Parish ideas: Moving from a story-telling service to a family congregation
Rev. Andy Bull, Priest-in-Charge of St. Mark’s Bredbury, reflects on four years’ experience of developing a small 9:30 Story Telling Service into a Family Congregation, whilst serving as a Curate at St. Michael’s Macclesfield…
At St. Michael’s in Macclesfield it was observed that, although there were frequent baptisms in the church, no families were continuing to explore the Christian faith through attendance on a Sunday morning. It was felt that one of the reasons for this could have been that the services were not seen as being child-friendly, so in April 2006 a new initiative was started – the 9:30 Storytelling Service.
The existing congregation graciously accommodated this new service by moving to the later start time of 11:00am.
When the Storytelling Service began, it was composed of a core of four families who had been attending the church on an occasional basis, plus a small group of committed helpers. Its original format was a 40-minute long programme consisting of a song, then a procession to the ‘Special Place’ (the Chancel) for a Godly Play story, a time of prayer and a drink and biscuit, before finally returning to the main body of the church for a couple of songs and a blessing.
This new way of doing church seemed to engage people young and old, and the services quickly became popular. The growth came from various areas – some saw the service advertised on the church notice board and began attending; others began coming along after being invited by those who were already regulars; but perhaps most notably, a good number of families who had brought their children to be baptised began to attend regularly. Most of these were not church-goers previously.
As the congregation grew in size, it became increasingly difficult to fit everyone in the chancel for the Godly Play story. Furthermore, some people had begun to ask whether more provision could be made for adults and older children. So, two years after it began, changes were made to the service in order to accommodate the growing needs within the congregation, and a new format has been established. The basic structure has remained the same, with everyone starting and finishing the service together. However, instead of the whole congregation moving to the chancel for the Godly Play story, there are now two other options: a group for older children and a group for adults.
The three options run simultaneously, and parents/carers are still free to stay with their children in either group, or - if they prefer - they can go to the session for adults. The adult group activity consists of an interactive talk (we began by going through Mark’s gospel), with opportunity for discussion at the end. Often, the day’s topic is heard being further talked about during informal chat over refreshments after the service. There is also now Holy Communion celebrated once a month within the service.
This new community of faith has developed, not just through worshipping together each Sunday, but also as a result of frequently gathering together in a range of settings. There are regular picnics, family walks, games nights and meals out. There is also a nurture group that meets regularly, a weekly game of 5-a-side for anyone who is interested, and twice-yearly camping trips that have been hugely effective in building close friendships and deeper faith. As at August 2010, some sixty families were regular members of the Story Telling Service, which – adults and children combined – made for a quite significant and lively new congregation.