Grants to help Transform Communities

Empowering Churches & Communities

The Church and Community Fund’s Quarter 2 2013 Committee meeting held on the 7th June,  awarded grants totalling £85,000 to 7 projects under funding themes one and two. Four grants were awards to projects that aim to significantly expand the Church’s engagement with neighbourhood renewal and improve the quality of life for those in the community. A further three grants were awarded to projects that have sought innovative ways of developing established community engagement to grow the Church. A full list of supported projects can be found here.

Books I have read: Who Stole My Church

who-stole-my-church

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading Who Stole My Church by Gordon MacDonald.  Travelling back from the Digital Children conference at Cliff College I had a chance to finish it on the train.  The concept of the book is a story, a narrative of an imaginary church in a New England town which examines issues and tensions that are experienced as a church goes on a journey of change.

During the narrative we see the Pastor of the Church meeting with a group of older people for a “Discovery Group” exploring their concerns and frustrations with change ranging from worship, name of the church, prayer, mission and more.  Through the story I could recognise many of the characters in the people I have met in the four churches I have worked in.  It reminded me of the fables that Patrick Lencioni has so brilliantly written.

I borrowed this book from my library but enjoyed it so much that I’ve added it to my wish list.  It is a book that I would come back to several times to think how am I sharing vision, how am I enabling people to fill ownership of decisions, and some really interesting thoughts on how to bring different generations together in church something that I will reflect on more here on the blog in the coming days.

Digital Children: Q&A with Bishop Paul Butler

Q&A with Bishop Paul Butler at the Digital Children conference:

Why is it that most Vicars only receive 1 seminar on children’s ministry in 3 years of full-time training?  Wouldn’t disagree with you, keep arguing and don’t seem to get anywhere.  Heads of Theological colleges began to take it on board but changing the culture takes time.

In Australia people are licensed as a Children’s Minister or Youth Minister – everything rises and falls on leadership – why are we not empowering on this?  The last year or two of CYM has struggled to get its numbers in the Children’s Course and the number of churches that are employing a children’s specialist.  If All-Age becomes the sustainable model do the training colleges begin to slim down?

Churches seem to struggle to find the calibre of workers should we employ from abroad?  But the Border Agency would not welcome this.

Refreshing to have a Bishop who gets it – don’t take that for granted – for many a children’s worker issues of leadership are real.  How do we encourage leadership generally from sentiment and rhetoric to meaningful action?  Show me a budget and I will tell you what your focus, but let’s be honest in our accounting so that we include volunteer hours.  Honestly don’t know the answer which is one of the frustrations.  Chair the Joint Liaison Safeguarding Group between CofE and Methodists – one of the positives is that Bishops are now waking up to the seriousness of the situation and to the wider issue of where are headed with childhood.  One of the things might be to find different ways in – coming from another angle people are now willing to speak about The Good Childhood etc.  Alongside Safeguarding try Parenting and Grand-Parenting skills.

Youth worker seeking ordination thinks schools and community work has to stop – that you graduate from children’s and youth ministry to focus on the grown-up issues of weddings, funerals and more.  Part of that is about placing Ordinands with Vicars and Rectors who get it.  It is still depressing to hear that said especially given how we now say bring your business skills, or teacher skills or social work skills.  In some Dioceses the do a weekend to train Curates on Children’s and Youth ministry.

Parishes that are having the most significant success are those that are tackling the issues of poverty – for churches doing football etc., they were feeding children, building better homes and more.  We can ask for more children’s workers but it is about missiology and the child piece in that.  It is not rocket science to look at what works for the community, 8am service was to allow the workers to milk the cows, do the service and then go back to cook lunch whilst the Lord and Lady attend the 10.30am.

Half churches aren’t engaging in children’s and youth work – there is a sense of larger churches growing due to their churches – thereby leading no people to lead that work.  How do we solve this?  There are schemes to get a part-time worker; maybe it is okay for some churches to not have children’s work as some areas have a demographic where there are very few children and so should focus on the elderly etc., and partner with a local place for the few children; ecumenical partnerships will be increasingly important.

