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WHEN children are sent out of our church services to do their own activities, it’s easy to imagine they’re doing Sunday School as we used to. We may think they sit in serried ranks while teachers lecture them about Bible stories and help them to drill memory verses.
However, just as regular lessons in our schools have been transformed, so have Sunday morning activities in our churches. For a start, it’s probably not called ‘Sunday School’ any more. And what they do should involve more fun than in our day.
Typically, children will be split into different groups for pre-schoolers, infant school and junior school age groups. Some churches will have groups for 11 to 14-year-olds and perhaps even a youth group for teenagers in the evening.
Volunteers will prepare sessions during the week, which may include games, art and craft, interactive storytelling, prayer and discussion. Older children may enjoy discussing passages from the Bible, or help to lead younger children.
But learning facts about the Bible or the Christian faith is perhaps less important these days than giving children time and space to respond to the stories they hear and exploring what faith might mean for them.
At Holy Rood Church in Stubbington, the children’s work has been rebranded as ‘Crofton Kids’. This includes Sunday morning groups, their Saturday afternoon family fun days and their midweek toddler group Little FIsh. They even have a mascot, Crofton Cat (pictured below), who appears regularly.
On a typical Sunday morning, children sing a few songs with the rest of the congregation before splitting into separate groups. Parents, babies and toddlers head for Wrigglers, while a dozen or so three and four-year-olds go to Scramblers. They enjoy singing songs, listening to stories, and responding to what they’ve heard using play-dough, glue and paint.
Volunteers welcome up to 25 five to seven-year-olds for Climbers and another 15 or so seven to 11-year-olds form Explorers. Those groups are growing so large that they have to meet together in the church’s biggest hall.
They’ll sing along to action songs played on a video screen and act out Bible stories together - before splitting into their Climbers and Explorers groups for games and activities that reflect that day’s theme.
Meanwhile the 11 to 14-year-olds head upstairs where they can relax on comfy sofas, read Bible stories and discuss issues with their leaders. They are also tackling Youth Alpha on a Sunday afternoon. The older teenagers have a midweek homegroup and meet once a month on a Sunday morning.
Curates Dan and Jude Greenfield head up this work alongside children and families support worker Heather Brown, and a network of volunteers who meet regularly to compare notes. Those volunteers all wear blue, Crofton Kids-branded t-shirts on a Sunday morning, so that parents know who is running each group.
Lindsey Davies brings her 10-year-old daughter Ruby regularly to Crofton Kids at Holy Rood. “It’s a lovely community, and there’s a full age range of children and adults, so plenty of people to make friends with,” she said. “They love learning more about Jesus.”
And Liz Mawdsley, who brings her daughter, Ava, 4, said: “People are really welcoming. There’s so much going on for children, including the Saturday family days and the midweek toddler group.”
Jess Wedick is one of the volunteers. She has been leading Scramblers for the past few months. “My son is in the group, which helps me to know what will work with children who are that age,” she said. “We are given resources to use, but I’m a teacher, so I do a mixture of that and my own stuff. You have to keep any talking short and have lots of activities.”
And Lis Olaniyan, who regularly leads the Climbers group, said: “Children’s ministry is really important to help them develop their understanding and to learn to love Jesus. My own children talk about things they’ve learnt at church, and it’s exciting because they are the next generation of the Church.”
As in many churches, Holy Rood Church also offers regular all-age services, where the children don’t meet in separate groups, but remain in the church service with the adults. These ‘all-in’ services happen at Harvest, Mothering Sunday and within school holidays.
And its family fun days happen six times a year, from 2pm-3.30pm on Saturdays. The whole church and church centre is taken over with a challenge zone, glamour zone, craft zone, build zone, café zone and more, finishing with a family worship time, helping the whole family to have fun and learn together.
It’s especially aimed at those who might not choose to come on a Sunday morning, and several families have gravitated from Saturday afternoons to Sunday mornings.
Our diocese’s youth and children’s work adviser Bethan Fogell can provide the resources and support that your church may need if it is seeking to launch or develop the activities it offers for children on a Sunday morning. That might involve using published material like Roots or Energise, or helping to create bespoke material.
Bethan has also launched an initiative for 2020 asking every church to nominate a Youth and Children’s Mission and Ministry Champion. These Champions will meet in deanery ‘hub’ groups to share good practice and ideas and to find out about new resources that might support their work with children and young people.
Bethan is planning to work with the newly appointed champions to find out what training and support would be most useful for people volunteering with children and young people in their churches, and she aims to offer some specific training in leading children’s ministry later this year.
She said: “We want to make church a place where all children and young people feel welcome to come and have fun, engage with the Christian in faith in exciting and innovative ways, and explore what this faith might mean for them.
“There is still a place for Sunday children’s groups in many churches and we can be creative about what these look like! If you would like any support with rethinking and re-energising your children’s ministry, I’d love to hear from you.”’
For more information and resources, see: www.portsmouth.anglican.org/children.
Gosport Road, Crofton, PO14 2AS