Monday, November 13, 2017

Buckets! 6 reasons why your church needs a big stack by Rev Silvia Purdie

Each church I’ve been in, I’ve gone out and bought a pile of buckets, and we use them practically every week, at Preschool Music Group, but also in church sometimes. Why have lots of buckets? 

Here are 6 great reasons:

1. Buckets are great drums, and teach music
Who needs expensive drums? $1 coloured buckets from the hardware story are excellent. Take off the handles, trim off any sharp edges, and you’re away laughing. They’re OK for hand drumming but better with wooden drum-sticks (ideally fat dowling cut about 20cm long). There are heaps of songs to learn drumming to, from those specially written for drumming, to rock songs, to Pacific Island or African drum recordings. Older kids can sit on one bucket and have 3 or 4 buckets in a circle in front of them, as well as things that make other noises when you hit them, and they feel so awesome with their ‘drum-kit’!

If you have drums in church, why not put out some bucket drums near the main drums and get the kids up to join in. There’s no one cooler than the drummer!

Drumming also teaches maths, with heaps of ways to practice counting.

2. Buckets are great for hiding in, and teach ‘object permanence’

I don’t quite understand why, but give a little kid a bucket and the first thing they do is put it on their head! I guess they like that they can do it all by themselves. I guess they like the way it changes the sounds they hear. But it is also such a great game of ‘peek-a-boo’, which is all about the developing brain coming to grips with the astonishing idea that things continue to exist even when you can’t see them. Kids like putting the bucket on mum’s head too.

There are lots of other things than can hide in buckets. Often when kids arrive at preschool music session there is a circle of buckets upside down on the mat, and they can’t wait to lift up the bucket to see what’s inside. It might be a soft toy, or an instrument. This would work really well for a kids’-time activity in church.

3. Buckets are great for catching things, and teach sport skills

At our preschool music group we often put on some cool dance music and set an activity involving the buckets. A popular game is throw and catch; kids can throw balls or beanbags into a bucket. An adult can hold the bucket and try to catch with it. Kids quickly improve their accuracy and ball skills. And things like this are excellent for prompting adult’s creativity about things they can do at home with everyday items.

4. Buckets are great for clean up, teaching shared responsibility

When you have a mess, with lots of things scattered, the fastest way to tidy up is to give each child a bucket and get them to collect things into it.

In worship this could be also very useful, for special collections, for congregational activities involving pens, or anything really.

5. Buckets are great for construction, and teach engineering

So far all my suggestions for buckets involve one bucket per child. But what happens when you put buckets together? UP happens! There are two techniques for building with buckets: one involves alternating which way the buckets face and stacking them higher and higher. The other method is like building blocks; first make a wall, then buckets going on top have to cross between 2 buckets in order to stack up a level. You can just see the kids’ brains ticking over double time trying to work all this out. And it is very interactive, teaching team work. But the very best bit, of course, is knocking it down!

We’ve used this in worship with the story of the wall of Jericho. You could also create walls for drama sets, or caves, or towers …

6. Buckets are great for inventing new ways for using buckets!

Last Thursday one of our older preschoolers looked at the buckets, and carefully put one foot in one bucket and the other foot in another. I watched as she tested out whether she would fall over, and I held her hand as she experimented with walking. To her great delight she discovered that she could slide off across the hall, letting go of my hand. She was ice skating! It took about 3 minutes before all the other children had noticed her and tried it themselves, even the just-walking toddlers. No adult gave instruction; the kids just observed each other and took the initiative trying out this new thing, all by themselves. It was hilarious to watch, and the adults were in awe of how all the kids were learning amazing social skills as well as creativity with their own bodies and the equipment.

The point about plain plastic buckets is that they are so ordinary. Everyone has them at home. They are cheap, colourful and multi-use. You don’t need expensive toys or fancy equipment. Children learn by that fabulous interplay between self and others, when they try something and see how other people respond, when they copy and experiment. The great thing about what we do as church is that we create safe space, where little children and mums and dads and grannies feel accepted and free to be themselves. This reminds the adults who come that what matters at home is the relationships, paying attention to each other and playing together.

