“But I’m Not Good With Kids”

Most of us will agree it’s really important that our churches reach out to children and families. But what if the thought of holding a baby terrifies you (“what if I just … drop it??”) or if, given a choice between leading a Junior Church session and sitting through every one of these Top 100 Bad Movies without a bathroom break, you’d be reaching for the DVD remote every time?crying-baby

The good news is, you don’t have to be good with kids to support children’s ministry in your church.  All ministry is supported by a lot of background work that makes the face-to-face stuff happen. Here’s a Top Ten list to get us started – feel free to add your own in the comments!

  1. Maintain an up-to-date email list of baptism families, and send them information of any activities your church is doing that are friendly for under-5s (Mailchimp can be useful for this – it’s a user-friendly way to send mass mailings, and the free version has everything you need).
  2. Keep an eye out while in charity shops for any toys or puzzles featuring Bible stories, in good condition, and bring them in for your children’s corner (if you have one) or your Junior Church.
  3. Make a knitted Nativity set (Parkinson’s UK has a pattern for £10) or knitted teddies for baptism families, or child-sized vestments for “playing church,” or …
  4. Be responsible for keeping track of volunteers, organising your Junior Church volunteer rota, and reminding them when it’s their week.
  5. Cook for Messy Church, or organise cooking teams for Messy Church.
  6. Help set up and tidy up Junior Church, Messy Church, etc – anyone willing to wield a broom, stack chairs, wash dishes, hoover up sequins …
  7. Distribute leaflets around town for your crib services, Messy Church, All-Age Services, holiday clubs, etc.
  8. Set up a standing order of £10 a month for art supplies, games, etc.
  9. Graphic design skills? Make leaflets and posters for your events.
  10. Be an ally to parents of young children in the service – remind other worshippers that babies and toddlers will sometimes fuss a little and it’s okay, or give an encouraging smile to a parent, or say “you’re doing really well” to a parent wrangling three children under 5, or smile and say “I’m so glad you’re here – it’s great to have the children in church.” Often, parents tell me that this is what made the difference between coming back to church or not!
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Slides from Leading Your Church into Growth and BELIEF Bedford

Recently I had the privilege of doing a workshop on Starting Children’s Ministry at the Diocese’s “Leading Your Church Into Growth” conference, and also a lecture on “From Childhood to Maturity” in BELIEF Bedford’s “stages of life/faith” series.

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The slides for both these talks are below.

The LYCiG slide makes reference to a few “rules” when it talks about communication with families. Since I don’t explain those on the slides themselves, here’s a short summary:

The First Date rule: you can find more about that here. Basically, the idea is that after a first contact, like a first date, SOMEONE has to make the call to see if you want to see each other again. With the church/family relationship, that might as well be you! The family might be nervous about approaching the church, or just might keep forgetting to get around to it. Send them an invitation to something – make it as easy as possible for them to come back.

The Debenhams rule: I stole this one from Sandra Millar’s Baptism Matters talk – when you go to a shop and buy something, if you give them their email address, they will keep you on their mailing list until YOU ask to be taken off. They will never say, “oh well, Jane Smith hasn’t been back to Debenhams for two years, guess she’s not interested, let’s take her off our list.” The church, however, often does just this – and when many families say they come to church for Christenings but then won’t come back regularly until their children hit school age, this is really self-defeating.

The nightclub lesson: Another one from Sandra Millar. We who are used to going to church, and feel comfortable there, need to remember how scary it is for people who aren’t familiar with the culture and what happens there. You might feel unsure of yourself going into a betting shop or a hot new nightclub (or maybe not – I don’t judge), so remember those feelings of uncertainty and think how you can help people feel comfortable and like they know what to do when they come to church.

The catch and release rule: This is about the importance of getting contacts at every event where you have families. Your crib service, your Harvest festival, your Messy Church – get the details of families and then add them to mailing lists, inviting them back for whatever events are family-friendly. Invite your Messy Church families to your crib service, invite your Christening families to Messy Church – if someone finds you from one part of your church, grab their contact details and then invite them to everything.

