What context are you serving in?
We are a church family who meet in the parish church in the middle of Crouch End, North London. We are blessed to be a lovely mix of backgrounds and ages — from locals who have lived in Crouch End for many years, to families and young professionals who have moved into the area more recently to be part of the church.
Why did you decide to run Hope Explored with the parent and toddler group?
For a number of years we ran “Storybox”; a big and very full toddler group in our church building on Wednesday mornings. It was the usual thing — masses of toys; tea, coffee; oodles of lovely home baking, a song and short bible story time each week with the desire to reach our community both with the love and the wonderful truth of who Jesus is. But the busyness and the number of people made it a real challenge to have meaningful conversations during that time.
Post pandemic we still had a group of mums who had kept their Wednesday mornings free and keen to serve the Lord, but instead of going back to what we had done before we decided to try something new and smaller and launched a group for new mums.
We particularly wanted to reach out to those who had had little ones during the pandemic and missed out on some of the lovely things you can do with a newborn, as well as those who may find it harder to access baby groups. So we advertised not just on social media but through health visiting teams and inclusion leads.
I have to say I was lacking in faith, not really sure that those who live in a very secular area of North London would consider coming to a group with a distinctive Christian theme. But we prayed, our church family prayed, and our prayers were answered. God brought along a group of nine mums who came each week to do the Wonderfully Made course from The Good Book Company.
After completing that course we decided to run Hope Explored as a way of helping these mums think more about who Jesus is and how he offers hope, peace and purpose. This worked really naturally, the mums had got used to the format: watching a film, having a discussion, listening to some verses from the Bible and thinking about what the Bible said about different issues.
It is such a privilege to introduce them to Jesus who offers an everlasting hope and so much more.
What are some of the encouragements and challenges you encountered?
We gave each mum their own copy of Luke's gospel as well as a Hope Explored handbook. It was exciting to see them opening up God's word and discovering Jesus for themselves — to look at the tangible signs that God was bringing peace, why Jesus died on the cross and to consider together the evidence for the resurrection.
The material is brilliant! Engaging and clear, and the films are very digestible. To start off with an opportunity for people to consider their own worldview was really helpful for engaging with where people are at and also for people to crystallise the rules that dictate how they do life. It is then such a privilege to introduce them to Jesus who offers an everlasting hope and so much more.
Two of the mums have started coming to church regularly as they explore things further and others are keen to keep meeting together on Wednesday mornings.
One of the biggest challenges was people attending consistently; this is only ever amplified when mums have newborns and are struggling with sleepless nights. We also had a mum who after the first week decided the group was no longer for her. That felt so sad. Some weeks numbers were small, other weeks more full; but we found that the Hope Explored material worked well despite that. For the last week, we did a summary of the previous weeks and a Q&A time.
Ideally, we would have run a crèche so the mums could fully focus but the babies were young and so we did it with babes on laps or playing, which obviously brings some distractions with it.
Any tips for people who want to run it in the same context?
1. Pray pray pray… and ask your church family to be praying!
2. We found that for this context we needed to divide the videos and use the course over a longer period, so we ran it over six weeks. It seemed that 10 minutes was probably the maximum time to be able to concentrate on a film with a newborn in arms. Realistically, we only had about 40 minutes of focused time so tried to curate it carefully.
3. Have a big white board and pens ready. Write up the big questions, do summary diagrams, a mum will be distracted and when she comes back it can be helpful for her to follow where the discussion is at.
4. Make the mums feel loved and welcome. Home baking and bottomless hot drinks is helpful for this especially for sleep deprived parents! We made them each a colourful mat for their baby to sit on and gave them a little cotton bag with stacking cups/a rattle/a teething necklace in. They kept it at church and then after the last week, took it home.
5. We tried to have a spare one or two helpers in the session to play with the babies or take a baby for a little stroll around the building to try and reduce distractions.