Sticky Faith talks about involvement in all areas of the church being key for faith development, but All-Age Worship is often the worse attended, committed to it as a principle but how do we shake that image.  The only way is to shake it up by having an all-age group to plan the all-age worship to think how the different ages etc. work as too often it is child worship not all-age.

We are still focussed on aspirations – children and young people who go to university – half don’t so how do we connect with them?  So much is connected to those who go off to university, and we have to go back to Rakes with the Sunday School movement and the Ragged Schools – what is the equivalent for us – Glee Club and where we can raise aspirations.

Greatest cricketer in Viv Richards asking a guy in his congregation who was a poor county cricketer to improve him.  How?  He watched and spotted and commented it and left it to Viv to make the changes.

Digital Children: Bishop Paul Butler

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.

Schools

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.

Messy Church

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.

Church Clubs

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.

Sport culture

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.

Mentoring

Single parent families seeing so many young people growing up with no male role model, where does the church fit in with mentoring.

Residentials

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.

Church Worship

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.

Poverty

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.

Digital Children: From Guttenberg to Zuckerberg: How Social Media is Changing the Church

Here’s my Digital Media PowerPoint and the text from my presentation at the  the Digital Children conference:

Of all the messages the world has ever heard from politicians, story tellers, advertisers and more the gospel is still the stickiest.  The good news is that God’s message is your message, which makes your presence and voice online and that of the children and young people we work with wholly (and holy) indispensable!

I want to challenge you today as a Christ follower to change your mind-set of the way you spend your time online.  I want to challenge you to share new ways to reach a fragmented world for Christ.  Together, we can light up the online space.  We can “go” and we can “tell” as Jesus asked each of us to do.

Game Changers

Multiple factors can be attributed to why social media has grown so rapidly, including cheaper broadband, a fire to innovate and the global economy shift.  As unprecedented economic, political, and social factors continue to fragment continents, cities and even homes, words such as connection, community, and relationship increasingly dominate the conversation.

Broadcast to Social Media

In the 500 years or so between the inventions of the printing press and the Internet, which Dave will explore later, we have lived in a broadcast media environment of books, radio, newspapers, and television.  These media served as highly effective platforms for sending a single, well-crafted, attention-getting message out to as many people as possible.  But broadcast media afforded little opportunity for feedback or discussion.  In the church, we have used this one-to-many broadcast communication model in sermons, printed newsletters, letters from the Rector, and broadcasting worship services on Radio 3 or Songs of Praise.

Social media represents a profound shift in this model.  Today, almost anyone can publish a blog, have a YouTube channel, and host their own podcast.  Anyone can comment on, extend, qualify, discuss, and share a sermon.  With today’s technology, you can reach in minutes, and even seconds, the physical ground that the apostle Paul and other game changers covered in years. 

Sheer size of Social Media

The sheer size of social media is huge:

  • Facebook with 1 billion (and growing) registered users, making it the third biggest country in the world.  Interestingly though for us the largest growing segment of Facebook users are those aged 55 years plus.
  • The average user has 130 friends, spending 24 minutes per day on Facebook, creating 70 pieces of content each month,
  • Each day 460,000 new users sign up to Twitter
  • 110 million tweets are posted each day
  • 37% of active Twitter users use their phone to tweet.
  • There are over 150 million blogs globally.
  • People are engaging video at increasingly higher rates (about 5%) than other social media.
  • Engagement, with video increases with each subsequent generation – for Millennials (18-33 year olds) watching video is the fourth most popular online activity behind email, web search, and social networking.
  • YouTube sees 72 hours of video uploaded every minute.
  • YouTube is also the web’s second largest search engine – people want to see us in action, hear our voice, not just read our words.
  • The average person will watch 5 hours of video a day.
  • Whilst at the Third Lausanne Congress in 2010 we were told that 25% of people coming to faith do so through media on mobile phones.

Following all those statistics it is easy to be over whelmed.  But as Paul challenges us in 2 Corinthians we need to not lose heart, not be crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, not destroyed, as we’ll hear in a moment, if anything the opportunities that we have to share the Gospel are ever increasing in this digital world.

