25 Things Every Children’s Worker Has Done

Inspired by James Ballantyne’s list of 35 Things Every Youth Worker Has Done, I’ve come up with a version for those of us who have the delight of working with the under-11s and their adults. Add your own in the comments!

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  1. Walked down the street to the school/village hall with some random assortment of items in your arms, like a paper dove on a stick, a box full of bubble wrap, three bags of Haribo, and 200 light-up Baby Jesus dolls.
  2. Been vomited on, caught in a poo-explosion, or peed on, by a baby or toddler, while you were in church clothes.
  3. Got really really carried away in the art supply store.
  4. Totally improvised a Junior Church/club/whatever session on the spot, because the group of kids who showed up were completely different from the ones you’d planned for.
  5. Had to find a way to diplomatically explain to the vicar that their 45-minute lecture on 18th-century church history might not have been what the school children were hoping for from their visit.
  6. Planned an All-Age Service that was a total disaster.
  7. Had brilliant parents, but also panicking parents, parents who try to feed their kid the “right answer,” parents who run away from church the second their child makes a peep, parents who play on their phones while their kid has a tantrum, and parents who think their kids’ whole spiritual formation is your job and not theirs.
  8. Tried to explain what you do to people at a party and been met with a sea of blank faces.
  9. Explained to your friends for the thousandth time why Saturday nights aren’t normal weekend nights for you and why you can’t be in the pub at 4 pm on Christmas Eve.
  10. Had to explain that this isn’t just “trying out whether I should get ordained,” but a valid ministry in its own right.
  11. Wondered if you should get ordained.
  12. Cleaned up a room that was an explosion of flour, water, juice, sequins, bits of fabric, glue everywhere, storytelling materials, and six lost jackets, in less than 10 minutes.
  13. Memorised the soundtrack to Frozen, without ever having actually seen it, and/or become an expert in Minecraft strategies without ever having played it.
  14. Had to neatly sidestep the “what does ‘virgin’ mean?” questions at Christmas.
  15. Had your whole view of the world, and God, changed and expanded by something a kid says or does.
  16. Cried because you love your job, and cried because you hate your job, on the same day.
  17. Had to justify to the PCC why there should be a budget for children’s ministry in the first place because no, “bring some crayons from home” isn’t good enough.
  18. Smiled through your rage when a parishioner compliments you on your ministry because you “keep the children quiet.”
  19. Wondered if the disciples spent this much time stacking chairs and setting up tables.
  20. Attended a funeral for a kid’s parent or sibling and raged at the universe.
  21. Had to lead a session, or a service, while your own relationship with God was messy and painful, and you weren’t sure how much of that to include or how.
  22. Realised you’d gone most of a year without actually being present in worship just as a worshipper, and maybe that’s why you’re burned out and angry all the time.
  23. Loaded the kids up with sugar, handed them back to their parents, and felt no remorse.
  24. Felt completely out of your depth.
  25. Felt like there’s nowhere else you want to be.

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New Christmas books!

Just in time for Advent, I’ve bought a bunch of new Christmas books for the resource centre. They should be here within the week, so pop in and check them out if you’re around!

For those churches in our Diocese who are far from St Albans – if any of these look good, email me, and we can send around an APB to Holywell Lodge staff for anyone who will be in your area in the next few days and can bring you what you’d like to borrow.

cover1So without further ado, here’s what we now have …

Lois Rock is basically the rock star of under-5s Bible stories and prayers. This collection helps adults and very young children together explore the wonder and mystery of the Christmas season through prayer. Perfect for a toddler group, a creche, a visit to your local nursery, inspiration for your crib service …

 

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Another Lois Rock one – I first discovered this when my nephew was three and I gave it to him as a Christmas present. What makes it special is that it includes not only the Christmas story itself, but a wonderful collection of folklore and legends surrounding Christmas. The stories come from all around the world, making it a subtle way of teaching diversity and inclusion, and Alex Ayliffe’s wonderful illustrations are simple and colourful, but include interesting details for children to spot.

 

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As Elena Pasquali’s simple yet beautiful text tells the Christmas story, Giuliano Ferri’s illustrations tell a second, unspoken one – that of the peaceable kingdom. Bit by bit, the animals gather together around the manger. Lions and lambs lie down together. Bears and donkeys gather in peace. At the end, the text of Isaiah 11 connects this imagery to the prophesy of God’s Kingdom, where “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

 

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Another one that combines the Biblical Christmas stories with folklore and legend, this time aimed at older children. Here’s what the publisher says: “This beautifully presented volume of classic Christmas stories from around the world is written for children aged 7+ to enjoy reading alone, or for reading aloud in a classroom setting or with family sitting round a log fire! A mixture of stories from the Christian heritage and more secular tales, these retellings all evoke the true spirit of Christmas around the world. Included are Nativity stories from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, the stories of Baboushka and Papa Panov, Fir Tree and The Nutcracker. The whole collection sparkles with colourful and detailed artwork from Jane Ray.” (It’s also worth pointing out that Jane Ray’s Mary and Joseph look genuinely Middle Eastern.)

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I’ve been an adult for a while now, but this book still sends a shiver of wonder up my spine whenever I read it. It’s based around the Mexican community in the American Southwest, and the tradition of Las Posadas – when Mary and Joseph go around the town looking for a safe place to stay. Here’s the publisher’s summary: “This year Sister Angie, who is always in charge of the clebration, has to stay home with the flu, and Lupe and Roberto, who are to play Mary and Joseph, get caught in a snowstorm. But a man and a woman no one knows arrive in time to take their place in the procession and then mysteriously disappear at the end before they can be thanked. That night we witness a Christian miracle, for when Sister Angie goes to the cathedral and kneels before the statue of Mary and Joseph, wet footprints from the snow lead up to the statue.”

I’d love to hear your recommendations for the Advent and Christmas books we should add to our library – do leave any thoughts in the comments! And let me know if you’d like to borrow any of these.

 

 

What about the boys?

Today being International Men’s Day, it’s a good time to talk about boys.

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Many churches, when I’m working with them on Junior Church, Messy Church, etc., will ask, “what about the boys?” When I ask for more information, they’ll say “they can’t sit still, they charge around, they make noise, they’re loud – how do we engage them in Junior Church or worship?”

Now, I’m firmly of the belief that we shouldn’t structure our children’s ministry around “boy stuff” and “girl stuff.” We should include a range of activities for different interests and levels of activity – some girls will be very fidgety, some boys will happily sit still and read for hours. And of course in any mixed-age group, age will play a huge role – a 9-year-old boy will be much more able to sit, listen, and participate in long discussions than a 6-year-old girl will.

So when we talk about “what about the boys?” in our children’s groups, what we’re really asking is, “what about the fidgety, physical, noisy children?” And they may be mostly boys, but if we phrase it as simply “a boy thing,” then a fidgety, physical girl may get the message that her way of being a girl is “wrong,” and a quiet, calm, boy may get the message that his way of being a boy is “wrong.”

So let’s take that “what about the boys?” question and ask … “what about the fidgety, noisy, physical kids?”

I have a group in my church right now that is about 80% fidgety, noisy, physical kids, and 20% kids who want to talk for ages.

This is a tough combination.

So yesterday, when a Sunday School session had turned into a total disaster, I found a moment during activity time, got down on the floor with some of the more fidgety ones, and we had a chat about what they needed.

When they said “Sunday School is BORING,” I said, “okay, how can we make it less boring for you?”

