Not every story (or most!) of a new Christian community is a straight line from start-up to wild success. Sometimes the bravest option is to admit it’s time to take a break, or end an initiative.
The decision to take a break from an outreach initiative or fresh expression of church is never easy. Revd. Susannah Underwood and lay leader Anne Land faced exactly this challenge with Little Lambs, a toddler church run by St Peter’s, Tewin.
Little Lambs started 3 ½ years ago out of a desire to connect with more children and families in the parish. St Peter’s had been running a Junior Church on a Sunday morning and a monthly all-age service but found these weren’t engaging with as many families in the village as hoped.
Through connections with local schools, baptism families and contacts within the parish, the leaders launched Little Lambs – a toddler church which gathered in the church building twice a month on a Thursday afternoon to play, sing and explore the Bible. The hope was to create a sense of community, as well as introduce both children and carers to faith:
“It can be quite isolating being a mum at home with young children – so I think you know that sense of community and belonging and love and acceptance and friendship will be really important to the parents, and that’s part of what I hope that we’ve offered to them.” – Revd. Susannah
For the first two years Little Lambs comprised of a small yet committed group. However, into its third year numbers began to dwindle with sometimes only one family attending the gathering as the core cohort of children moved onto school. In the summer of 2018 the parish decided to take a break from running Little Lambs – giving the leaders the time and space to contemplate the next steps in this journey of reaching new families in the community.
Four months after the decision, the hiatus is proving valuable. They have identified reasons for the changes to the group: the energy spent at the start to promote Little Lambs hadn’t continued and there were also potential problems with the timings and bi-monthly frequency of the gathering. With hindsight the leaders are wondering if more participation from carers in the planning and running of the toddler church may help cultivate a deeper sense of belonging. They are also re-considering the role of discipleship in their context and are hopeful that connecting with other parishes also running toddler churches may help them reflect on this more fully.
Reaching new people is a journey, evolving as parishes, people, needs and resources change. For St Peter’s the decision to take a break from Little Lambs was perhaps logical but not easy. However the time to reflect and listen to the voices of local families (some of whom have been enquiring about the toddler church) has left them aware of the challenge ahead but hopeful:
“We’ve really got to do some more research and put quite a lot of time in and effort into setting it up again, but I think we don’t feel that it’s sort of just died away. We feel that it’s just that it’s actually something that’s wanted and is valuable, and we’re really quite positive about the fact that this is just a break, we’re not stopping.” – Anne Land