A litany for blessing a children’s space in a church

This can be used for a new Pray and Play area, for a Junior Church room, a Godly Play room, or any space used by children.

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You will need: a bowl of holy water and rosemary branches or other branches

The people gather in the space, ensuring children can see what’s happening.

Leader: a reading from the Gospel according to Matthew.

Little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

This is the word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

The leader invites the children to enter the space and touch something as she or he says:

Leader: Lord, thank you for this space. Thank you for the children who will use it. Help us to use it to know you, to love you, and to play with the stories of our Christian faith.

All: Amen!

The leader invites the children to hold the hand of one of their adults.

Leader: Lord, thank you for all the people in this church, of every age. Help us to love each other, to welcome each other, and to learn from each other.

All: Amen!

Each child gets a branch, dips it in the holy water, and shakes the branch to bless the space with the water, as the leader says.

Leader: Bless this space, O Lord, which this community has made. May it be a place where the children come to you and find welcome and a home.

The leader then sprinkles holy water over the children, saying:

Through their play, may they come to claim your stories and the worship of your church as their own. May they know you as they are known by you, and love you as they are loved by you.

And finally, the leader and the children together sprinkle holy water over the whole congregation, as the leader says:

And may we all be open to the awe and wonder, the joy and creativity, of play, becoming as little children so we may know you better.

All: Amen.

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Making the most of your occasional Christmas contacts

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Hey everyone, it’s CRIB SERVICE AND NATIVITY PREP SEASON, otherwise known as Advent, and that means you may have LOTS of families come through your doors who you don’t see much of the rest of the year.

This is an opportunity to get these families onto your mailing list and send them regular updates and invitations about what’s happening at your church.

If you don’t have a mailing list, then start putting one together. Mailchimp is an excellent (and free) platform for easily sending professional-quality mass emails – if you have twenty minutes, you can learn how to use it via this tutorial.

And to save you the hassle of re-inventing the wheel, I’ve developed an insert for you to put in the service sheets of all your events – crib service, nativity, school services, etc. – so any families who want to be invited to future events can let you know.

You can download the insert here:

Follow-up information sheet (note: once the file opens, click on “Enable editing” at the top, and the weird formatting should fix itself.)

Pray and Play inspiration

A church sent me photos of their brand new Pray and Play space today. This is always so exciting, and I love seeing these creative places where children can worship through play. They’re not quite done with theirs yet, so I’m waiting to share their photos, but it reminded me I took a full set of photos of my own a few weeks back and haven’t yet shown them!

Ours is mostly used:

  1. At the beginning and end of services, when toddlers aren’t in their Sunday School groups.
  2. During All-Age Worship.
  3. Over the summer, when we have no Sunday School.

This means it’s predominantly used by under-5s, and was designed with them in mind.

These photos give an overall view of the space. In the second photo you can see that it’s positioned in the south aisle – you still have a clear view of the altar.

Spaces at the very back can make it hard to see what’s going on, while those at the very front can sometimes make parents feel nervous and exposed – especially if you’re late, and there are no side aisles, so you have to do the Walk of Shame, with a fussy toddler, to reach the space at all.

There are chairs around the edges, so parents and carers can stay with their children, and the Good Shepherd poster on the wall is from McCrimmons.

Carpets like that are available from most educational supply stores, or from Amazon or Dunelm or the like. Ours cost £60. The altar is a £5 IKEA plastic table with a metre of fabric in the appropriate liturgical colour over it.

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Here’s a closer view of the altar. This is NOT at its best! The crucifix was inherited – I’d prefer one that didn’t have small pieces that could break off, and I’ll be buying a new one soon. We used to have a toy metal chalice and paten from Articles of Faith – they’ve discontinued it and have only the expensive one now. We used to also have IKEA wooden bread that “broke” via velcro in the middle – also now lost. So these are fill-the-gap bits, but they do the job for now! (That’s a wooden egg cup, by the way.)

1 metre each of red, green, white, and purple fabric will see you through the year.