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Here are some of the things we’re going to try:

  1. A physical opening time. We’re going to start not by sitting for quiet prayer – that will come second (kids do need silence and stillness). But we’re going to start with making the sign of the cross (in the Diddy Disciples way, with words to go with it – “God be in my head, my heart, and all around me, Amen”). We’re then going to stomp out a rhythm to accompany reciting the books of the Bible (I did this with them once, when we were talking about the Bible being a library and having all kinds of different stuff in it, like poems and stories and rules and prophesy, and now a few of them have got obsessed with it and beg for it to be included every week, and I’ve given in). We’ll then have a physical opening to prayer (the “Gathering Song” bit from this Diddy Disciples session – you can speak the words if you’re not a confident singer) and then sit for some time of peaceful stillness.
  2. More games in response time. I tend to have a variety of activities out – kids can choose to do art, or play with spiritually imaginative toys, or play with the storytelling materials. So there are options for getting physical. But they’re not officially organised. These kids said they wanted to do games together. So we’re going to try a few over the next weeks (anyone have a good physical game for the Joseph and his brothers story?)
  3. Fidget toys. This isn’t news – in fact, during the disastrous session yesterday, one of the things I tried was handing out things for them to fidget with. But we had a LONG conversation about what the fidget toys were for, and what kind they could bring in – they wanted to bring in iPads, or things that could fly up to the ceiling of the room. So we set a few rules. YES, you can bring in a fidget toy from home. But it needs to be quiet, it needs to stay in your hand so it doesn’t distract others, and it needs to be something that settles your body so your mind can focus on the story, not something that is going to focus your mind on the toy itself. I passed these guidelines on to the parents after church, so the parents know that yes, I did tell them they could bring toys in, but so that the kids can’t go “Margaret told me I could bring my iPad to Sunday School next week!” This will hopefully also help the more fidgety ones to listen with more patience to the ones who like to talk things out.
  4. Physical engagement with the story. We do a bit of this already, but I need to step it up. So next week, based on a suggestion from the Spiritual Child Network Facebook group, I’m going to hand out Lego and we’re going to build the story as we tell it. Diddy Disciples is also an incredibly physical form of storytelling, and can work with children over the age of 5 as well as under. I’m also going to try having them use their bodies to make tableaux of each scene in the story as we tell it, and, in the spring, try taking them outside and walking around different places in the church garden and porch area, for different parts of the story.

What other suggestions do you have for engaging fidgety, physical, noisy children in storytelling, music, prayer, and response time?

And how do we put these ideas into practice in other contexts, such as All-Age Worship?

 

Prayer Board for under-5s

This is an idea I got from Ann Sharp, the Early Years Advisor for Chelmsford Diocese. It can be used in Toddler Group worship, in the creche on Sundays – and, with a few “special occasion” additions, at baptisms and weddings with little children present.

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Toddlers and little ones may have little patience for sitting still and listening to wordy prayers. Using pictures and movement, we can help them connect to God through prayer in a way that works with natural toddler-ness instead of against it.

Ann also pointed out that toddlers love choosing things, and they love sticking things onto boards with velcro. And the ones are are in Nursery or Reception are probably doing lots of this during the week, so they already know how it works!

I made one myself, in less than an hour and a half from start to finish. I only had to buy the foamboard and velcro, so it cost me less than £10 to get the materials. Many churches will have much of this stuff already in situ.

You will need: a laminator, laminating pouches, a colour printer, A2 foamboard, velcro (I used strips, to cut to size), scissors, Pritt stick.

I decided to use “LET US PRAY” as the centre image, to help teach them the language we use in church every week. You could use “PRAYER BOARD” or “TIME TO TALK TO GOD” or any number of things. I flanked the LET US PRAY image with a group of children and an image of the Holy Spirit.

I used Google for images (See Educational exception to copyright law here).

Then I chose the images for the prayers themselves. I decided on:

  1. A church (I used a picture of our own church, which the children would recognise)
  2. A family (I might replace the image I used with one that includes grandparents)
  3. A group of children playing (I deliberately chose one with children of different ethnicities)
  4. A child looking sad.
  5. A child holding a pet.
  6. The earth.
  7. A row of houses (I used a street in our parish – check local estate agents’ websites)
  8. A child in bed with a thermometer in their mouth and a teddy bear.
  9. A gravestone with flowers on it.