Practicing Digital Ministry

Jesus: The Master of Buzz

Remember the viral buzz generated around The Blair Witch Project back in 1999?  How about the Susan Boyle Britain’s Got Talent audition video?  Don’t forget the explosion of the YouTube phenomenon that is now Justin Bieber, or the hilarious viral e-mail sent each Christmas that allows the whole world to Elf Itself.

We each have the opportunity to give voice to the supernatural acts of God in this day and age.  Everyday believers just like you are already stepping out and adding to Jesus’ phenomenal buzz.

However you want to look at it, as a resident of the twenty-first century you’ve got the potential to wield some serious digital influence – for Christ.  The message is as sticky, as good as it gets.  Sticky content is independent of time, change, and cyberspace.  The Apostle Paul, no doubt a thought leader of his day, knew the message was unlike anything else the world had ever known, and he wrote: “We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”

Adapting to technology does not mean you change the message to fit the culture.  The Word of God stands and does not need to be spiced up or watered down to fit the taste buds of any culture or generations.  The Word is as alive and active as it was when God spoke it into existence.  The only thing that you must change is your mind-set about how you must now relate to the culture around you.

Writer and theologian Francis Schaeffer said that “each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.”  Whilst the technology that we’re being invited to use might be different, in essence I want to encourage you to rely on traditional modes of engaging with people that have served the Christian community well for generations.

Called to Humility

The online world provides the perfect storm for pride to rise up like a toxic tsunami.  To quote C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”  When you think more of yourself, you create a place where pride creeps in, and if you’re not careful, it finds a place to set up permanent residence deep inside you.  As I’ve said earlier, we’re not here to focus on ourselves, but instead to be Jesus’ servant, faithfully sharing his message.

Humility has a gentle tone; it doesn’t condescend or diminish another person’s value.  It doesn’t ignore, marginalise, or favour.  It never criticises or corrects in public, especially over minor things.  Just check out the example of Mo Farah, having won the New Orleans half-marathon, Farah was asked by WSDU presenter LaTonya Norton if he had ever run before.  Farah broke into a smile and replied that he had run a half-marathon before, but that this was his first time running in New Orleans.  Not once during the interview did Norton note Farah’s 5,000 metres and 10,000m gold medal success at the London Olympics, only ever referring to him as the male winner of that half-marathon.  Various people in the twitter world criticised the presenter to which Mo Farah replied: “Just wanna say to everyone being nasty to LaTonya Norton please stop!! She made a mistake like we all do!! She didn’t mean anything by it!”

Caring for God’s People

When Jesus started His ministry, He began to call individuals to “follow” Him.  We see and hear the expression “follow me” or “I’m following …” a lot in the social networking realm, but to date, no one has yet to offer the return on investment (eternity) that Jesus offered.  Once the disciples began following Him, Jesus proved worthy of their trust by being consistently genuine and authentic.  Basically, He cared, and it showed as He walked, talked, prayed, ate, and lived out the highs and lows of daily life with His beloved tribe of twelve.

The same trust, built through consistent, real, one-on-one dialogue, is the goal in our online relationships.  It will be a steadiness of character, a showing up, and a reaching out with a Jesus brand of compassion that will touch hearts for eternity.

It is a paradox of social media that people will share very intimate and sometimes life-and-death matters in social media spaces, even though such sharing becomes immediately both public and permanent.  Today, new loves, breakups, engagements, marriages, divorces, birth and death announcements, health news, and personal locations are all shared online.  Social media therefore can serve as a good “leading indicator” that something is amiss with someone.

I see my Facebook news feed and Twitter stream as place of and occasions for prayer.  People, regardless of faith, in my experience, deeply appreciate these digital expressions of pastoral attentiveness and concern.

We can also actively solicit prayer requests, something we’ve often done with our youth group, in preparation for Parish Prayers on a Wednesday morning – they see that God answers all knee mails!  Interestingly I receive as many prayer request from those who don’t see themselves as Christians as from those who do.

Forming Disciples

Social media is changing the way we learn because it has changed the way we access information and the way we connect with one another.  Scott McLeod, a professor of educational leadership describes it this way: “We no longer live in an information push-out world where we passively receive information that is broadcast out to us by large, centralized entities.  Instead, we now live within multi-directional conversation spaces.”