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The back of the chair makes an excellent bookshelf … these are all great titles. The book on the Creed was made and illustrated by the Sunday School a few years back. Soft Noah’s Ark toys make less noise when a toddler hits them against stone church floors. You can buy one here (note: this is my company, so, conflict of interest alert) or here.

We have some puzzles of different Bible stories, and a bunch of themed baskets. We’re not rigid about how the toys are played with – kids can mix and match bits from different baskets. About once a month or so I go through and re-organise it all, which takes about 10-15 minutes.

There used to be laminated Contents lists in each basket – of course these got lost. If I were doing it again, I’d punch a hole through a corner and tie them onto the handles of the baskets.

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One of my favourite themed baskets is our Good Shepherd one. You can buy the shepherd and sheep set here. I’ve added a few railings from model railway sets to make a sheep pen – and if you look closely, you can see I’ve also added a piece of circular green felt to be grass and some strips of blue felt to be water. A couple plastic sheep have also found their way in over the years – that’s okay, Jesus says he has other sheep not of this flock! I added the book to give it a bit of context. You could include a book of the 23rd Psalm as well, if you liked. (I use wicker baskets from Argos, with liners, which can be taken out and washed.)

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The Baptism basket has a doll in a baptism dress (also available through Mustard Seed Kids), a shell, and a candle. There used to be a wooden dove – it appears and disappears at random, rather like the Holy Spirit itself …

Sometimes I’ve sent this basket home with a family preparing for a baptism where there is an older sibling. They can play at baptising “their” baby.

I may add a book for kids about baptism to this basket as well.

 

 

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The Easter one has some deep levels of symbolism which I’m sure many of the kids don’t understand, but which I include anyway, because it helps to build awareness of the symbols. The caterpillar and butterfly are symbolic of resurrection, and the globe stress ball indicates that Jesus’s death and resurrection saved the whole world. This also has our Jesus doll (you can buy it here – though they seem to have made him look more European since we got ours, which is a shame), and donkey and sheep hand puppets. The sheep symbolising Jesus as the lamb of God, and the donkey for Palm Sunday. This is also where the bread and egg-cup-wine-goblet were before we had to press them into service on the altar – to represent the Last Supper.

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I bet you can guess what this one is.

We got this toy church from Beulah Enterprises in the US (now part of The Sunday Paper) – you may want to go for the wooden church available from Articles of Faith (again, everyone’s White!! And the baby is literally glued to mum, so nobody else can hold it), which has a wide range of interior fittings, or the Happyland Church (store the wedding couple and coach separately, buy a bunch of ordinary Happyland figures to be the congregation, and bring out the bride and groom when you have a wedding). Playmobil also have a church, but that’s more appropriate for older kids and is very easily taken completely apart in minutes by an enthusiastic group of 7-year-olds – ask me how I know.

Finally – we put in a temporary 5-11 table over the summer, with plain paper, comic strip templates and speech bubbles, and some meditative colouring, since we had no Sunday School. We found that it was very popular, and, once Sunday School started up again, helped ease them back into church.

I don’t advise colouring being the extent of the Christian formation you have for primary-aged children, but as part of it, there’s nothing wrong with it. As long as it’s not completely banal imagery with preachy moralistic messages. This Psalms in Color (American spelling) book was about £10 and I photocopy a few pages when supplies run low. Far from being a distraction, keeping children’s hands busy helps settle them and enable them to concentrate more on worship.

In the future, I’d like to add a Pentecost basket and one with items related to our patron saint. You can get more ideas in our Pray and Play leaflet, which you can download here: Pray and Play Corners

Free Crib Service plan!

I know, it’s October, but you’re probably already planning Christmas.

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If you have a crib service that’s mostly attended by children who haven’t experienced Advent, here’s a fairly simple plan that allows you to include a bit of waiting, a bit of expectation, and a bit of context for the coming of the Saviour.