For each image, I came up with one or two sentences to go with it:

  1. We pray for our church, St. George’s. Help us to know you here and everywhere.
  2. We pray for our families. Help us to take care of each other.
  3. We pray for our friends and teachers and schools and nurseries and toddler groups.
  4. Help everyone who is sad or lonely or scared.
  5. We pray for our pets and all the animals.
  6. We pray for everything in the whole wide world and universe.
  7. We pray for our homes. Make them places where everyone is safe and loved.
  8. We pray for everyone who is ill or feeling poorly.
  9. We pray for people and animals who have died. We miss them even though we know they are safe in heaven with you.

I printed out the images and prayers, cut them out, and stuck the prayers on the back of each image. Then I laminated everything and cut it out again.

I stuck the central images to the foamboard with Pritt stick, and cut velcro to size in several rows around it (checking with some of the bigger images that there was space between rows)

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This is another reason why strips of velcro might be better than dots – they’re bigger! Very small children might not have the hand-eye coordination to match up small dots of velcro.

When this was done, I stuck the other side of the velcro to the backs of the laminated images, and we were done!

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How to use it: I’m planning to put all the images in a drawstring bag, and bring it out with “I wonder what’s in here … !” Under-5s love seeing what’s in the bag/box/etc. They can then choose one to put up, hand it to the leader, who reads the prayer on the back, and hands it back to the child to put on the board. Your group may not have the attention span for all nine prayers every time, so you may only have four or five per session. That’s fine!

If you use the same closing words every time, such as “Lord, in your mercy / Hear our prayer,” you may want to add those to your board.

This could also be something an older group of children/teenagers could make for your younger group.

Gifts of the Spirit prayers

I did this with Diocesan staff yesterday, with the idea that it could easily work with children’s groups.

Because it requires an understanding of abstract ideas and metaphor, it probably would work best with kids age 7 and up – into adolescence. It could also be used in All-Age Worship, if you could think of a way to include the tinies.

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You will need: a picture of a dove, coloured strips of paper, markers.

One of the readings for our service was 1 Corinthians 12:3-13.

So, using the “gifts of the Spirit” as my inspiration, I drew an outline of a dove on some A1 easel paper and put it in the middle of our worship space. Then, to begin our prayer time, I read the following:

God, you are three in one, and through your Spirit you have poured on all your people an abundance and diversity of gifts. Help us to know your Spirit, brooding over the world as a mother bird over her children, nurturing and inspiring, encouraging and guiding.”

Then I explained: for each question, if you would like to, you may write a response, using as few or as many of your papers as you would like. As I read the closing prayer, you may bring up your responses and place them around the image of the Spirit – perhaps as feathers, or as flames, or simply as prayers left before God. If you would like to keep your prayer private, you may fold your paper over, and I ask that everyone respects that privacy.

I read each of these questions and waited in silence until I could only hear 1 or 2 markers still scratching, before saying “Lord, in your mercy …”

What gifts are you thankful for from others today?

Lord, in your mercy …

All: hear our prayer

What gifts do the church, and the world, need today?

Lord, in your mercy …

All: hear our prayer

What gifts do your friends, family, and community need today?

Lord, in your mercy …

All: hear our prayer

What gifts do you have that you can use in your work and personal life today?

Lord, in your mercy …

All: hear our prayer

What gifts would you ask the Spirit to help you make more of?

Lord, in your mercy …

All: hear our prayer

Then I reminded everyone they could bring their prayers forward as I read the following, slightly adapted from Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer:

Christ has no body now but ours. No hands, no feet on earth but ours. Ours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Ours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Ours are the hands, ours are the feet, ours are the eyes, we are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but ours.

The dove, with all our prayers, remained there in the middle of our circle as we celebrated communion.

You could easily incorporate music into this prayer idea.