The ability people have to find out almost anything on Google, Wikipedia or YouTube necessarily changes the role of the ministry leader as an education.  Those in leadership no longer function as “resident theologians” by virtue of any special gnosis or knowledge received in seminary, or from the shelves of the theological books and commentaries in their office.  Instead, in a sea of information, they need to help others to become theologians themselves, inviting people to reflect critically upon all the information they encounter and to engage in discussion with others over that information.

Consider the difference between a sermon and the increasingly popular Pub Theology offered by churches around the country.  In a traditional sermon, a congregation gathers to hear a vicar impart information.  There may be some discussion afterwards in coffee, but the structure of the learning is centred on the teacher who shares their expertise.

By contrast, pub theology is normally facilitated by a “resident theologian” around a table, with everyone having the opportunity to bring something meaningful to the discussion.  Social media presents a similar opportunity – a theological conversation happening in a public place, influenced by the life that is all around it.  This is, of course, entirely consistent with the Latin root of “sermon”, sermo, which means “discussion.”

Building Community

Many people worry that digital relationships will eclipse face-to-face engagement; however, studies show that people active in social networks are more likely to be engaged in face-to-face volunteerism and faith communities.  This is because people who long for community seek it out in many forms, and people who connect in meaningful ways enjoy opportunities to extend that connection in both online and offline settings.  Thus, one of the important roles we have on social network sites is to cultivate a sense of community that moves between both online and offline locales.

Making Public Witness

As we end I want to share with you examples of creative ways to share faith using evangelism.  First off, in Facebook, someone took the time to create Jesus’ account for Holy Week – I’ve used it a number of times in schools and youth work to help young people engage with the Gospel.

Second, Twitter users followed the Natwivity throughout Advent, when different figures from the world’s most famous story wrote 140-character updates each day.  It included Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the three wise and King Herod.  Natwivity was organised by design company Share Creative and the Evangelical Alliance to bring the 2,000-year-old story to social media platforms.

The Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus video has been seen by over 24 million people on YouTube alone.  It’s a spoken word, a modern poem by a young man highlighting the difference between Jesus and false religion.

Dibden Youth has created an online community through our Facebook page.  We share information on upcoming events with the 96 people who are part of the page, but it goes well beyond using the page simply as a digital bulletin board.  We regularly pray for them, we inspire them with quotes from Christian saints, encouraging them to reflect.  All of this digital engagement reinforces the face-to-face engagement we have with them.  In addition, for example, in Holy Week we saw 21,147 engage in a range of images and videos we shared linked to Easter.  For an average church with a youth group we were able to reach a huge number of people.

Conclusion

The possibilities for the Kingdom in the online world are real, they’re here and now.  The invitation exists for anyone with access to the internet.  Transformation has started, and you are here to be part of it.  The testimonies of grace, forgiveness, redemption, and new life are echoing through cyberspace – if you listen.

Studies show that Christians are online, with their shiny gadgets in hand.  This is a wake-up call prompting you to get intentional about how you spend your time online – connecting, serving and leading the conversation in such a way that others will seek to know Christ personally.

Digital Children: Tablets & Smartphones

Dave Roberts  kicked off the Digital Children conference with a session on Tablets & Smartphones:

Most people in the room have tablets and smartphones.  So want to examine how this disrupts the way we connect and work with children.  There are Christians innovating in this area, e.g. Youversion doing translations for Bibles, prayer list apps.  But how are we as a community of believers stepping back and saying what will this mean for our interaction with children.

As technology changes, the medium of delivery changes and that is why we gather today.

The facts from the UK

  • 92% own a mobile phone
  • 6/10 in the UK own a smartphone
  • 58% of smart phone owners are female
  • 51% now access the internet via their phone, 32% every day (although some say 37%)
  • Average UK household 4-6 screens
  • 13% are table users.
  • Older audience for tablets but this may relate to affordability and so this will drop downwards as market penetration deepens and price drops.
  • Anecdotal evidence and high sales of child apps suggest heavy usage of tablets among the very young.