The outline is a shortened version of the Christmas liturgy in my book, There is a Season – we have a copy in the Diocesan Resource Centre if you’d like to borrow it and see the full version. The Adam and Eve story is adapted from the Beulah Land feltboard story – we also have a Beulah Land set available for you to borrow. Many of the other readings are adapted from Miracle Maker: a life of Jesus, retold and remembered, by Mary Joslin.

The service should last approximately half an hour.

YOU WILL NEED:

Your church’s crib scene

A bunch of stuffed animals – placed in the pews ahead of the service

Candles for the congregation

Any visual elements you’d like to add to the first story.

A few readers, ideally a mix of children and adults (there are five readings – some people can do more than one reading if you don’t have five readers)

A few helpers to greet people as they enter, light candles, and turn off church lights (again, these can be children and/or adults)

Either some way of accompanying the carols OR a few very strong singers to lead them a cappella

SERVICE PLAN:

The service leaders welcome the congregation.

LEADER: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  In him was life, and the life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

READER ONE: 

In the beginning, God made the world.

He made a man and a woman,

And put them in a beautiful garden.

They had everything they needed.

They were safe.

But the snake said, “did God say you can’t eat any of the fruit in the garden?”

And the woman said,

“we may eat of any of the trees,

But not of the tree in the middle of the garden,

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

For God has said that if we touch this tree, we will die.”

The snake said, “you will not die.

If you eat from that tree, you’ll be just like God.

You can do whatever you want.

You’ll be just as big and special as God.

Come on. Try it.”

So the man and the woman ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

But it didn’t make then big and special.

It made them ashamed.adam-eve2.jpg

They were ashamed of their thoughts.

They were ashamed of their bodies.

And they couldn’t live in the garden any more.

They had to go out into the world, and work hard, and feel pain, and die.

But God did not forget them.

God began the long work of saving them.

And that’s our story.

CAROL: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

LEADER: Let us pray.

This is just one type of prayer suggestion – feel free to use a different one! This one uses our hands. Parents with babies can be encouraged to touch their baby’s hands.

With our thumb, we make a thumbs-up sign and say thank you to God for all the good things in the world, and the good things about ourselves.

(If you like, you can invite people to share with each other or with the whole congregation)

With our pointer finger, we point around the room and pray for everybody here.

With our big tall strong middle finger, we pray for people who are big and strong and powerful. We pray they make the right decisions.

With our ring finger, we pray for our families, especially anybody who isn’t here, or who has died, that we miss very much at Christmas time.

With our tiny little pinky finger, we pray for everyone who is small, or powerless. We pray that the God who came into the world as a tiny powerless baby will keep them safe and be with them.

And now we make a big circle on our palm as we pray for the whole entire world.

AMEN.

Loving God, as we hear the story of how God sent Jesus to save us, let us pray that our hearts, like those of the prophets, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men, may be open to receiving Jesus into our world and our lives. AMEN.

READER TWO:

The reader asks everyone to check their pews for a stuffed animal. What animals do you have? Do these animals get along or do they fight? Which are predators? Which are prey?

Explain that we’re about to hear a story of what it’s like in God’s Kingdom, where predators and prey get along. Ask everyone to listen VERY CAREFULLY for the words “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.” When they hear these words, bring up your animals and place them around the empty crib scene!  

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There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb …

(Pause for the chaos of everyone bringing their animals up. Comment, if you like, on how beautiful the scene of all the animals living in peace is. But that crib is still empty! We’re still waiting for the person who brings this peace! Then continue the reading. Repeat “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb” if needed.)

and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

If necessary, re-arrange the stuffed animals to make room for the figures.

Carol: Away in a Manger, 2 or 3 verses

READER THREE:

God sent the angel Gabriel to a town named Nazareth. The angel had a message for a girl promised in marriage to a man named Joseph. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “peace be with you! The Lord has greatly blessed you!”

Mary was deeply troubled, and wondered what the words meant. The angel noticed the fear and wonder in her eyes and spoke again.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel said. “God has chosen you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be the Son of the Most High God.”

Mary was perplexed. “How can I have a baby?” she asked. “I’m not even a wife yet, so how can I become a mother?”