Kids often arrive for the first time shy, hiding behind grandma’s legs. But it doesn’t take long before they start exploring. And if they recognise some equipment and songs and games from last week they quickly start learning. I get a huge amount of joy from seeing kids and adults enjoying each other and exploring their own creativity. Buckets are great for that!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

LET THE FAMILIES COME TO ME, by Rev Robin Humphreys, Kids Friendly Coach

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.”

Until becoming a parent just over two years ago, I had never considered this passage from a parent’s perspective. If I had been in the crowd that day with my daughter, I wonder how I would have felt when Jesus spoke these words. Would I have felt surprised? Relieved? Reassured? Maybe along with my daughter, I would have also felt welcomed? Maybe by Jesus welcoming the ‘little children,’ he was therefore welcoming the whole family as well.

I believe this, in fact, is the power behind welcoming children in our churches. By welcoming children, we welcome the whole family. In fact, we more than welcome them, we include them as active participants and contributors in our worship. It is my belief and experience that when a child is welcomed, the whole family is welcomed too. And that when a child is invited to be a full participant in worship, the whole family is invited too.

My husband, Paul, daughter, Moana, and I have recently returned to New Zealand. Along with our move to New Zealand, my husband and I are experiencing a new season in our lives. We are a family seeking a home church! This is new space for us, since in the past we have served the local church. We have our ‘child’ and ‘family’ radar on as we visit churches. We find ourselves asking the questions: “Where is our daughter welcome”? “Where is our family welcome”? And, most importantly to us at this season in our lives, “Are we invited to worship together as a family” and not feel as though our daughter is being “whisked away” from us part-way through the service?
These questions are not unique to us. Many other families in New Zealand are asking similar questions. As the church, what are our “answers” to these questions? Are our answers only in word? Have we truly put action to Jesus’ words: “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them (Mt. 19:14)”? When we welcome children, we welcome families. When we make space for children in worship, we free the entire family for worship of our Living God. What an awesome responsibility, what an awesome privilege, what an awesome calling! Let the families come to me and do not hinder them!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


When asked to write an article on explaining the Reformation to children, I realised I needed to boost my own knowledge. Martin Luther gained some credibility in my mind some years back when I attended a conference led by an amazing Lutheran called Rich Melheim.  Listening to this “Luther-inspired” man I had a “When Sally meets Harry” experience: “I'll have what she's (he’s) having,” and so I set out to discover what this “one man who changed the world”1 did, what this means for us today and what of it do we share with our young people.

I emailed eight “Kids Friendly” ministers to ask them if they had plans to celebrate the Reformation in their church and whether they thought it was important to include children.  Five replied. Three believed it is important to include children in their celebrations and one had children on their reformation celebration plans agenda. 

To encourage our churches to include children in their reformation celebrations, we are developing a range of resources and offer 5 reasons to  share the story of Martin Luther and the reformation with children.

Reason 1: To share an important element of our “Christian” story
“Helping children understand they are part of a movement that has been alive for more than two thousand years in places all around the world is an important part of their spiritual formation,” says Ivy Beckwith.

When my husband, 14 year old son Blake and I visited Rome, sharing the Christian story was the main deciding factor on what activities we should do.  I was especially determined to take Blake to the catacombs because I wanted him to appreciate that our 2000 year old faith is not something to be taken for granted.  Thousands risked their lives in those early days to ensure the gospel endured and many more have done so through the ages.  Luther was unwittingly one of these great “saints” or leaders whose story contains timeless lessons.

Reason 2: To remind children that God does extraordinary things through ordinary people
Luther was a relatively obscure monk when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg’s castle.  He believed that the true gospel had become lost under layers of religious superstition, false doctrine and worldly living and he risked his life to challenge this and the powerful Roman Catholic church.  His actions ignited a “revolution” that would change Christianity as the world knew it. 

