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Bringing the families

21 February 2014

IT is a simple idea: open the doors of the church, provide some fun for the children, and the families will come. When the Revd John Ward became Rector of Quedgely and Kingsway, in Gloucester diocese, just over a year ago, he found a healthy congregation of 80-100 each week, but very few young families. Yet it is through them, he says, that churches grow.

There were plenty of community centres in the area that hosted activities through the week, he tells me, but the church remained closed. So, in April last year, he set up a parent-toddler-and-baby "drop-in" during the week. "Parents and children would socialise. Play equipment would be available, as would refreshments. It would be held in the church. Given that we still retain our fixed pews, this was going to be a challenge!" 

They called it Chatterbox, and within the first month they were seeing 30 to 40 children a week; and since it started, more than 110 new people have crossed the church's threshold. But how could they attract those young families - many of whom had never been through a church door until they came to Chatterbox - into the church on Sundays?

He began with a pet service in September, where everyone could bring their pets to be blessed, or, if they had no live pet, a favourite toy. The service was a mixture of modern songs, wor­ship, and prayer, followed by refresh­ments.

The feedback was good. Those who came enjoyed the flexibility, and, when asked, readily agreed to join in similar informal services. "The challenge for me", Mr Ward says, "was to incorporate the positives of a Messy Church with the flexibility of modern worship. As a result, STJ's Family Worship and Praise was born."

Each month, the service has a theme. In January, they used the Epiphany in
a service called "Kings and Crowns", where everybody made paper crowns (above) and the children processed with "gifts" to the stable door while the congregation sang "We three kings". More than 130 attended.

The key to these successes, Mr Ward says, has been careful planning, and engagement with the local com­munity.

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