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
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
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
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.