Toddler praise at Tiny Church

Where did the idea of running the service come from?

A small group of young mums at our church have started running a small pram service each week for pre-school children and their parents to come to. It is called 'Shake, Rattle and Praise.' A friend and I both had the idea, independently of each other. We wanted something we could invite non-Christian friends and their children to. We each had a friend who was thinking of having their child baptised at our church at the time and we wondered whether we could offer them a gentle way of in. Cell groups, though wonderful in their way, must be an odd place for a non-believer!

We wanted it to be in the church building, and not somebody's house as we felt it would familiarise both the parent and the child with it.

How did you start?

We met together a couple of times and talked through all our ideas. Then we approached the vicar who gave us his full support. He suggested that maybe we should go off and pray about it for a while and in the meantime meet each week and run a pram service just for ourselves. This we did, and invited two other mums and their children to join in.

These practice pram services were invaluable as we tried out different things and ironed out problems. For instance, if we left the church as it was and sat at the front, some of the children would be unable to resist the empty church and have to run around madly. We curbed this by moving some chairs to block off certain routes.

We publicised the service on the church notice sheet, on the church web site and we did some flyers which we hand out to friends. We also asked the lady who runs the church Mums and Tots group to give out notices about it. Also the curate, who deals with all the church baptisms, tells baptism couples about the service when he visits them.

What happens at a typical service?

The four mums who run it meet together at about 9:40 to set up, and then other people arrive at 10 am. We begin with a short prayer, during which one of the children rings a bell. It is the same prayer every week, so that they learn the service has started and feel comfortable that they know what is happening. Then we sing an action song, usually to a CD but sometimes a lady from the church comes and plays the piano for us. A man from our congregation comes along and tells the Bible story for us. This is told using actions, sound effects and props. Then we thank God for what happened in the story and sometimes the children offer their own thank you prayers. After that, we sing a lively song and get out flags, ribbons and shakers for the children. We close with one last prayer, which is the same each week and has actions.

The service takes about 20 minutes and then we move down to the crèche room for drinks and biscuits. We get toys out for the babies. This is the most sociable part for the mums and we try to make sure we chat to everybody.

After refreshments have been cleared away, we do an activity that relates to the story. For instance, when we did Jonah and the Big Fish, I printed out a picture of the story, cut out lots of scales from shiny wrapping paper which the children stuck to the big fish, then coloured in Jonah with felt tips. Another time we made Moses in the basket from play dough, and another time we hunted for lost coins I'd made out of cardboard and tin foil and which were hidden in the foyer of church. The activity is good because as well as keeping the children busy, it gives them something to take home to remind them (and their parents) of the Bible story we read. The whole thing, service, refreshments and activity lasts a little over an hour.

What would you want to say to someone who is thinking of setting up something similar?

The benefit for us and for our children has been great. The satisfaction of providing something to which people come week after week is immense and, to be honest, running a pram service isn't nearly as scary as we thought it might be! Do pray about it and think whether it might work in your church. Little children love Bible stories and singing and parents can be surprisingly receptive to the Christian message on this level.

Don't go into this alone. It has helped us enormously that the work is split between us and no one has an unmanageable proportion of it. Also, get the support of your church. It's been invaluable to us, having a lady who greets people at the door, plays the piano and makes the drinks and a man who tells the story and helps tidy up the church at the end.

Now that it is established each week, what fruit have you seen come from it?

Update: It is now two and a half years since we first opened the doors of our Tiny Church. In that time our original cast members have left and are all at school and we have a new generation of children coming each week. The service continues to flourish. A year ago we changed the way we ran it, beginning in the church foyer with drinks, biscuits and play making for a more informal group welcoming the people who come. Then after half an hour we move into church and have our service, then we return to the foyer for the activity and more play. It has worked really well and our numbers have grown. We now run a new Parent and Toddler group too and have told the people who come to that about our Tiny Church service on a Friday and this week had the first Mum from there bring her child to Tiny Church. It was lovely.

Can you recommend any resources to people thinking about this?

Email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for a list of Web Pages with Bible story colouring pictures on, which you can just print out and take with you. I have a list of about 12 sites.

The Diocese of Durham website has a good section on running a pram service. Click on "Children" on the main menu, and then scroll down the page until you find "Why Run a Pram Service?" There are a lot of good suggestions on storytelling techniques, craft activities and ways to pray with toddlers, as well as some useful sections on publicity and safety issues. Also has a page of useful book recommendations.

Article written by Hilary Cockshaw