7th June – report on tablets use in primary school in Swansea seeing a reading leap from 9 year to 13 years.  Teachers said they had never seen such a dramatic turnaround.  Touch screen is important – the more real and familiar it feels from a 2 year old perspective.

5 Reasons Why This Matters

Portability: it had to be book size, something easy to carry around, iPads aren’t small enough which is why iPad Minis are taking off.

Accessibility: increasing internet access, mobile access – e.g. finding map directions when lost.

Connectivity: finding information and communicating from wherever we are.

Affordability: this will be addressed as it penetrates further into society and basic materials for a tablet can be made for $25.

Ubiquity: when there comes a point at which saturation happens, the momentum of use increases hugely.

The learning experience

  • The auditory child (listening, watching, discovering)
  • The tactile/kinaesthetic child (puzzle-games-discovery via tablet)
  • The visual child (flannel graph – video – tablet)
  • The analytical child (facts)
  • The innovative learner (interaction)
  • The common sense learner (solutions and action)
  • The dynamic learner (synthesize from different sources)
  • Technology multiples the possibilities for children

The new world of Christian formation

Discipleship is a multi-input process – some of which will never change.  But books and narrative have always had a role.  Tablets are the new books and print.

Worship or Idolatry

  • Creativity is a creation attribute
  • There is no sacred, secular.  Only worship or idolatry.
  • Can be social innovation, compassion, teaching, enhanced community.  Can be pornography, bullying and more.
  • But we want to learn more about the good.

The Church Should Be A Taboo Free Zone

taboo

Stephen Altrogge on how the Church should be a taboo free zone:

There are certain things we don’t talk about much in church. Like eating disorders. Or cutting. Or depression. Or same sex attraction. Or sexual enslavement. The list could go on, but you get my point. The reason we don’t talk about these things is because, frankly, they make us uncomfortable. If we struggle with a “taboo” issue we feel very uncomfortable talking about it with others. If someone else confesses a “taboo” issue to us we’re not quite sure how to respond. We usually feel at least somewhat uncomfortable, which means we probably won’t follow up with the person, which means they will continue to flounder in their struggle. It shouldn’t be this way in the church.

Now, just to be clear, I don’t think that every person should tell every other person about their most intimate struggles. There are wise ways to confess struggles and there are stupid ways to confess struggles. I’m not advocating a total transparency policy, in which we tell everyone everything. That’s just stupid. But, every person in the church should have at least one or two people who know their most difficult battles, sympathize with their battles, and can help them overcome their battles through prayer, fellowship, and encouragement. Otherwise, how will any of us overcome these things?

But how do we get to this place, both personally and as churches? Let me give one simple suggestion.

Read the rest here.

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 11 Things I Learned

Great insight here from Thom Rainer:

The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.
The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.

Members became more focused on memorials. Do not hear my statement as a criticism of memorials. Indeed, I recently funded a memorial in memory of my late grandson. The memorials at the church were chairs, tables, rooms, and other places where a neat plaque could be placed. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past.

The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent.

There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die.

The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.

With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.

The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service.  Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.

The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.

The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past.

The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had “outsider eyes.”

Read the rest.

Church AGM Report

DibdenBrand_Logo(colour)

Here’s a copy of the report I wrote for the church AGM on Monday and the AGM PowerPoint Presentation:

As I sit writing this report in the reception of a local school waiting to do another Easter assembly I’m struck by the changes that we are in the middle of.  A lot has changed in the last year – both for the Children’s and Youth Ministry here at the church and for me personally.  Our volunteers have worked exceptionally hard during the time without a Children’s and Youth Worker to continue the high quality of work that has gone on here.  As I joined the church I have been impressed with their continuing concern and effort for the children and young people of our community.

Why do we do what we do? 

We read in the Bible: ‘After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel’ (Judges 2:10).  That is the problem we have with this generation of children and young people – they are growing up knowing nothing of God.  How do we change this?  ‘We will not hide these truths from our children but will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord.   We will tell of his power and the mighty miracles he did … so the next generation might know them – even the children not yet born … that they in turn might teach their children.  So each generation can set its hope a new on God, remembering his glorious miracles and obeying his commands’ (Psalm 78:4, 6, 7).  That is what we are called to do – this is our responsibility.