Reason 3: To remind children that they (and all Christians) are part of the ongoing reformation
The story of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation refers to a particular historical movement, but in reality the work of reformation is never complete – in us or the church.  We, Jesus’ followers, continue to be reformed in the Holy Spirit and I believe, are called to keep reforming to stay true to the way of Jesus.  We too must ask: “How is the gospel “submerged” today?”  And like Luther (and many others) we must stand up against what we think is unjust or wrong even when it’s scary or risky.

Reason 4: To assure children that God’s radical grace is given freely and not earned
Martin Luther struggled with the sense that he could not do enough to please God and that he could never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  He eventually came to understand that God’s love is never earned, but it is given freely.  God’s love is like the forgiving father in the story of the Prodigal Son who rejoices at his son’s return and continues to shower him with love and acceptance in spite of what he has done. 

Reason 5: To help children know and experience that God can speak to us through Scripture
Martin Luther was troubled for many years by his feeling that he was not good enough for God.  What helped him and changed him and the church as we know it, was Scripture.  It was when reading Paul’s letters to the Romans (Romans 3: 21-28) that Luther got it!  We can stop worrying about living in perfection and live instead in freedom, knowing we are loved by God because of God, not because of what we do.  Luther’s life was so changed by this that he was inspired to help others know the Bible.  He spent years translating the bible into German, the language of the people and then printing it (made possible with the invention of the printing press) so that people could read the good news for themselves rather than having to rely on priests to tell them what the Bible was saying and meant.

To help you share the essence of the Reformation with children we are collating a number of resources for all-age worship, children’s lessons and activities.  Look out for them on the Kids Friendly website and please share your ideas with us too.

Monday, May 1, 2017


When we share the "Kids Friendly" vision with leaders we invite them to walk through their facilities (metaphorically on their knees), to see them through the eyes of a child.

We ask them: “What do children see, feel, hear, experience in your church? What does your building and d├ęcor say to children?”

I was delighted when the minister of a church forced to move premises, contacted me to ask what he should consider to make their new worship space more inclusive of children.

Leaders of a church I visited recently proudly showed me a space (playground?) they had created especially for children by removing two back pews and installing a basket of toys. I gently pointed out that children sitting in that space would be completely disconnected and disengaged from the worshiping community. They would not be able to see anything and it would be impossible for the minister to communicate with them from the front of the church.

Children learn by observing and practising. 

"Children learn by watching and imitating adults and by projecting themselves into imaginary worlds. Clergy and worship committees must give serious thought to making the Sunday worship truly accessible to children and educating parents and other parishioners to see children as fellow-worshippers, not as intruders who have to be hushed or distracted so that adults are left free to pray!” says Gretchen Pritchard-Wolff in her book “Offering the Gospel to Children”. 

And from Ivy Beckwith, author of "Transformational Children’s Ministry""The act of becoming Christian is the actual practicing of being Christian over and over and over again.”

We need to create spaces in churches that promote Children's participation, nurture their spirits and recognise them as full and valued members of the worshiping community.

At an ordination service I preached at recently, the children were invited to sit upfront so that they could see everything that was happening and those officiating could address them when explaining proceedings. I loved the way they joined in all the singing with great enthusiasm (the band was only a metre away from them) and some danced to the music. When proceedings failed to capture their attention, they returned to lying on their tummies on the carpet working with the material in their “welcome packs”.

Children are not only more engaged upfront, they also more attentive and better behaved. I think it’s a misnomer that parents feel more comfortable at the back with their children. If we explain how important it is for children to be included in worship, I think they’ll respond.

This trend of creating a space at the front of the sanctuary for children during worship is being coined “praygrounds”. It’s a way of offering radical hospitality to children. Give it a go. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

NO CONTEST by Rev Stan Stewart, St Heliers Presbyterian Church, Auckland

For the last half of my life my wife Pauline and I have worked to encourage mainstream protestant churches (in New Zealand, Australia and beyond) to welcome, include and nurture children in their fellowship and in their worship.

It was mainly mainstream protestant churches that were established in every town and suburb across the Australia and New Zealand, 50 to 100 years ago. Their buildings look like churches and the denominations are generally Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Christ.

