I’m Kirsty Homfray-Cooper, part of the staff team at Bunyan Baptist Church in Stevenage. My role is to coordinate ‘Twinklers’, our weekly baby and toddler group, and ‘Twinklers Plus’ which is for older toddlers. With the support of more than 20 volunteers from the church we run five sessions throughout the week during term time. Twinklers has been running for 35 years and has consistently provided a friendly, safe environment for babies, toddlers and their carers. It has grown from a small group of parents, and we now see 180 families attend each week with a long waiting list for places. It is wonderful to talk to grandparents who attended with their own children and now come along with their grandchildren!
I took over the role in 2014 and quickly became aware that the way we traditionally run church on Sunday mornings, with rows of seats and children going out into their own groups, seemed very daunting for many Twinklers families. Our desire for families to come to know God and become part of the church family needed some stepping stones in place for them to feel able to join in.
In September 2015 we began a monthly event called Saturday Church, which is church for all the family. Thanks to the work and dedication of our senior minister and a team of 20 regular helpers, this event is growing each month and has a regular group of about 50 families many of whom come with grandparents, aunties, uncles, mums and dads. We begin the morning with a much-needed tea or coffee for the adults while the children choose from craft, soft play, imaginative play, team games, table football, etc, all based on a theme from the Bible. Currently we are looking at friends of Jesus and have explored Zacchaeus where we had a tree in the church. We used Mary to explain the Easter story, and a large boat and net helped illustrate Peter’s special friendship with Jesus.
We then join in singing and dancing together then serve family groups with platters of picnic food to share. The morning ends with prayer and a ‘Saturday Church challenge’ giving the families something practical to take away from the morning’s teachings. For example, when we looked at Martha, who was too busy for Jesus, we asked ‘Can we give someone we love a bit more of our time?’
The Saturday Church team has been so encouraged and blessed to see people coming regularly each month and how relationships are deepening as families ask for prayer and share issues in their lives that we as a team can pray for. Our challenge now is to continue to provide engaging age appropriate activities and teaching as the children grow yet still being a safe and fun place for the little ones. We also need to pray for and actively seek opportunities to develop relationships with each other, and in doing so, to share the message of God’s unconditional love for everyone, both young and old.
I encourage anyone who may be thinking of setting up such a project from your toddler group to go for it and start small. In our experience many parents are seeking places to bring their children to discover God together. Give God the tiny seed of the idea and see how he’ll make it grow!
Describing Saturday Church, Andrew Ginn, Bunyan’s Minister, said: “It’s been incredible! Overnight, we found we planted a new congregation in our building – 60 people from 25 families turned up at the first gathering, and it’s grown every time since then! We’ve only done eight so far, but regular attenders who haven’t previously attended any church are describing the gathering as their church; we’ve got a dedication planned; conversations about adult baptism have started, and some of the parents are coming along to Alpha! We’ve discovered a real depth of faith that is waiting to be expressed… the challenge now is to continue to support families to participate at a deeper level; to be a part of making Saturday Church happen”.