“It worked for us” – Messy Church edition

On Friday, I had the privilege of visiting one of the many wonderful Messy Churches in our Diocese. This one was at Kensworth, and is run by a team of volunteers, along with the Vicar, Nicola.Messy-Church-Event

Here are some tips I picked up. Very few are unique to this one Messy Church, but by showing how they work in this particular context, I hope I’ll nudge out some of the underlying principles that you might be able to apply to your Messy Church (or Sunday morning, or monthly Family Service, or …)

  1. Messy Church is held at the church hall, three miles from the church itself. Why? Because the church hall is just across the road from the primary school. Messy Church begins at 3:30 pm on a Friday. As Nicola said, “you can bring the kids straight from school, it’s Friday, it doesn’t matter if their uniforms get dirty.” You get messy-3to socialise with the other parents, and by the time you get home your kids have been fed and your Friday night is much more relaxed. By starting with the thought “what do our families need?” rather than “how can we make people come to church?” the job of getting people in the door is much easier.
  2. There was a broad variety of activities. We were doing the Lost Sheep, and there were art projects, cooking projects, and sensory tables. I ended up spending most of my time at a table with three tubs – one had slime, one had rice, and one had water gel beads. Toy sheep had been hidden in all the trays, and kids spent ages sifting their hands through and finding the sheep. (They also poured the gel beads in the slime, got rice in the gel bead tray, and made a proper mess). While we were doing this, messy-5we chatted about school and families and life, and also talked about what it felt like to get lost and to be found again. Another table made sheep biscuits, another drew pictures of themselves enfolded in the arms of God – and more. By providing a variety of activities, children of different ages, with different skills and interests, were catered for. Messy Church has lots of resources to make this easy for you, so do make sure you get their magazine and check their website regularly.
  3. The worship was real worship. The story was told clearly, and in detail – and the story is the centrepiece of worship. Kids relate to stories, adults need to hear them messy-1again and understand them in new ways, and they’re the source of all the symbols and imagery we were exploring during the free choice time.  If we gloss over the story, nothing else makes sense! And, importantly, the story was given CONTEXT. Nicola made it clear that this was a story Jesus told. Imagine a kid coming to Messy Church with little Christian background, and hearing “David was little and fought Goliath and won” … okay, who was David? Why should we care? Why isn’t Jesus in this story? A few sentences to explain where the story fits in can help. There were songs that are repeated every session, so people knew them, and a prayer written by the original Messy Church group.
  4. Adults participated in worship. The songs chosen were accessible for everyone – adults didn’t feel silly joining in. Beware “cutesy” songs, or songs that require participants to “perform” in a way that adults and older children might be reluctant to get involved in. Also, the fact that this Messy Church is in a pretty small space for its numbers probably helped the worship – in that adults and children had to sit together. You couldn’t have a situation where children sit at the front for worship and adults disappear to the back of the church, twenty yards away, to chat and look at their phones. How could you use your space to naturally push everyone together? How could you encourage adults to interact with their children during worship, to help them get involved? How could you use music and prayer in ways accessible to all ages?
  5. There were connections, and a pathway. Just like in Sunday church, worship included an announcement time. This Messy Church has started “Messy Holy Communion,” to help families make the leap to sacramental worship, and to connect with the church building three miles away. It was made very clear, though, that the next “Messy Holy Communion” WAS MESSY CHURCH – they were being invited to their community’s gathering, which would also include people from the Sunday congregation, not to something different and scary. Leaflets were placed by the door with information. There was also a signup sheet for “Messy Minus The Kids” – a social gathering for the adults, and a “Beyond Messy Church” youth group signup sheet. While a few teenagers were present as helpers, it’s good to have something available for your kids who feel they “grow out of” Messy Church and who don’t want to get involved as helpers, if possible.
  6. Finding the right balance between service recipient and community member. If your Messy Church was started by a group of volunteers from the original church, it’s easy to fall into an “us/them” mindset. “We, the church, are service providers – they, the families, are recipients.” This is important – you’re loving and serving your community, and as the volunteer leader Kathie said to me, “this is a place where the parents can relax and not have to do anything, just be taken care of. And they’re all doing the school run while we’re setting up, anyway.” However, you also need to think of long-term sustainability if your volunteer team is primarily elderly or could get burned out without new blood. Maybe a few parents could be encouraged to help once a term, on a rota, so not every one is helping every time. One dad in this Messy Church had taken the day off work to cook the dinner for everyone! Another mum said to me, “now, with my kids coming here, I can’t volunteer to help, but when they’re in secondary school I’d love to come back on my own and pitch in.” One thing that distinguishes a church from many other places in our lives is that it’s our community – we belong, and that means we’re part of making it happen. Providing opportunities for your “service recipients” to become “community members” is one of the ways in which Messy Church can be Church.
  7. There was a donations box at the door. Stewardship is another way in which Messy Church can be Church. If it’s our community, we support it in whatever way we can.