Here are the slides:

LYCiG (Leading Your Church Into Growth)

Belief Talk – from childhood to maturity

How can pigs welcome children to church?

I had the chance to visit St. Mary’s in Baldock recently, and to my surprise I found I was sharing my pew with … a pig!

No, I’m not insulting the person sitting beside me – there was an actual pig there. All right, so it was knitted, but it was still very much of a porcine persuasion.

It turns out that these pigs, which were knitted by a member of the congregation, serve as tour guides to children who visit the church! They’re for children who come to worship, children who come on school visits – any child who wants to figure out what the bits of the church building are for can be shown around by the pigs.

There’s a little leaflet, and each pig has a sign around its neck telling the child what its job is.

(I’m willing to bet the pigs have educated many adults as well.)

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I often find myself reminding people that you don’t have to be “good with kids” to help with children’s ministry. The pigs have a huge impact on the church’s welcome, and also affects their schools ministry. But you don’t have to feel confident leading a children’s group in order to get involved. You can be a knitter, you can write the labels and print and laminate them, you can make sure the leaflets are restocked and there are pens available … these sorts of things are ways to get more of your congregation supporting your children’s work, even if they’re not comfortable doing hands-on work with the kids themselves.

Baptism case study – “Do we make it easy for them to return?”

lucyToday’s post is written by the Revd. Lucy Davis, from Flitwick Parish Church.

In the last 6 months, 19 children have been baptised in the font at Flitwick Church.  That’s 16 different families who have taken the brave step of sending an e mail or picking up the phone to a complete stranger, asking for something that feels somehow instinctively important or significant, with no certainty of what the response would entail. To the vicar of a large Parish, those messages could sometimes feel burdensome, each request signalling a new round of negotiation about dates and guests and Godparents, knowing that very few of those families would retain contact with us once the baby was ‘done.’

Following Sandra Millar’s wonderful training day Baptism Matters, I found myself needing to repent.  The Baptism liturgy talks a great deal about repenting, about turning to Christ.  And I found that it was me who needed to turn again, to be prepared to see afresh, to look outwards and see these Christenings in a new light.

“If a family asks for a Christening, we now talk about a Christening.”

blue-elephant-christening-plates-8s-11312-0-1397559603000And therein was the first turning, a turning of vocabulary.  Parents approached us asking for Christenings, and we would persist in talking about Baptism – on our website, on the phone, in our literature.  To what end?  Yes, to the end of being theologically and ecumenically correct, but also to the end of immediately excluding, of making families feel as though they were asking for the wrong thing, on the back foot and inadequate in the face of our secret Church language.  So there was the first change.  If a family asks for a Christening, we now talk about a Christening.  On the phone, by e mail, on our website. Christening it is.  I have climbed down from my high horse. At the service, we unpack these words a bit, talking about the oil of Chrism as the priest and parents mark the baby’s head.  Suggesting we dunk the baby in the font like hand washing some clothes, in keeping the original meaning of the word Baptism (this one usually met with a little light laughter).

“Do we make it easy for them to return?  Do we even invite them to return? And what would they be returning to?”

Where else have we turned?  Importantly, in our attitude to communication.  It used to be that parents would approach us, we would prepare them for their child’s Baptism, have a lovely service, wave goodbye at the door and then be disappointed when they didn’t return.  But why should they return?  Do we make it easy for them to return?  Do we even invite them to return? And what would they be returning to? The changes in us have been several. Creating a children’s area in the Church which visually communicates “You are welcome here.  We want you and your children to worship with us. We absolutely expect that will come with the noise and movement children bring.”  The difference the children’s area has made is extraordinary.  From being a church with almost no children, I have received comments like “I had no idea you were so welcoming to families.”  “We love coming here, it’s such a child friendly place.”

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We communicate our welcome with words too; all families are now quite deliberately invited to come and join us one Sunday morning before we take a Christening booking (how I hate that word!).  A simple invitation to come, very often taken up, which says at a deeper level “This is not our Church, this is your Church too.  This is not our God, this is your God too.  You belong here.  Christening is not a one off, but is surrounded by the prayer and people of this place.”

“Instead of … providing a service, we are making relationships.”