Today the numbers attending these churches are shrinking.  Many have closed and of those that remain, many have few or no children at all.

There are several reasons why this is so, but this week I have been reflecting on one of them. I call it the ‘giggle factor’. I recognise that once parents take the ‘giggle factor’ seriously, churches, Sunday Schools, Christian clubs etc. simply cannot compete. There is no contest.

Through my work, I came to understand that the ‘giggle factor’ does not cut much ice in some religious groups. Mormons, Bahia and some other tightly knit groups give it no credence. Catholics, Seven Day Adventists and Lutherans have not been as vulnerable to the ‘giggle factor’ as the mainstream churches either.

This is how the ‘giggle factor’ works.

In recent years parents have become increasingly concerned about parenting. This is particularly so with single parents and parents of blended families which are the result of divorce or separation. Parents want to raise ‘happy’ children. Happy children in turn become positive credentials for the parents. On the other hand, unhappy children suggest to the world that something is wrong with the parent.

But, how do you know when a child is happy? Many parents assume that the happiness of the child can be gauged by his/her facial expression. The child who is smiling and laughing is clearly happy.

The assessment of a child’s ‘happiness’ by facial expressions has many variants. Only a few parents would go all the way with me on my assertions about the ‘giggle factor’. However, the opposite, the ‘bored’ child causes disquiet to most parents. In our society children soon learn the power of the phrase, ‘I’m bored’.

Some of the churches I have worked with have gone to extraordinary lengths to make children happy and keep them smiling. At a seminar in the United States I asked ministers to share their ideas about keeping children happy in and around the church. One minister told us that he had hit upon a sure-fire way to keep children smiling.

“He said, “It’s so simple and it always works’. He went on to describe how from time to time he has a lolly-scramble in church. He said that without announcement, he would step into the central aisle of the church and throw a handful of wrapped sweets down the aisle. He said, “The children love it. It is always a hit. I don’t do it every Sunday, but the children come each Sunday hoping that this will turn out to be lolly-scramble Sunday”.

However, few if any liked this idea. It was objected to on educational, theological, health and law-and-order grounds. But what other alternatives do we have? Well when the ‘giggle factor’ decides what a child is involved with, not much. What a church has to offer on Sunday mornings with stories, songs and prayers is no match for sport, hobbies, TV, and increasingly phone and computer games. For most children these are vastly more attractive. There is no contest!

I have wondered for years about how it is that some groups do not lose their children and young people. I now think it is about categorizing.

Many families in churches I have worked for categorize church attendance and Christian education as an optional extra. Few would say this plainly, but their actions confirm that this is so. It is placed in the same category as sport and entertainment and has to compete on this level. As long as it produces smiles (better still giggles) it is something to support. However, as soon the children start voicing ‘I’m bored’, it is dropped in favour of activity that produces smiles (better still giggles).

Groups like the Mormons, Adventists, Catholics and Lutherans have a different approach. They categorize church attendance and Christian education alongside maths and reading. It is seen as a cornerstone of life. If it’s fun, all to the good, but if it’s not, it remains a priority (like maths and reading etc.). So, grumpy faces and ‘boring’ don’t come into it. It’s as important as eating your vegetables. Once this is understood, even with the most loving and progressive parents, it is non-negotiable.

Making life decisions on the basis of what makes you smile, giggle or in recent parlance, ‘whatever turns you on’, is a very bad idea. Children whose life choices are decided by the ‘giggle factor’ or a variant of it, grow into teens and young adults who hanker for the adrenalin rush. Chemicals are the most effective medium for obtaining this rush. Hmmm!

The other side of the yearning for an adrenaline rush is the determination to keep pain at bay by any means. America is currently in the grip of a drug epidemic that is killing almost as many people as die in auto accidents - 28,647 deaths last year. This epidemic is fuelled as much by well-meaning doctors as it is by dope pushers. Overdoses of the most popularly prescribed legal painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, accounted for more deaths last year than heroin. (February 2017 - the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention - CDCP)

I love to laugh. My silly pranks and jokes sometimes cause others to laugh and other times embarrass – me included.