Hopes and Dreams

Over the last few months the key children’s and youth leaders have been doing some Godly dreaming – imagining what our children’s and youth ministry could look like if there were no limiting factors such as finances, premises or volunteers.  Reflecting on these ideas we’ve developed a vision for our children’s and youth ministry based around children and young people having life changing encounters with Jesus.

We want to run a ministry that is inspiring, relevant, integrated, inclusive, holistic and supportive.  The vision has been structured around the concept that most young people are on a spectrum of faith, or a journey of faith: they are engaged, they develop faith, they are discipled and grow in that faith, they are released to ministry themselves.  The benefit of this way of thinking is that we create steps in our programmes and activities for young people to follow in their journey of faith.  It should hopefully make it clearer to us, and a non-Christian young person, how they develop and grow their faith.

  • Serve: Our church is at the heart of our local community.  Using census statistics, we know that there are approximately 1,076 children aged under 11 and 685 young people aged 11-18 across our Parish.  They are our primary mission field.  At times though, we are called just to serve and bless the community, expecting nothing in return.
  • Engage: We want to engage, to connect with as many of those young people, to enable them to meet Christians, the church and Jesus in positive light.
  • Transform: In quite bold terms we want to see conversion, we want to see young people declaring their faith having experienced a life changing encounter with Jesus.
  • Grow: We want to pastor young people, to help them grow in their faith; to put them on solid foundations.
  • Release: We are not building a kingdom for ourselves or for St. Andrew’s and All Saints, but for God, in Dibden and Dibden Purlieu.  We want to release young people to serve both in our church and in the local community, but also in this country, and across the world.  We want young people so strong in faith that they are becoming staff in churches, becoming missionaries across the world, seeing their job – be it in London as a city high flier or the school cleaner to see it as their mission field.

To do all this we need to develop strong relationships with leaders, parents, the wider church and statutory organisations.  During the summer term we will be sharing more detail on this with parents and the wider church.

In the autumn of 2012 we divided the children’s and youth ministry into three clear segments:

  • Dibden Minis – our work with babies and toddlers
  • Dibden Kids – our work with those in infant and junior schools
  • Dibden Youth – our work with those in secondary schools and sixth form colleges

This has been done for two reasons: to highlight the specific areas that we minister to and to enable us to ensure a development across all three areas, rather than focusing on one specific area; and for clear branding to engage with others from around the community.

Another big change in the last year has been the appointment of Steph Gray as a Ministry Apprentice.  She has been invaluable in helping us in our work with the children and young people of our community.  Steph has formed fantastic relationships with the children and young people, and used her creativity to really enhance our ministry to children and young people.

Dibden Minis

The church has developed weekly groups for toddlers which initially took over the slots of the Rainbow Toddlers groups which had stopped running on Monday and Thursday mornings.  On Mondays Steph runs Crafty Mondays – designed for toddlers to come and make, paint and create.  Playtime Thursdays meets on a Thursday 10.00-11.30am in the Main Hall giving plenty of space for ride-ons, puzzles, car mat, train track, baby zone and more.  We saw such an uptake to Playtime Thursdays that at the end of February we set up a second session with Playtime Tuesdays!

We also set up Dads and Minis which is a group especially designed for dads/granddads/male carers and their children.  This takes place on the fourth Saturday of the month, 9.30-11.00am, for all under 5s, starting with a drink and snack for the little ones, and a warm bacon butty for Dad!  Dads have a great time playing with their children, doing dad friendly craft together and more!

Since the beginning of January we’ve seen over 600 attendances from little children at the mid-week groups.  We’re indebted to Mary Parker, Paul and Sandie Spanton and others who come along and help us to serve refreshments to the parents and carers.

In addition to the new mid-week groups we’ve continued to develop good links with the Orchard Pre-School taking them into the church on a number of occasions.  We’re very grateful to Rachel Sheppard who has for several years overseen the Sunday crèche, she stepped down from leading this group at the end of 2012.