The angel’s answer was simple. “God’s power will make it happen.”

Mary thought for a moment.  She had been brought up to live by God’s laws. Now she was older, that was what she herself wanted to do. If this message was truly from God, then she knew what her answer would be.

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“I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it happen to me as you have said.”

And the angel left her.

Invite people from the congregation to add the figures of Mary and the angel to the crib scene.

If you want to extend the service, you can add wondering questions, or prayer stations, or a reflection here.

Carol: Once In Royal David’s City 

READER FOUR:

Mary was heavily pregnant now, and so tired. Then the pains of labour were upon her – it seemed certain that the baby was going to be born while she was far away from home, here, in Bethlehem. “Oh, Joseph,” she cried. “We have travelled so far and need a place to stay, but all the rooms for travellers are full. What shall we do?”

Joseph was not dismayed. Months earlier, in a dream, the angel told him to take care of Mary and her baby. He must now do what he thought best – and trust God that all would be well.

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“Dear Mary,” he said, “here is a stable where we can shelter. There is clean straw, enough room to lie down, and the cold night breezes cannot chill us.”

There, among the animals, Jesus was born. The son of God. Not in a palace or a safe hospital, but in a stable.  Mary wrapped her baby in swaddling clothes. Joseph piled straw into an ancient stone manger, to make it into a cradle. There, Mary laid her baby.

Invite people from the congregation forward to add the figures of Joseph and the animals to the crib scene. Then invite a very young child (with carer) to place the figure of baby Jesus. 

Carol: Silent Night.

During this carol, light the congregation’s candles and turn off the lights in the church.

When “Silent Night” is finished:

LEADER: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! Those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, upon them has light shined!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, the Prince of Peace!

The lights in the church are turned back on and candles are extinguished.

Carol: O Come, All Ye Faithful.

READER FIVE:

This poem is called “The Shepherds’ Carol.”  It imagines what the shepherds might have said to Mary when they arrived at the stable.

We stood on the hills, Lady,

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Our day’s work done,

Watching the frosted meadows

That winter had won.

 

The evening was calm, Lady,

The air so still,

Silence more lovely than music,

Folded the hill.

 

There was a star, Lady,

Shone in the night,

Larger than Venus it was,

And bright, so bright.

 

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,

It seemed to us then

Telling of God being born

In the world of men.

 

And so we have come, Lady,

Our day’s work done,

Our love, our hopes, ourselves,

We give to your son.

 

People are invited forward to add the shepherds to the crib scene.

Carol: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

PRAYERS:

LEADER: Let us pray to Jesus our Saviour.

Jesus, whose mother was Mary,

Bless our families. Jesus, Saviour,

All: Hear our prayer.

LEADER: Christ, born in a stable,

give courage to all who are homeless. Jesus, Saviour,

All: Hear our prayer.

LEADER: Christ, worshipped by the shepherds,

give peace on earth. Jesus, Saviour,

All: Hear our prayer.

LEADER: Christ, whose light filled a lowly manger,

give the glory of your resurrection to all who rest in you.

Jesus, Saviour,

All: Hear our prayer.

 

All: Jesus, Saviour, child of Mary,

you know us and love us, you share our lives

and hear our prayer. Glory to you for ever. Amen

 

LEADER:

May the joy of the angels,

the eagerness of the shepherds,

the perseverance of the wise men,

the obedience of Joseph and Mary,

and the peace of the Christ-child

be yours this Christmas;

and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Be among you and remain with you always.

All: Amen.

 

LEADER: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

All: In the name of Christ, Amen.

 

Carol: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

 

For some tips of how to make the most of the contact you have at this service with families you only see at Christmas, check out “First Dates By The Manger.”

Baby loss services – tips for worship leaders

Every so often, someone calls my office or sends me an email – “I’m leading a service for Baby Loss Awareness Week – got any tips?”

