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Ringing in the changes

What happens when we notice that things may need to change in our community group? Becky May is a volunteer children’s and youth leader with over 20 years’ experience, and is well versed in the response: “But we’ve always done it like this!” That is because the majority of us don’t exactly love change; few of us seek it out. Change unsettles us, as it can be challenging, uncomfortable and uncertain. But it is good to remember that it can also be exciting, invigorating and life-giving and, as one very wise woman (her mum) used to say: “anything that doesn’t change, is dead!”

Not all change is big: some changes we may introduce in our groups can be subtle, easy to instigate, small and straightforward. For instance, after months of mopping up spilled squash, we have decided to change to lidded cups for snack time. Of course, other changes can be far greater, requiring significant investment of time and resources; these often have a far-reaching impact.

The positive effects of change

Lisa Walsh, from Boulton St Mary’s Church, Alvaston, Derby shares the story of how they brought about change in their toddler group, and what a difference it has made:

Footprints had a name change 18 months ago; we were previously known as Squeals on Wheels and had been running for about 30 years. The group was very much Bible focused. In July of last year, we lost most of our children to school and nursery so in the September we started with only two. This continued up until June so we decided to implement some significant changes to attract more families. We have gone from a Thursday afternoon to a Tuesday morning, and now include a breakfast of cereal, toast and yoghurt. We have dropped the Bible focus and run a more generic group, but very much include the values, ethics and friendship aspects of our faith.

The vicar and curate are in attendance most weeks and we celebrate the main festivals within the church calendar. In September we make a focus around prayer. We have activities planned with our local children’s centre, Surestart, and had lots of outdoor play in the summer term, to make the most of the sunshine.

Our group is now growing every week. This is a fantastic answer to prayer and so encouraging. We finished for the summer with 20 children on the books and a mixture of mums and dads attending. There are new families joining us from September too.

Instigating change

Here are some pointers to help you bring about change in your own group:

  1. Identify the need

Often we notice the need to change when we identify a problem. This could be weeks of spilled squash, or rapidly declining numbers. Such problems need resolution so often become the catalyst for change. Take some time to really think about every aspect of your group in order to highlight any problems that need addressing.

  1. Consult with stakeholders

From the children and parents in our group to our volunteers and hosts, every member has their own thoughts about what would work well. So when we instigate change, we need to take everyone on the journey with us, ensuring that they understand and appreciate our rationale and feel they have a say too. Lisa explains: “I did lots of planning around what parents wanted through Facebook and talking to friends who also spoke to friends.”

  1. Seek God’s will

This should be the first, and the last, thing we do, and we should surround every step of our journey in prayer too. The challenge is that we are called, as followers of Jesus, to do things differently. Sometimes the changes we make may seem counter-cultural and sometimes we may sense that God is calling us to a change that is different to what our group’s parents may have asked for. For Lisa’s group, they felt it was most appropriate to change the way they presented faith within their context. For others, the challenge may be to take one step to begin to share faith within the group.

  1. Review, review, review

It is good practice to keep our eyes open for potential issues or areas for development. It is therefore useful to continually review what we do, so that problems do not escalate. Two questions asked regularly can help to create a healthy cycle of reviewing our practice: What worked well? What would make the group even better?

Asking these questions of your volunteers, the families that attend and in your prayer time can help to create a vibrant, living culture where change becomes a natural, welcome part of life together.