And then, after the big day, more communication.  More invitation. Another turning. Instead of lamenting the fact that we don’t see families again, we now see it as our job to keep in touch with them.  Yes, cards on the anniversary of their Christening.  But also more frequently too, using Mailchimp e mails to stay in touch, letting families know about special services, about our toddler group, about Messy Church, about social events and fetes and Christingles and  Christmas Carols.  And here is the thing: the majority of those e mails are opened and read.  We are not met with a wall of indifference.  Far from it.

So what has changed, where has this turning taking us?  Into a new relationship with our Christening families. Instead of quite literally providing a service, we are making relationships.  Some will be closer than others. Some will take longer to develop than others.  Some might yet drift and fizzle out.  But by becoming relationship builders rather than service providers, we already see the children we Baptise as members of Christ’s body, not in some distant, abstract way, but emotionally and practically, we see them as belonging.  And I am beginning to see that belonging as catching, catching hold of the families we encounter as it catches hold of us.

It Worked for Us – Baptism Follow-up

13603744465_c916f7e7ea_zAfter Sandra Millar’s wonderful day with us last November, I resolved to put a few of the tips from the Christenings Project into practice in my own church.  We have a large cohort of children in the 7 – 14 age range, but very few babies and toddlers. This has left our under-5s volunteers demoralised, and, of course, made us feel we’re missing out on the joyful presence of toddlers, and on the chance to provide a community and a place of meaning and hope for them and their parents.

And yet, we were still doing Christenings. So these families were out there! We just needed to connect with them better.

What was already in place:

We had a good Jr Church, so I felt confident that families who did start coming back to us would be happy with what they found.

We have a children’s area in the church, specifically for under-5s, with spiritually imaginative toys.

There has been a deliberate, long-term, concerted effort to make the culture of the church more welcoming to young families.

What I did:

I have a tendency to try and do Everything! At! Once! and burn out, so I restricted myself to two small changes:

  1. Send email invitations to specific events.
  2. Make sure families who come back after a Christening are welcomed.

Using Mailchimp, which is a free and pretty user-friendly website for sending mass mailings, I created a mailing list composed just of families who have had children christened in our church in the last five years.

Then, a week or two before our Crib service, our Candlemas service, our Mothering Sunday service, Holy Week, and our All-Age Trinity Sunday service, I sent very simple emails to these lists. The subject line was, “Come celebrate with us!”

IMG_20170618_104958Each email was simple and to the point – we have a toddler-friendly event coming up. Join us! We’d love to see you!

For the Crib service one, I reminded them that holding their child and singing “Silent Night” by candlelight was a special thing they wouldn’t want to miss. For the Holy Week one, I wrote a short paragraph as a “p.s.” reminding them that if they came on Easter Sunday they’d see the new Paschal candle, and they might remember it from their child’s christening. For Candlemas, I told them that we re-light all the Christening candles at the end of the service, so they can bring their child’s if they want (and if they’ve lost it, we’ll give them a new one).

And then I put three people on notice to spot any families with toddlers who they didn’t recognise, and make sure they got talked to after the service.

What happened:

At first, very little. Our Crib service was the usual – neighbourhood children who we see once a year – and the sheets we put in our service sheet asking for contact details were mostly ignored. Candlemas and Mothering Sunday were our usual older children and not much else.

But over the last few months, there’s been a slow upward shift. Here’s what’s happened:

  1. Christening families have started coming back – and not just to our all-age services, but to other Sundays as well.
  2. Thanks to having people on hand to welcome them, they’ve formed relationships with people at church – not just with the vicar and myself.
  3. Knowing that I had people prepared to welcome new parents meant I was less stressed after the service – if I had to go deal with something else, or eight other people needed to talk to me, and I didn’t get to greet the new family, I knew someone else would.
  4. Our under-5s volunteers now feel confident that when they prepare a Jr Church session, there will be some kids there to participate in it.  Their morale has improved.
  5. The parents know that there is a good Jr Church there and so they feel comfortable bringing their kids. (NB: if you don’t have Jr Church, then think about what you can do on Sundays to make families of toddlers feel more comfortable being there. Children’s corners, welcomers, a reminder from the vicar to the congregation to help out parents who need an extra hand … ).