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They’re asking partly because this sort of falls under my remit as Children’s Mission Enabler – these services are a ministry to families, and often, other children are involved either at the time of the loss or later. Providing a meaningful place to honour and remember the life of their child can create a deep pastoral relationship with a family for years to come. But they’re also asking because they know I’m a bereaved parent myself – my son Isaac died at birth in 2015. So I’ve seen these services from both sides – as a parent, and as a leader. And here is what I’ve learned:

  1. Connect with your local SANDS group. You can find your nearest group here. Not only can they help you plan an appropriate service, they can help publicise your service to families. You may also want to contact local hospital chaplains – many hospitals do annual memorial services and might have some tips, or service sheets from past years you can use.
  2. The service itself should probably be about half an hour long, at most. People may want to stay afterwards and talk – and this may actually be longer than the service itself. Plan for this time and provide lots of refreshments.
  3. Generally, regardless of what else is done in terms of music, readings, remarks, etc., the two things that these types of services consistently include are: a time to read off the names of the babies being remembered (usually before or while people can light candles), and something to take home as a memorial (the Baby Loss Awareness Week pins are good). Have a list people can add their baby’s name to as they enter, so they don’t have to send anything in advance.
  4. The delegate pack from an event we did on baby and child funerals is attached to the bottom of this post – this can provide ideas for readings and music.
  5. You may have children in attendance – siblings or cousins, both before and after the loss. It’s worth considering that this is potentially an All-Age event. Remember in your welcome to include parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – “whoever you are, you are grieving a baby you loved today, and we welcome you.”
  6. Some families may have made the awful decision to terminate a pregnancy after a diagnosis, or because of risk to the mother’s health or life. Others may have had to decide to turn off life support. They may be struggling with feelings of guilt, and worried the church might condemn them. Some may be dealing with a loss from decades ago when stillbirth wasn’t considered a “real” loss.
  7. And finally – this will probably be emotionally draining for you as a leader. Plan your diary for the hours after the event accordingly. Whatever is restorative to you, make sure you include some of that. And don’t expect to be able to go straight from a baby loss service to leading a wedding rehearsal, or Messy Church, or a funeral visit, or whatever … take care of yourself.

If you want a more detailed conversation about any of these issues, do get in touch. And please remember, if you are leading one of these services, how much it means to the families simply to have their baby remembered and named. Thank you so much for doing it.

Download: Funeral Ideas for Delegate Pack

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.

 

 

 

More about spiritual play, with adorable photos

Some of you might remember this post from March, showing J, the son of one of our Diocese’s curates. J spends a lot of time hanging out at church with his dad, and has started “playing church” at home, including processions.

J has now had a birthday, and some parishioners have made him vestments. His dad has given me permission to share these photos. Unfortunately, there isn’t a replicable pattern available for these vestments – however, I imagine if you have a keen sewer or two in your church, they could probably figure something out, using Nativity costume patterns for the alb and making a chasuble pattern from scratch (it’s basically a circle).

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Here you will notice J has graduated from a soup ladle to a broom for his processional cross.

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J is using the soft “My Mass Kit” from the Diocesan Resource Centre – this is available for you to borrow!
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J’s dad has captioned this one, “ready for Walsingham.”

What strikes me about these pictures is how well they illustrate the concept of enculturation, which you may have heard me talk about if you’ve come to some of our training events.

Enculturation is “the gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a culture or group by a person, another culture, etc.” It’s not education – the passing on of knowledge, facts, etc. It’s not entertainment – “the kids loved it!” It’s a process of being alongside someone as they acquire a particular way of life. It’s what makes us feel part of a group.

It’s how we start to feel like a “real member” of something – whether it’s a fandom, a supporter of a particular football team, a resident of a new place we’ve moved to. We learn “how we do things here, and why.” And John Westerhoff argued at the Household of Faith conference in 2013 that it’s how we make Christians. We show them, through received ways of being and doing, what it means to live out our baptismal promises.

