Attracting young families is a challenge many churches face, but Castlegar United Church in Castlegar, British Columbia, thinks it may have a solution.

Every fourth Sunday, families from the surrounding community are invited to take part in a Worship for the Child Within event. Rev. Greg Powell, minister for Castlegar United, says that Castlegar has tried to design a style of worship that is “engaging for young and old alike.”

The services start and end in the sanctuary, but the time in between is filled with hands-on, interactive experiences. There is no sermon, Greg says, “but there is singing. Along with movement and storytelling.” 

Ray Lundquist helps children make Zen-style gardens to contemplate Jesus in the wilderness, as part of Lent celebrations.
Ray Lundquist helps children make Zen-style gardens to contemplate Jesus in the wilderness, as part of Lent celebrations.
Credit: 
Greg Powell

The Worship for the Child Within Sundays is barely out of its pilot project status, but Greg says it has “resonated for the older folks just as much as for the younger folks.” He notes that Sunday school was previously cancelled due to low enrolment, so this new program gives young families a new reason to come out to the church at least once a month.

“It was an intentional response to a desire to have child-friendly worship and experiences that did not include segregating by age.” He adds that the idea for these services came from a book by Dave Csinos and Ivy Beckwith, Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus, and Csinos' earlier work, Children's Ministry that Fits.

The family-friendly services fits well with the church’s mission to be welcoming. “It serves as a reason to invite young families and it helps create a critical mass of children who engage in a variety of ways,” he says.

During these Worship for the Child Within Sundays, leaders do not use any notes or prepared texts, but instead rely on statements such as “I wonder ...” to draw participants into the activities. There is a biblically inspired theme overarching the service, but no one reads directly from the Bible.

“We don't read the stories, but we do tell the stories,” Greg explains. And there is often crafts, scavenger hunts or other child-friendly activities.

Rev. Greg Powell explains that the Worship for the Child Within services have “resonated for the older folks just as much as for the younger folks.”
Rev. Greg Powell explains that the Worship for the Child Within services have “resonated for the older folks just as much as for the younger folks.”
Credit: 
Greg Powell

The congregation has formed a committee to study how to engage young families, aided by the feedback from Child Within. Next year, Castlegar intends to launch a Messy Church-inspired program.

“We see Child Within as an all ages-engaging Sunday morning approach and Messy Church as an all ages-engaging mid-week approach,” he says.

While not everyone in the congregation is happy to give up the traditional service once a month, Greg says the feedback have been mostly positive across the congregation.

“Parents and grandparents who really support it, as do young people,” he says. “Everyone wants to see more young families involved with the church, and they want us to keep communication and feedback lines open.

“We started small,” he adds. “We wanted to leave room to see where the Spirit moved us.”

 –Paul Russell is Communications Coordinator with the Office of the Moderator and General Secretary.

New and diverse approaches to ministry are constantly cropping up across The United Church of Canada, and Embracing the Spirit wants to hear about them. If you are involved with a group that has found an innovative way to approach church, let us know, by filling in the Tell Us Your Story form, found at the bottom of the Spur Innovation page.