There are three Christening families who I would now consider “regular” attendees of our church (which means 2 – 3 Sundays a month), with 5 young children between them.  There’s a fourth family we might see every 6 weeks or so. For a church our size, this is significant, and means that we now have what feels like a “group” at that age. (This also means that any new families who come now won’t feel like the only family with toddlers.)

What I Learned:

  1. You need a few allies in the congregation – to welcome the new parents, to be on hand to help them during the service, to negate the effects of the “sssshhhhh” brigade or say “it’s okay – they’re just playing” to anyone giving the stink-eye to a non-disruptive child.
  2.  Sandra was right – repetition matters. One invitation isn’t going to get results. Ten invitations will.
  3. Several of the families who have come back have said they were planning to come back anyway when their children got a bit older – parents of babies and toddlers are hesitant to come to church out of fear of being disruptive. Assurance that it’s okay if their kids are behaving like kids might help them come back a little earlier than they were planning to. And if it doesn’t, then it’s important to keep up the invitations for at least five years after the Christening, so that when they are ready to come back, they know what’s going on and that they’re welcome.
  4. Keep it as simple as possible: “It’s Christmas. There’s a Crib service. Christmas Eve, 4 pm. It’ll be lovely and moving. Come and bring your kids.”

Getting Started slides from 15th March

pray-and-play8When I run training sessions, I often refer people to this blog to get the slides I used – these are for the “Getting Started in Children’s Ministry” training held on 15th March 2017 at St Andrew’s in Biggleswade. Click on the link at the bottom to download.

Topics include:

Opportunities for mission and ministry

Creating a culture of welcome

A video clip from Rev on how NOT to manage change

Answers from lots of clergy and children’s workers on “what do you do when people complain about children making noise in the service?”

Baptism/Christenings

A resource list

Children’s corners (Pray and Play areas)

Getting Started

 

First Dates by the Manger

I set up two of my friends recently – they had a lot in common, they seemed to be looking for what the other one had to offer, and I thought they’d get on.

They agreed to meet up and they went out! There were candles, there was poetry … all the ingredients of a special occasion.

A few weeks later, I asked one of them if there had been a second date.

“No,” she said. “I really liked him!  He gave all the right signals, but then he never called … guess he didn’t want me after all.”

So I went to my other friend and asked why he’d never arranged a second date.

“Well,” he said. “I organised the first one. I reckoned if she was keen, she’d call me, and set up a second date. It’s a shame – I really liked her.”

This story is made up. While I am, in fact, responsible for introducing TWO of the couples in my immediate circle ninebreaker-at-deviantart-madonna-and-childof friends, this particular matchmaking venture didn’t take place. This is, in fact, a fictional version of the elusive courtship relationship your church has with young families.

Your church wants young families. Young families want a friendly and meaningful religious community where they feel welcomed, loved, cared for, and wanted. You meet up for a Crib Service – there are candles and poetry, and it’s a really special event. You smile at each other and say how lovely it was to meet up, and you’d love to do it again.

And then you both sit at home, waiting for the other to make the first move.

Research from the Christenings Project shows that families WANT the church to stay in touch. They want to be invited back to special events and to family-friendly services. But families are busier than ever, they’re nervous about their child’s behaviour in church, and they don’t know what’s happening at your church if you don’t tell them. So you need to make the effort. You need to reach out. You need to woo.

This Christmas Eve, why not hand families who come to your Crib Service a small sheet of paper with a space for them to write down their name, their child(ren)’s name(s), their email address, and whether they’d like to be contacted about future events?  You know they like you – they’ve come to your Crib Service!

Have someone at the back of the church at the end of the service to gather these papers in and hand out something special to take home (a chocolate coin, a cut-out-and-keep Nativity, or something else).  Then add these email addresses to your mailing list and invite them back for Candlemas … Mothering Sunday … Holy Week … toddler group … holiday club … and don’t take them off the list unless they ask you to! Conventional wisdom in the marketing world is that people need to be reminded of something seven times before they’ll take action on it. Keep inviting them back.