Enculturation comes from a shared set of values, a shared authority, a shared tradition, and a shared story. Christian values – feeding the poor, caring for God’s creation, praying for each other, sharing in the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, etc. Christian authority – for Anglicans, it’s the three-legged stool of Scripture, tradition, and reason, with the words and actions of Jesus being our paramount authority. Shared traditions – our worship, our ways of celebrating and remembering and drawing close to God (note how J stands at the altar, arms in a toddler version of orans position). And our shared story – that Biblical journey from “once upon a time” to happily ever after, that is full of exile and loss, return and redemption, that tells us of a loving and faithful God who would die to save us and all creation. Being a part of all this is what forms the basis of a Christian life.

Where in your church are opportunities for children to become enculturated? For them to learn by doing, alongside people of all ages, what it means to be a Christian?

And if there aren’t any, where’s a place where that can start?

Starting Rite

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One of the best books I’ve read in the last few years has been Starting Rite: Spiritual nurture for babies and their parents, by Jenny Paddison. Jenny has also come down to do some introductory training for the Diocese at two of our events. Starting Rite is a 5-week course based around play and conversation, introducing parents to concepts of Christianity and encouraging them to engage with and bond with their babies.

It can also be used as a baptism preparation/follow-up course.

Here’s what the publisher has to say:

When Anglican priest Jenny Paddison became a mother, there were numerous activities for new parents and their babies on offer: baby yoga, baby massage, baby swimming – but nothing from the church.

In response, she created this five session programme that connects with the immense sense of wonder and joy that new parents experience and provides spiritual nurture from the outset, recognising the innate capacity for spirituality with which we are born.

Starting Rite is designed specifically for babies up to a year old and their parents. It provides a complete practical companion to offering the programme locally, including story scripts, simple songs, ideas for multi-sensory play, as well as lists of equipment needed and how to create a welcoming atmosphere. It explores Christian themes though activities like peek-a-boo, blowing bubbles and splashing in water.

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Starting Rite enables local churches to offer a welcome to all new parents, and can also be used as a baptism preparation course.”

Starting Rite is excellent for reaching out to unchurched people. It’s a great place to start if you have few or no children and want to make your first steps in children’s ministry. Or it can be a fabulous way to refresh and expand on existing baptism or toddler group ministry.

Feedback from Jenny’s sessions was very positive, but a lot of people said, “it’s a lot of work to put the resources together to run the course – and a lot of money.”

So, very slowly, but surely, I’ve started putting the resources together. By the end of this year, I hope to have a set of 5 boxes, plus the book, available to be borrowed all together by churches who want to run this course. We’ll then get Jenny down to do some proper training on the course and address any questions or concerns you might have. So WATCH THIS SPACE, and if you’re not subscribed to Children’s Ministry News, contact youthoffice@stalbans.anglican.org to be sure you hear about the training when it’s scheduled.

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!

Life Events book klaxon!

life-eventsThe Revd Dr Sandra Millar’s new Life Events book has just come out, and you can order it here.

Here is what the publisher has to say:

Baptism, weddings and funerals bring the Church of England into close contact with hundreds of thousands of people every year.

The ministry offered by local churches at these key times of life has been the subject of a widespread study with the aim of fostering best practice and deepening theological and biblical understanding of the occasional offices.

Here, Sandra Millar, who led this study and has presented its findings to over half of all dioceses so far, shares its contents and offers many practical suggestions – often from local parish practice- for enriching the quality and depth of pastoral support offered at these highly significant moments.

Grounded in rigorous research, this volume includes the research findings, biblical reflection, practical ideas and questions for reflection.

Every church in the Diocese should have received the PCC Discussion Booklet that goes with this book – if you would like more copies, you can get them here.

Since this blog focuses on children’s ministry, you might think the baptisms part is the only relevant bit – but children are guests and participants at weddings and funerals as well, and it’s worth thinking how to include them and make those events meaningful for them. You can find lots of ideas in the individual sections of the Church Support Hub website, and also on my Pinterest boards:

Children at Weddings and Funerals

Baptism

Have you tried something with baptism, weddings, or funerals that’s worked well? Let me know about it in the comments!