Dibden Kids

Our children’s Sunday groups have continued to develop well:

  • Scramblers: for those aged 2 years 9 months to the end of their Reception year. It includes a mixture of play, craft activities, stories and singing.  This group is led brilliantly by David Turner and Helen Fritter alongside a team of great volunteers.
  • Climbers & Zone 66: an upbeat and lively group for 5-11 year olds.  The children meet together enjoying live worship, drama, lively Bible teaching and big games!  After that they break into age groups for small group discussions, crafts, and prayer.  We are very grateful to the super Carole Ovenden, Fiona Western, Jo Fenton, and Jacqui Besley who run this group with the brilliant young people from Uncover.

Over the last year we’ve had a regular presence in Wildground Infants, Wildground Juniors and Orchard Infants Schools doing assemblies, RE lessons, church visits, and pastoral care.  This means that we have shared the gospel with over 1,000 local children.

Dibden Youth

Pathfinders, running for 11-14 year olds meets on a Sunday morning in a magazine style with a blend of games, bible teaching, worship, and prayer time run brilliantly by Heidi Shaw and her fantastic team of volunteers.  Our work with 14-18 year olds has developed two groups who together have taken on the sponsorship of Tuyishimire Yvette from Maranyundo, Rwanda:

  • Uncover Sundays: A place for young people to meet together, explore their faith and dig deeper into what it means to be a Christian in today’s world – how it looks and feels to have a love for God, a love for each other and a love for the world.  On the first Sunday of the month the group joins the adult congregation for the Contemporary Service.
  • Uncover Tuesdays: The group spends time eating, laughing, playing games, and exploring what is faith in a relevant and credible way for teenagers ably facilitated by a great team of leaders.  In the autumn of 2012 we ran an Alpha course which saw over 30 teenagers each week come and explore what the meaning of life is.  All seven of the non-Christians in the group have made great steps of faith, and are still coming to Uncover!

Following on from the trip to Soul Survivor in the summer, the Youth Weekend Escape to Fairthorne Manor, near Botley, in the middle of February, was a great time.  The young people really enjoyed the activities – aerial runway, crate challenge, Jacob’s ladder; and the Team Challenges were very competitive.  We explored the story of the Prodigal Son – looking at how we can relate to the younger brother, the elder brother, and even the father.  After a failed attempt on the Friday night, we managed to light the bonfire on Saturday – it was great to worship and praise God around the bonfire.  Lots of people took steps of faith – 5 young people want to be confirmed and over 15 are looking to be mentored by someone like you – someone older, and possibly wiser, from the congregation.

Over the last seven months we’ve developed a great relationship with Oak Lodge School running a lunch club each week on a Monday, mentoring two pupils, and regularly doing assemblies and being involved as the school celebrates the church festivals such as Harvest and Christmas.

The Future

During the summer term we’re expecting to see continued opportunities to partner with local schools – plans are already in place to develop our work with Orchard Junior School and Noadswood School.  We’re also hoping to start a church-based after-school club that will give us the opportunity to engage with children and young people from across the Parish so look out for further information in the coming months.  In addition I’ve been asked to join the New Forest Local Children’s Partnership Board which has strategic oversight for the work with under 18s in our area.

The summer holidays will see two major events in our annual calendar.  An exciting opportunity to encourage more young people and their families into the Church is the Holiday Club that we are going to be running Monday 12th to Friday 16th of August.  Here is an opportunity to bring 100 or more children on to our premises for a week and explore the whole of the Bible message with them in a fun and relevant way.  We hope to then encourage those who visit us for the holiday club to join our mid-week and Sunday groups.  The week after we will be taking our teenagers to Soul Survivor – we’ve already got 25 young people signed up for what will be a great week of life changing encounters.

Thank you for all your support in the work that we are doing – please do continue to pray for our work, without these prayers the work would be so limited.

Chris

Director of Children’s & Youth Ministries

Do We Have To Pick Between Church and Family?

Bob Johnson blogs:

Seventeen years ago I went on a two-week trip to India and Korea to teach in a Bible college and some churches. Security at the airport was not as tight pre-9/11, so my family accompanied me to the gate. As I left my wife and three young children in the midst of a Michigan winter, my youngest daughter cried out “NOOOOO!” so long and so loud that the echo followed me down the jet way into the plane itself. She wasn’t the only one who cried that day.