I enjoy parties, “Too much”, says Pauline my wife.  But laughs and parties are not the guiding star by which I set my course.

Understanding Jesus and relating to his spirit and his people in the local church is the most important thing in my life. He tells us that a life full and abundant is to be found in a life of service. The force of his spirit breaks down barriers race, clan and religions. He said we will meet him in the poor and prisoner.  In his family, no one has more importance than children and women.

In our church family, we have a wide variety of beliefs. In some ways, we cover the spectrum from atheist to fundamentalist. We accept each other and in one way or another we are all influenced by Jesus. In my view this concept of community could breathe health into a divided world. These insights are the very best things a parent and a church can share with their child. These values are going to be needed in the future that rushes toward us.

But it can never happen when children’s activities are decided by the ‘giggle factor’. Nor can it be left solely to the “church school”. The place these concepts are to be engaged with is in a local congregation, a community, an extended all-age, international family – just like ours.

In many ways, we are swimming against the tide of the world we live in. At some points, it will be difficult for our children and hard work for us. But what of value in life can be achieved without hard work?

Stan Stewart

PS: No contest. I realise it is not a contest. Sport and entertainment and what we do in our church family are two very different things.  Certainly, we have had many laughs together and I am sure we will have many more. But, that is not our main aim. Our commitment is to building a future of hope and for that we need everyone, from youngest to the oldest. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Small Things, Great Love and the Size of the Holy Spirit

By Kaila Pettigrove, Kids Friendly Coach, Auckland

In their book Small Matters, Greg Nettle and Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado make the point that “Kids don’t have a miniature-sized Holy Spirit. They have THE Holy Spirit.” 

The message: Don’t underestimate your children!

We are desperately aware that many children of the world suffer from poverty. However, it may surprise you that poverty is not a respecter of socio-economic status. While some children lack basic resources such as food, money and shelter; others (who have a relative wealth of material resources) lack empathy, compassion and love. Wherever we fall on the economic spectrum, we all have a responsibility to impart the greatest commandment: Love God first and love your neighbour as yourself. 

For some reason, there is a reticence to carry out the second half of that commandment in a thoughtful and consistent manner. Churches (who see children once, or maybe twice a week) are expected to disciple children with additional help from parents. Truly, it should be the other way around: Families disciple and churches help. Churches should stand at the ready to equip and support parents in as they endeavour to impart a lifestyle of love and service to others. 

Our view of children’s ministry needs to change from that of a support for the adult worship (Give ‘em something to do and keep ‘em quiet!) to a full on discipleship programme where faith formation(looking after the health and growth of children’s spiritual lives) is at the centre. 

We need to aim for less age-segregation and more integration. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time for age-appropriate learning and activities. But don’t underestimate what can happen when children participate with their elders (role models) in church sacraments and traditions. If you think they’re too young to understand the way in which things are presented, make it accessible to them. Children of all ages learn best through participation. 

Children need to see themselves as possessing the ability to GIVE as well as receive. Put them in charge of something and serve beside them. Let them make mistakes and help them grow. Don’t forget to tell them “You have so much to offer.”

And remember: Children don’t have a mini Holy Spirit; they have THE Holy Spirit and can do all things through Christ who strengthens them!

Kaila Pettigrove is the part-time Kids Friendly Coach based in Auckland.  
Be sure to check out our new "Just Kids" section of the Kids Friendly Website for ideas on teaching children to live a life of social justice.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Together in Faith - an intergenerational invitation

By Jill Kayser, Kids Friendly Coach, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

I’ve just re-read Hamish Galloway’s 2013 sabbatical report “Empowering the next generation – young adults and the church”. I felt compelled to return to this report in the hope that it would add a local perspective to my bulging “kite” of research on intergenerational church . I want to find every possible tool (and voice) I can to motivate and resource our church leaders and congregations to seriously grasp the importance of fostering intergenerational community. Scriptures command it, Jesus role models it, post-moderns desire it, research confirms the importance of it, but as often is the case, the church is the last to get it, even though we were the first to have it.

