“See you on Sunday!” I called as they were leaving.

“Oh, no, we’re off on holiday tomorrow – we just came to this before we left,” they replied.

Our service had ended with Jesus dead in the tomb, waiting, suspended, for the last chapter of the story on Sunday morning – and these families were going to miss it.  If your children may not be back for Sunday – incomprehensible as it seems to miss that of all days – maybe it’s worth including, at the end of the service, the reassurance that the story doesn’t end here. Don’t do a full-fledged celebration of Easter, but perhaps allow them to peek behind the curtain and see a preview of what comes next.

And then make sure you celebrate the whole season of Easter, all 50 days, so they can join in the celebration of the resurrection when they come back from wherever they are on Easter morning.

(Note: if you have very emotionally sensitive children, especially young ones, you may also want to include some reassurance of the resurrection at the end – I’ve had children burst into tears when Jesus died, and to leave them in that state for two days feels cruel. The disciples didn’t know how it ended, but we do. Again – don’t celebrate – but promise that this isn’t the end.)

What will happen for them between now and Sunday?

If they are likely to be back on Sunday morning, what will happen for them between now and then? Will Saturday be a day of quiet waiting, or of celebrating? Will any of them be at the Vigil?  How will they mark the transition from death to life – will there be middle-of-the-night mystery, or will they show up on Sunday morning and find the resurrection a fait accompli?  What will those different experiences be like, and does this change how you approach your Good Friday service in any way?

Where are their parents?

Are you providing children’s programmes during an adult service, or are you doing a family service? If the children are away from their parents, what experiences, if any, will they have in common with their parents from today?  Can you and the adult worship leaders work together to provide some links for families to carry on observing the day at home – maybe a take-home activity to do together, or some talking points?

How do they experience the space?

Are they in a church or a programme room? What mood does the space set? Is it relaxed and informal – if so, how do you get the awe and wonder of today’s mystery?  Is it formal and dignified – if so, how do you encourage children to relax enough to fully participate?  Where is the light and darkness in the space? Where is the noise and the silence?

What questions am I likely to get?

It’s impossible to prepare for every question that something as raw and primal as Good Friday might bring up, but you may be called upon to address such questions as “why did God let Jesus die?” “why won’t God raise my nan if he can raise Jesus?” “why are there still cruel things like Syria if Jesus has made it all okay?” and so on.  It might help to spend some time in prayer, considering how to address these issues.

It may also help to think a bit about your own theology of what Good Friday means.

The idea of Jesus dying to satisfy the wrath of a vengeful God has become very ingrained in many churches – so much that many people don’t know there are other theories. But this theology is, for many people, deeply troubling, and doesn’t fit with the characterisation of a faithful God who calls his people time and time again, who keeps his covenants with them.  It might be helpful to consider re-framing the event as Jesus dying not to satisfy God’s bloodlust but to do battle with death itself.  The greatest enemy is death, and this is the Good News – not that God is no longer angry with us, but that death itself no longer holds any power over us.

Holy Week Ideas, Part II: Maundy Thursday

There are many opportunities for child-friendly multi-sensory worship in this service, so I’m just going to do a top ten list! Don’t try to do all of these, but maybe let 1 or 2 spark your imagination:

  1. If you’re in a school, baby and toddler group, or other setting where you have some time, the children can make bread. There are lots of unleavened bread recipes on the internet – even very young children can help add ingredients, stir, and shape the dough. Some unleavened bread recipes bakes in as little as 15 minutes – while it bakes, you can tell the story, do some singing and prayers, and finish by eating the bread you’ve baked.
  2. Start with a bring and share dinner, replicating, to some extent, the Last Supper.  While Passover celebrations in Jesus’s time would have been very different from modern ones (and there’s some debate as to whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal), if you ask people to bring a dish based around lamb, bread, or grape juice, you have a way in to telling the Passover story, connecting it symbolically to the Last Supper, and affirming the central roles played by these foods in both stories.
  3. Why not have the congregation was each other’s feet, instead of having the priest do it all? This gives children a chance to serve as well as be served, reinforces that we all serve one another, and allows them a more hands-on experience with water and with care-giving touch.
  4. If possible, include at least a few children in helping with stripping the altar.
  5. Have prayer stations around the church related to the Maundy Thursday story – plants to touch and smell (the garden of Gethsemane), bread and grape juice (the Eucharist), silver coins, and nails (Judas’s betrayal and the crucifixion).  Write a short reflection or prayer for people to read or use as they go from station to station.
  6. If your Eucharist service will have children present, and they don’t receive communion, what other opportunities will there be for them to engage with the centrality of the Last Supper story to this particular Eucharist? How can you help them feel less left out?  Maybe you can have a bread tasting table as people arrive, with bread from different parts of the world – naan, brioche, matzoh, scones, etc.
  7. If you have a separate children’s event for Maundy Thursday, don’t lose the drama of the adult service, with its transition from light to darkness. This is a really potent way for children to experience Holy Week – light to darkness and back to even greater light. Don’t shy away.
  8. If you have music during the stripping of the altar or processions, make it child-friendly – Taize chants are very good for this, and this one is particularly appropriate for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.
  9. Display, around the church, a variety of artists’ interpretations of the Last Supper and Jesus’s arrest in Gethsemane. Invite the congregation to walk around and look at them (if your congregation isn’t the “get out and walk around” type, you can provide copies of the images in their service sheets or on screens) and reflect on  the different feelings created by the different images. Provide blank paper and pencils/markers for children to draw their own version of the story during the service.
  10. Send your congregation on a treasure hunt – this works best as a gathering activity or as part of an event that’s not the main Eucharist. Give them a piece of paper labelled in four parts with BREAD, WINE/CUP, WHEAT, GRAPES, and see how many times they can find these images within your church – in pictures, stained glass windows, memorials, carvings, etc.  In many, though not all, churches, there will be lots, which provides a way in for exploring the centrality of the Eucharist. (You can add “LAMB” if you want to include the image of the sacrifice whose blood saves the people – see previous note on the connection with Exodus!)

Holy Week Ideas, Part I: Palm Sunday

palm-sundayProcession:

If you have a live donkey, encourage children to invite friends to come to Palm Sunday.  The donkey can be a real selling point, and allow children who might otherwise be shy a way in to asking friends to church.

If you don’t have a live donkey, spend your children’s time this Sunday making a banner, or donkey puppets, or posters (which you can then laminate and put on sticks to make placards) or something else, for children to carry or use in the procession.

Buy real palms, not just palm crosses.  The fun of waving around big branches adds a real element of participation and excitement to this festival.  And they’re not that expensive.  If you have a large church garden, or parishioners with large gardens, you could ask people to bring in a branch or two from whatever shrubs or small trees they have, or provide branches from the church garden.

 

Storytelling:

The Passion reading is very dramatic, but many churches stick to the traditional way of reading it – a few adults standing in a line at the front.

With an hour’s rehearsal, the adults can dramatise it – act it out, use simple costume pieces – or with a bit more time, you could include children.

Include the congregation as the crowd and the soldiers. The drama of going, in half an hour, from shouting “hosanna!” to shouting “crucify him!” is incredibly powerful, and underlines the culpability of all of us in the death of Jesus. It wasn’t a few specific people in a faraway time who bear the guilt of his death – it’s the sin we all share.

 

Music:

Many churches will be singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honour” – the chorus is easy to learn, and allows children to participate more fully in the procession. Take some time the week before, or a few minutes at the start of your procession, to teach the chorus so children can sing it with the rest of the congregation.

 

Holy-Week-Box-all-contents-inside-300x300Take-home:

Send home materials for the Holy Week Box, a wonderful way of extending children’s exploration of the story at home throughout the week.