After all, that’s what God does, isn’t it? He goes out into the highways and the byways and says “we’re having a feast! Come on in!”  And he keeps asking, and keeps asking, because he loves us so much and he wants us to be together, near him – he calls his people to be his Bride.  Let’s model that persistent courtship in our churches.

(And if anyone wants my services as a real-life matchmaker, do get in touch. I can provide two happy couples as references! One couple was even introduced to each other, by me, in a church. So you never know …)

Baptism Matters

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Last Thursday, we had a brilliant day’s training on Baptisms with Sandra Millar, Head of Projects and Development for the Archbishops’ Council.

You can follow the day by looking at the #BaptismMatters tweets, but here, off the top of my head, are the Top Ten Things I Remember:

  1. The public calls it a christening, not a baptism. The word “christening” is searched for on Google 12 times as often as “baptism.” When someone rings the church and asks for a christening, they shouldn’t get the reply, “actually, we call it a baptism.” The first word should be “congratulations!” When a couple calls to ask for a wedding, we don’t say, “actually, it’s a marriage service.” We explain that during the wedding, the couple will be married – same for babies. During a christening, the child will be baptised.
  2. In the service itself, symbols matter much more than words. Candle, the oil on the baby’s forehead, the water – these are what parents remember as meaningful. We don’t need to intellectually understand music to find it moving, and the same is true of liturgy. Understanding can come later.
  3. Parents want us to do the God talk. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
  4. Parents want to hear language of a journey – a christening is a step on a journey. They’re thinking about the big questions, and we can walk with them.
  5. Godparents really matter. Over 90% of parents said that a big reason for choosing a christening was so their child would have godparents. How can we support and celebrate the godparent/godchild relationship during preparation, the service itself, and afterwards?
  6. Feeling warmly welcomed and celebrated on the day of the service matters to parents.
  7. Guests matter. These people are the child’s community. They are special to the family. They probably have very little experience of church – how can we include them in the service and make them feel welcomed and valued?
  8. The Church of England Christenings website has information for parents, godparents, and guests, as well as the chance to light a virtual candle (and share on social media that you’ve done so) and a church-facing side for clergy and other church workers.  There’s also a Faith at Home newsletter that parents can sign up for.
  9. There are also lots of resources on the Church Print Hub, including prayer magnets for godparents, prayer bookmarks for guests, and resources for Godparents’ Sunday. Many can be personalised with the contact information and logo of your own church.
  10. Follow-up matters. Many parents want the church to invite them to things. Get contact information and permission from christening families and send them invitations whenever you have something coming up that’s appropriate for young children. Don’t take them off your list unless they ask to be removed!

Ministry With Under-5s Day: further resources

Last Saturday, we had a wonderful day on Ministry With Under-5s.  As part of it, I did a whistle-stop tour through the idea of Pray and Play corners – my slides are below, if anyone would like to share the presentation or be reminded of what was covered.

Some other takeaways from the day include:

Ellie Wilson did our keynote address. While she has unfortunately left her post in the Diocese of Leeds, her legacy includes support of “1277: Make Them Count” and also the Toddler Group Research Project, which will be published soon – check back here for more!

Vicki Howie, who did a wonderful workshop on Storytelling with under-5s, recently did a Childrenswork article on a similar topic, which you can find here.

30844981952_3df1f5dc22_kJenny Paddison introduced us to Starting Rite, which is a 5-week programme of spiritual nurture for carers and babies together, based on the type of course run by Sure Start centres. You can learn more here.

Carolynn Pritchard led a workshop on liturgical worship with children – many of her ideas can be found on the Spiritual Child Network page. (There’s also a Facebook group of 700+ members, which I’ve found invaluable on many occasions, for ideas and inspiration.)

Victoria Beech and Becky May did a workshop on music and multi-sensory worship – they both do wonderful Faith at Home work as well. Victoria runs GodVenture, and Becky and her husband Adam are the Treasure Box People.

Any other resources you have for Under-5s are more than welcome – please do leave a comment.

PDF of Pray and Play Corners presentation: pray-and-play-corners