Intergenerationality is our Christian faith’s past and future” says John Roberto, author of “Generations Together” and founder of Lifelong Faith Associates.

Our denomination’s commitment to become “Kids Friendly” over the past 13 years has laid a solid foundation for us to build on. Churches who have committed to work to become “Kids Friendly” report a marked shift not only in attitudes to and practices with children, but in the culture of their faith community.

Becoming Kids friendly changed the spirit of our congregation to one of openness, joy and energy,” says Rev Nathan Parry, Island Bay Presbyterian, Wellington

When we at St Aidan's made an intentional decision to become a Kids Friendly Church, we didn't realise the ripple effect this would have on the whole of our faith community. This has resulted in every aspect of our communal life experiencing renewal and creative energy for mission.” Says Rev Alf Taylor, St Aidan’s Presbyterian Church, Birkenhead.”

Being “Kids Friendly” has become a norm for many of our churches and paved the way for promoting and facilitating intergenerational relationships.

An intergenerational community values and promotes all ages worshiping, learning, praying, celebrating, serving and playing together. And “intergenerationality” (as Roberto coins it), like “Kids Friendly” is not a programme, but a practise. It is a way of being that requires intent and commitment from all the members of the faith community.

Galloway uses Deuteronomy as a framework for his thesis. He writes: “It is a book that delves deeply into passing faith down through the generations. It has timeless lessons for us to apply to the generations of today.”

Galloway captures his thesis message, the promotion, nurture and guidance of young people in faith, in the word “generativity”. “It’s a word psychologist Erikson used to describe the way those in mid-life can positively care for and empower younger generations.”

While the motivation for Galloway’s report was to explore how the church (his in particular, but applicable to many,) can best connect with young adults in today’s post-modern world, I believe his findings and suggestions, inspired by Deuteronomy and his exploration of “distinctive generations”, can and should be applied to all ages and as early as possible.

The command of Moses is to embed the principles of the law in the hearts and lives of a new generation. “Talk about it with your children…..” as Galloway points out himself: “Barna research suggest that if people do not make a commitment to Christ by the age of 14, the likelihood of them doing so is slim, so ‘get faith to your young uns’!”

Galloway’s research was informed by a young adult focus group from Hope Presbyterian who expressed a desire to have more opportunities for intergenerational conversations and fellowship.

Embedding an intergenerational ethos in our churches will, I believe, ensure that these intergenerational conversations and friendships are happening from an early age and will continue through the teens into young adulthood. And before we know it this generation of young people will naturally become the older friends and mentors to the emerging generations.

And let’s not forget this is all about passing on faith.

People come to faith by socialisation. “Lectures and books are unlikely to be much help (especially in the early stages). What is required is an immersive learning experience, involving socialisation and non-formal learning through observation, imitation, experiment and many hours of practice so that the skills become second nature.” (Making Disciples in Messy Church, Paul Moore)

But also and possibly even more importantly, people come to faith through relationship. “What appears to be most important in people’s growth to faith is a loving, caring, close relationship with other Christians. In the nurturing process of our children, we must allow them to develop deep personal relationships with as many of the people of God as possible.” Lance Armstrong: Children in Worship. The Road to Faith.

An intergenerational church prioritises and fosters relationships across the generations. It creates opportunities for all ages to worship together, learn together, pray together, serve together and play together. “Intergenerational” is a way of being. It is integral to the church’s culture. It is who they are. And being intergenerational is intentional!

Some pointers for embedding an intergenerational ethos in your faith community:
  • Welcome and value all people, ages and stages, equally
  • Recognise disciples are made in community
  • Understand disciple-making requires intentional, non-formal apprenticeship-style, experiential learning and formal learning
  • Foster and facilitate good relationships between young and old
  • Empower leaders and the congregation to role model this way of being
  • Welcome and bless the lowest and the least
  • Love and serve one another and your community