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

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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.”

Nursery Rhyme Christening

Inspired by Simon Rundell’s Nursery Rhyme Mass, I’ve had a crack at writing some Nursery Rhyme texts for a baptism. They’re copied below – feel free to use them in churches and share them with others, but please do credit me.

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To the tune of “London Bridge Is Falling Down”

The oil goes on Sophie’s head, Sophie’s head, Sophie’s head,

The oil goes on Sophie’s head, for a blessing.

The water goes on Sophie’s head, Sophie’s head, Sophie’s head,

The water goes on Sophie’s head, now she’s christened!

The candle goes to Sophie’s home, Sophie’s home, Sophie’s home,

The candle goes to Sophie’s home, God is with her!

 

(Some fudging of the rhythm may be needed, depending on the child’s name – you can always just use “the baby” or “the child” instead of the name.)

 

To the tune of “Baa Baa, Black Sheep”

This can go right after the baptism itself

Welcome, welcome, to our family!

God has chosen you and me.

Washed in the water, together on the way,

We welcome the little one who’s joined us today.

 

To the tune of “Wind the Bobbin Up”

This can be used at the blessing over the water. A gesture can be given for “thank you,” so children can participate in actions throughout the song.

Pour the water in, pour the water in, splash! Splash! Clap clap clap!

Pour the water in, pour the water in, splash! Splash! Clap clap clap!

Thank you to Jesus, God up above!

Thank you for water, thank you for love!

We have come together, now we pray,

God, make this water special today!

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

 

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!

Christenings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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