As I sat on the plane and tried to catch one last glimpse of them, I wondered, “What was I doing to my family? Was this trip really worth it? Was I right to do this? Couldn’t someone else have taught this course and preached these messages?” It was not the last time I would ask those questions.

Serving the church is not merely a job; it is an all-consuming responsibility that can threaten a family. The emergency hospital trips and the frantic calls from a heartbroken spouse never come when you are sitting at home, caught up on your to-do list, bored stiff, and hoping for a crisis to break the monotony. For most of us, our bodies may be home, but our full attention is slow to arrive.

There are always more visits to schedule, more people to counsel, more calls to make, more meetings to attend, more functions to pray at, more books to read, more emails to answer, more blogs to write (and read), more classes to take and teach, more work for the sermon(s), more degrees to finish or pursue, more, more, more, meaning that your family will get less, less, less. How many times have you come home late knowing that while you were trying to save your church, your wife was left alone trying to save your kids?

Can we really be effective pastors and good husbands and dads? Do we really have to choose between the church and our family?

Read the rest here.

Spring Harvest: Rob Parsons in the Big Top

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Rob Parsons preached on the second evening in the Big Top – here are my notes from his sermon:

We all need somebody at the gate to love us and give us hope.  John 3:16 – the most hopeful verse in the Bible, all the hopes and fears of men are met tonight in Jesus.  In the letter of 1 John 3:16 we see a coincidence even though the chapter numbers and verse numbers appeared later!

1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you.”  Personal witnessing was key in the church Rob grew up in, but he was never great at it.  We find it hard as so often we go to the mind and not the heart.  The mind is important, but if we do not have it in the heart we have no hope and we can’t share it with others.

Mrs Williams taught Rob “Jesus loves me for this I know” and it changed everything for him as he believed it.  The greatest need of all is to know they are loved.  When the Berlin Wall collapsed we took children in who had been in the orphanages tied to the cot.  They were loved, but many of those children found it hard to give and receive love.  Some of us have been brought up in spiritual orphanages.  We need to hear what is right and wrong, God calls us to righteous living, but we need to hear that we are loved.  Lynne Hybels cried out to God one night after she felt God cracking the whip and the demands – she felt God as few years later say he wasn’t doing that but that he was the Father trying to allow her to love him.

Many of us tonight will struggle with that.  If you have children you take every moment you can to encourage them.  Grand children are so much fun, and much better than children!  We think they’re great even if they’re rubbish.

Is God a music teacher saying yes or no to whether or not you’re in the choir; or is he a piano teacher playing with you and helping you to get confident at that piece.  Do you sometimes feel that you decide God loves you on the basis of arbitrary actions in your life.  He loves you when you’re his enemy and his precious son and daughter – he loves you.

You can have two computers from PC World, they look the same but they’ve been programmed completely differently.  Psychologists say our software is a narrative.  Many of us have a software that says God is disappointed with you.  We find it hard to believe that God loves us, we are told he loves us, the Bible tells us we’re loved – we know that teachers, sports coaches and parents all love us when we do well/behave well – and knowing that God knows us better we fear that we get an F from Him – we are a disappointment to him.

Pray most mornings using a list of lots of people – sometimes it is joyful and sometimes jolly hard work.  God told him whilst cuddling his grandson he doesn’t need the lift – just have a sense of dependency on me!  The big story of the Bible is that God loves you.  All the way through Jesus’ life as he stormed through Galilee people say it is the wrong narrative.  Imagine if there was a man who was dragged to Spring Harvest wondering what it is all about, but suddenly Jesus walks in, walking past the stewards, the speakers, and says “Hey can we have a drink afterwards” – that is Jesus.  Not how much you attend church, read the bible, pray, share your faith.  Steadfast love occurs 147 times in Psalms.

See the yellow blossom of hope tonight that God loves you – you are loved – nothing you do can make him love you more or love you less.

Can you give a reason for the hope?  Yes.  Do not lose heart, do not let the accuser driver you down, you are his precious children, you are loved.  There is nothing to prove.