Working Towards a Church For All Ages

Tim Parkman Oct 2023

All Age feature image

I have to confess that at times the term all-age worship has sent shivers down my spine. It usually involves extra work, more communication and a feeling that you just end up compromising and no one really goes away happy. However, it has set Saltash Baptist on a journey of discovery as we ask ‘what does it truly mean to be a worshipping family?’. Here are some of the ways we are addressing this conundrum.

Church Meeting

On a Sunday afternoon we would have our church meeting and I would always forget to get someone to cover the children and young people watching a film or doing an activity downstairs. I would be asked by parents, carers or grandparents, what film was it or what was happening? It seemed a distraction from the real work upstairs. I then sat down with the Youth Worker and Children’s Worker and challenged us as a church where was the voice of the youth and children. You see when our teenagers become young adults they seem to like to stay away from church meetings, because they are unknown and a boring mystery.

It was then with the Leadership we decided that everyone should be in together for our church meetings. When the adults are on their tables with the one or two big discussion points, the children are on their table and the youth on theirs are discussing the same or similar question. When we feedback from each table their thoughts and ideas are mixed in with the adults. It was at the end of the last meeting when someone said how great it was to have the voices of our under 18’s here that I knew this was a good move. Although not all were members, for a church whose membership is just over 100, to have 60 voices at our last meeting with many still away was an amazing and positive step forward.

Communion

I had the voice of one of my college tutors in my ear. ‘Communion is a sending meal and should be done at the end of the service’. I know what they meant, but after much reflection I believe it is also a gathering meal. Inspired by the recent Whitley Lecture by Linda Hopkins asking about the place of Children and Young People in Communion we sat down and thought through how we could replicate it for the children, how we made sure the youth coming back up at the end of the service could be less disruptive. It all of a sudden seemed so simple, if Communion can be a gathering meal and as Baptists we proclaim it is a family meal, let us put it at the beginning of the service. It means that no-one misses out (except maybe those who are really late), it means that the leaders of our groups, the children, the young people are all welcome to come and partake of this meal. Communion is no longer a secretive and exclusive meal that is done by the adults, but every time we celebrate it, all are welcome. We even had the children serve communion at a recent service. Has it taken away from the solemnity of the occasion? Maybe there’s a few more noises and it takes longer, but maybe a new family dimension is happening and the children and Young People are understanding this meal as something they too are invited to by Christ.

All Together on the 5th

One big change we made was that our Children’s and Young Peoples groups stop at a specific time on a Sunday. If the adults finish early there is chance for the parents and carers to have longer catching up without the children demanding their attention, if the adults over run the children and Young People joining them at the end of the service. Why? We want to make sure people realise this is not a baby sitting service and that this is ministry, and it taking it seriously we want to give our leaders a clear time frame in order for them to plan properly.

We also, on the 5th Sunday of the month have an ‘all together service’ there is no groups at all and whilst this is still new, the hope is that the Under 18’s will take over this service and minister to the adults. It also means that in terms of rotas we are always dealing with 4 weeks in a month, which helps a lot!

The first time we did this, we still had adults do the readings, music and the prayers, the youth worker and myself lead the whole service. The Youth did the teas and coffees and one of them did the projection. It will be great to see them serve in this way and know that there is opportunity in our church to do this.

So What Next?

My big concern is that I don’t want the older age group to think that we are just aiming at the under 18’s all the time. All we have done has been to try and get a family feel, that all ages matter and in some way we are having to change the pendulum swing and bring it back to a more central place which may be hard for some, but the overriding feedback I have had is positive. We need the wisdom and voice of the adults who can nurture and care, but we also need the voice of the child who can be as profound as anyone else.

We are just starting on this journey, you may come back in a year and it’s all gone wrong. However, we need to start somewhere and it feels like it has been a natural, exciting and positive start. 

Jesus calls us into community, a community where all are loved and respected. Our Children and Young People need to know that this Church values them, loves them and wants to see what God is saying through them.

Pray for us

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