Elizabeth Barron from Failsworth in Manchester writes about the journey her toddler group took to help families take the step from going to toddler group to attending church.
We have been running Pramtime parent and toddler group at Roman Road Independent Methodist Church in Failsworth for over 20 years. It’s been very successful – in fact, due to demand, we increased the number of sessions from one per week to three per week!
However one of the aims when we started Pramtime was to introduce children and their parents to the church family, and although the group was thriving, after the first ten years or so we had not seen this particular aim achieved. Gradually, one or two families did start to attend church, but we began to see the need for something which was just aimed at young families as a stepping stone to our regular morning worship.
We began to have ‘Young Families’ services before our main Sunday morning worship on special occasions – Mother’s Day, Easter, Father’s Day. Numbers were few to start with and we thought they may be put off by the title! After a year or so and much thought we came up with the name ‘ACTS’ which stands for Adults and Children Together on Sunday.
We have been running ACTS now for seven years, holding it on the third Sunday of the month at 9.45 a.m. for half an hour before our main worship service. Afterwards there are refreshments in the church hall. This often lasts for another half an hour as families chat together with those who have come to attend the main worship service at 11.00 a.m. Currently ten families attend regularly, the children’s ages ranging from two to nine.
The atmosphere at ACTS is relaxed with families sitting round tables in our worship area. As part of the service we always include a craft activity – either something to take home or something to be used to tell the story. This has to be quite simple, as we don’t have much time in the service to make something too complicated and it has to be appropriate for a wide mixture of ages.
A typical ACTS time includes child-friendly worship songs. We always begin with ‘Wide, wide as the ocean’ because we use this to open our Pramtime sessions each week, so it’s a familiar song to anyone from toddler group who comes to ACTS for the first time. During the story or teaching time, we have used puppets, excerpts from DVDs, or stories with actions to join in. We use creative prayers to try and include all ages – whether a simple responsive prayer or something a little more involved.
The church is running a project at this time to encourage people to read a book of the Bible a month. ACTS uses the chosen book of the month as our theme, and over the past year these have included the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians, the fiery furnace from Daniel, the sun standing still from Joshua, and putting on God’s armour from Ephesians. When the book of the month was Acts, we introduced the character Barnabas Bear. Barnabas spends a month with each family and records his adventures in a diary. So far he has been dancing, to the local carnival, and on holiday!
We are beginning to see families staying on at church after ACTS, the parents going to our main worship service and their children attending Sunday school. Some families who attend ACTS see it as a simple way of introducing their young children to church. We have also seen other families who have stopped attending ACTS because their children have grown, but who now come to our main service.