And a final note: None of this sprang up overnight – this Messy Church has spent years being developed, and there have been changes and adjustments along the way. So if you’re just getting started on your Messy Church (or family service, or holiday club, or …) journey, use these tips to help you build your own vision, for your own community and your own church’s gifts, and take it one step at a time! And as always, get in touch with me if you need help or guidance at any time.

UPDATE: I wanted to add a few comments from parents, which don’t fit neatly into the list above, but are worth thinking about.

“We’ve been to Sunday church a few times, but here it’s more relaxed and we know we’ll be made welcome.” (this is a very welcoming Sunday church, incidentally – but parents are always a bit nervous about their kids’ behaviour, and whether it’s okay!)

“We heard about it through a leaflet at school – and then a few of her friends started coming and invited us to join them.”

“It’s a real community feel here.”

Worth 1000 words …

Often, a visual focus can help children engage in worship, or can illustrate an idea or a story. Below are some pictures that might be useful for your groups – all were taken by me, so you’re free to save and use them however you’d like. All I ask is that you credit me (Margaret Pritchard Houston) and if you use them at an event you’re charging admission for, to get in touch and ask about fees (email me). But you can use them without payment for worship, Messy Church, Junior Church, etc.

I’ve included some suggested topics, but feel free to use them for other ideas as well!

To download an image, click on it to view it full size, then right-click and choose “save image as …”

Here are a few from my “journey” folder.

These could be used for All Souls or for other events looking at death and resurrection.

Here are some on “light”:

Some photos of the natural world that could be used for any number of things:

And a few random bits and bobs – ashes, home, water, sheep, etc:

Hope these are useful – and I’d love to hear about the creative ways you use them.

The light shines in darkness …

We now have a Light Box, which is available for you to borrow!

It comes with 85 letters, numbers, and symbols. This means you sometimes need to get creative if you need more of a particular letter than they have available.

You can use it in worship …

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You can use it as part of a prayer station …

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You can use it an an event or service if you want people to connect online with a hashtag …

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Or you could use it to publicise something coming up …

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You could also simply have it out for children to play with and make their own messages. You could take photos of every message/prayer/etc children make, and put these together as a collage for display or a slideshow to gather these prayers at the end of a session.

What other ways could you use it?

If you want to get your own, I got this one from Argos for £14 including shipping. Other versions are available – some of which change the background colour or have other bells and whistles.

If you’d like to borrow this one, get in touch via cme@stalbans.anglican.org.

DIY intercessions

This could work for All-Age worship, Junior Church, holiday club, confirmation class, youth group, and more. It’s a way of encouraging the congregation to take a more active role in the prayers of the community, and it also means one less thing to organise/write ahead of time.

We’re going to try it at our Harvest Festival.

Set up a table near the entrance of your space, with paper for each type of prayer, Post-its, and pens/markers. I also added a little object for some of them, to make it interesting and more visual.

I’ve used:

The World

People and animals we love who have died

People who are ill or need help

Our church / our community / Christians around the world

THANK YOU FOR …

You might also want to add a note that young children can draw their prayers and tell an adult what to write for them.

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Then, during the service, simply read off what people have written for each section. Start with “we pray for …” and then read the heading, and then each Post-it note. Finish each section with your standard closing, e.g. “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.”

You might want to play background music during this, to make it more sensory – either live or recorded. Here are some good tracks if you want to use recorded music (copyright may apply for use in worship – do check):

Soft piano music.

Taize chant – has words, but they’re repetitive. Would need to not overwhelm the words being spoken.

Modern meditative – Fous de la Mer, Clair de Lune.

Violin and piano, folk style.

 

 

 

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!