Bishop Paul Butler led the next session at the Digital Children conference:
Children in attendance at church has been in decline although in 2011 Baptist numbers were up and the CofE numbers were just about steady
Sales of Sunday School materials are in decline, wider materials such as Bible reading notes etc. are also in decline.
Half of all churches have little or no contact with children, and more than half have little or no contact with young people.
Our engagement with schools is stronger than it has been for a number of years, and the opportunity is there. We all know it can vary from Head teacher to Head teacher, but the options are there, especially if we are creative. Why is Open the Book so successful? It says you don’t need to be young, it is dramatic, it is creative, people enjoy it, and it tells the Bible stories very faithfully. Too many churches still think engagement with schools is taking assemblies even though they haven’t been called that for a long time – it is running gardening clubs, breakfast clubs, after-school clubs.
Lots of research but no one knows why it works. It is the willingness to explore the questions as to what it looks like – what do the sacraments look like in Messy Church, how does it change from a monthly event to a lifestyle – trying things out some of which work and some of which don’t. Whilst in Walthamstow, was told by a Superintendent from the police the problem is that we have to know it works before we will try it. Messy Church will continue to grow and variants will develop, e.g. Godly Play in prisons and Alzheimer’s work.
Toddler and Carer Groups
They continue to flourish at extraordinary rates – very quickly parents are asking for wisdom on how to parent and bringing children up spiritually.
Still a huge role for places where children can enjoy, run around, be free to explore. But we need to explore BGT and XFactor which is dance, drama and comedy – why aren’t we doing more Glee Clubs etc.
150 years of football which local churches started. Southall is a town of 7,000 inhabitants, on Sunday morning there are 500 young people in the local football club. Why are churches not freeing adults to go and be at Southall Town FC – don’t set up your own clubs.
Single parent families seeing so many young people growing up with no male role model, where does the church fit in with mentoring.
We need to grow these further, interesting conversations from schools visits with senior staff about how they matter to the life of schools and how funding limits could cause problems. We need to help churches grow their residentials, also including families.
Churches will move to all-age as the norm, what Mary Hawes does in Teddington with 25 minute services is going to be important. Sustaining Sunday groups as they are in the current format is near impossible. We may even see the beginning of Sunday afternoon school again as seen in the development of the Messy Church timings.
In 2011 Paul’s diocese was the fastest growing, one common feature is they engage with the local community for the sake of the community not for bringing people into the church. We need to work alongside Sure Start, social workers, schools etc., as the poverty issue is going to be the one that will run as there is a growth in child poverty, even the government are admitting that 250k extra children will fall into child poverty due to Welfare Reforms.
Get the Story Out
We have to get the story of Jesus out into people’s lives. We have to use digital resources but look at low tech not high tech in the sense of YouTube, Facebook, Gavin Tyte’s beatboxing – not technically brilliant, mass market and massively possible. We want some people who are brilliant at high tech but we have to get the message out. This doesn’t just apply to children’s and youth work – it is the whole work of the church.
Which are the stories that will connect? Paula Goodyer and Paul Butler are working on a book for 2014 taking a dozen bible stories with Bible scholar and passionate children’s worker reflecting together on the stories. There is the whole of the Bible not just the favourite bits which are often mis-represented in the way they are told and dumbed down.
Don’t give up on evangelism with children – who knows what we might be sowing for the long-term.