Children whispering

Putting children at the centre of community

Parents have had it really tough during lockdown. It's an issue one Elim church is using to reach local families. 

How do you meet the needs of your community?

That’s the question that’s been keeping children’s pastor Sam Hughes occupied as Lifecentral Church in Halesowen emerges from the pandemic.

“Parents have had it really tough over the past 18 months and are desperate for stuff for their kids to attend now,” he says.

Supporting local families through kid’s activities has always been important to Lifecentral Church. Pre-Covid, its weekly calendar was packed with a Friday night kids’ club and parents’ café, five toddler group sessions and children’s work for babies to 11-year-olds.

Naturally, everything changed during the pandemic, raising the question of how to support parents in lockdown.

With several children with additional needs in the church, one way was by connecting with families online. “There was one lad who was struggling with school and anxiety so I met him on Zoom each week,” says Sam.

“He didn’t want to chat so we played Nintendo Switch and Mario Kart instead. It was a good way of engaging him and it gave his parents an hour’s break too.”

It was important to be realistic about the help the church could offer, Sam says.

“We’re not super-human and we’re not all trained in every area of youth ministry. But I knew I could offer an hour a week to sit and play on my Switch with him.”

Where the church wasn’t able to help, having local knowledge to point people in the direction of professional support was also important.

“Signposting parents to good devotions for their kids or to charities that help with clothes and toys, or to people more experienced with additional needs is very helpful,” says Sam.

For Lifecentral Church, having Christian role models available to connect with kids was also a vital way to support families.

“One of the things we learned during the pandemic was how important small groups are – having volunteers who can get to know the kids, pray with them, answer their questions and support their parents when they’re going through hard times.”

One mum asked for help when her daughter was struggling with mental health issues and anxiety during lock-down, Sam says.

“She said she would love her daughter to have somebody to talk to, so one of our small group volunteers has been meeting her for about a year to support her and her family.”

Now that churches are adjusting to post-pandemic life, Sam is mulling over another question.

“How do we balance meeting physically while continuing to connect with children or young people digitally who aren’t ready to attend in-person meetings?”

The answer is a hybrid approach. Since March 2020, popular sessions for preschoolers and primary-aged children have been posted on the church’s YouTube channel and this will continue alongside live children’s church.

“It means that if a child is ill or away they can still catch up with the teaching and the fun of the session.”

Having noted the importance of small groups, Sam is equally keen to take the same approach with these too.

“I would love it if we had all our small groups in person but then have a volunteer who goes on Zoom to meet with kids who have tuned in on there because they can’t make it in person.”

Maintaining relationships established between kids and their Christian role models will also be a priority.

“We plan to do a midweek or Friday session where we can invest in the kids getting to know consistent Christian role models. We’ve seen that work on Zoom and we want to continue that with in-person meetings too.”

And as the parent of an active two-year-old, Sam is also thrilled to see the church’s toddler group, Little Treasures, reopening.

“As lockdown was eased I was blown away with how many messages we had from families saying ‘when are you opening up?’

“We recently started a baby club for mums and dads with children under one, and were fully booked. We’ve introduced booking and upfront payments so we know how many are coming, and parents or carers also know they have a space every week.”

For Sam, these groups are one of the main ways Lifecentral Church supports local parents. “There’s a real need for toddler groups in our community,” he says.

His advice to others seeking to expand their kids work is to follow suit and find out what parents need in their local area too.

“Maybe parents need a free or cheap toddler group, an after-school club or a holiday club. Ask parents what they need from you because meeting the needs of your community is vital.”

5 questions to develop your children's work

Asking the following questions helped Sam grow his church’s kids work and local outreach. Could they help you too?

1. What are the needs in your community?
Do parents need a toddler group, an after-school club or help with childcare via a holiday club? Use surveys, social media and local conversations to find out.

2. What support do parents need from you?
Is it prayer, directions to professional help or kids’ activities. Ask how you can help.

3. What can you offer?
You may be able to spend an hour a week with a family, or have experience of children with additional needs. Be realistic about how you can help.

4. How connected are you?
Do you know what local support is available for building children’s faith or helping families with additional needs? Find out so you can give good advice.

5. Can you be a good role model?
Christian parents want role models for their children who can help build faith, relationships and offer good support. Could you or others connect with families to offer this?

This article first appeared in the November 2021 issue of Direction, Elim’s monthly magazine. Subscribe now to get Direction delivered directly to your home.

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