After Sandra Millar’s wonderful day with us last November, I resolved to put a few of the tips from the day into practice in my own church. We have a large cohort of children in the 7 – 14 age range, but very few babies and toddlers. This has left our under-5s volunteers demoralised, and, of course, made us feel we’re missing out on the joyful presence of toddlers, and on the chance to provide a community and a place of meaning and hope for them and their parents.
And yet, we were still doing Christenings. So these families were out there! We just needed to connect with them better.
What was already in place:
We had a good Jr Church, so I felt confident that families who did start coming back to us would be happy with what they found.
We have a children’s area in the church, specifically for under-5s, with spiritually imaginative toys.
There has been a deliberate, long-term, concerted effort to make the culture of the church more welcoming to young families.
What I did:
I have a tendency to try and do Everything! At! Once! and burn out, so I restricted myself to two small and simple changes:
Using Mailchimp, which is a free and pretty user-friendly website for sending mass mailings, I created a mailing list composed just of families who have had children christened in our church in the last five years.
Then, a week or two before our Crib service, our Candlemas service, our Mothering Sunday service, Holy Week, and our All-Age Trinity Sunday service, I sent very simple emails to these lists. The subject line was, “Come celebrate with us!”
Each email was simple and to the point – we have a toddler-friendly event coming up. Join us! We’d love to see you!
For the Crib service one, I reminded them that holding their child and singing “Silent Night” by candlelight was a special thing they wouldn’t want to miss. For the Holy Week one, I wrote a short paragraph as a “p.s.” reminding them that if they came on Easter Sunday they’d see the new Paschal candle, and they might remember it from their child’s christening. For Candlemas, I told them that we re-light all the Christening candles at the end of the service, so they can bring their child’s if they want (and if they’ve lost it, we’ll give them a new one).
And then I put three people on notice to spot any families with toddlers who they didn’t recognise, and make sure they got talked to after the service.
At first, very little. Our Crib service was the usual – neighbourhood children who we see once a year – and the sheets we put in our service sheet asking for contact details were mostly ignored. Candlemas and Mothering Sunday were our usual older children and not much else.
But over the last few months, there’s been a slow upward shift. Here’s what’s happened:
There are three Christening families who I would now consider “regular” attendees of our church (which means 2 – 3 Sundays a month), with 5 young children between them. There’s a fourth family we might see every 6 weeks or so. For a church our size, this is significant, and means that we now have what feels like a “group” at that age. (This also means that any new families who come now won’t feel like the only family with toddlers.)
What I Learned: