Find out what happened when Testwood Baptist Church, Southampton UK, ran Epic Explorers in tandem with a Mark sermon series for their congregation. Children's Pastor, Sarah John, explains.
A couple of years ago at Testwood Baptist Church, a strawberry and a banana led our service whilst the whole church family took part in the Fruitfulness on the Frontline course from LICC. It turned out to be a valuable time as families talked over lunch about the teaching and discussions they had taken part in - the same subject from different age perspectives.
So, with the addition of Epic Explorers to the Christianity Explored family, we wanted to find a way to extend the teaching to facilitate whole-church learning.
The pull for us was the colourful brand that would appeal to our children, packed with ideas and activities which were pre-planned but that we could adapt to our own needs.
We are quite a large church (around 450 in on a Sunday morning) and the challenge was to keep a depth of teaching suitable for adults and mature young people, whilst also impacting those new to or exploring Christianity. We also wanted to engage and challenge our younger children at a level accessible to them and in a way that made them really feel the massive value they hold within our church family.
How did we do it?
In the weeks running up to Epic Explorers, invitations went out to the whole church family encouraging them to travel to 'Adventure Island' with us as we explored the life and impact of Jesus over five Sundays. At the same time we encouraged parents to buy the Epic Explorers Logbook and Scratchpad to use in line with the series at bedtime.
To show that we were all exploring together in parallel learning, on the first week each church member, adult and child, received an Explorers notebook, which we added to each Sunday. The day’s page would include the Bible text for the day, room for notes, plus cross-generational questions to chat about over lunch – these were based on finding out each other’s faith stories and thoughts around the teaching of the day.
Every service started with a drama – we used the Epic Explorers characters, and changed the set each week to give an impression of the beautiful possibilities of Breathtaking Bay, or the sombre seriousness of the Mysterious Mountains. The characters found an object linked to the story with a key verse on it, and each seat in church had a small card version of the same object with the same verse.
Our drama team brought the stories to life brilliantly, and were able to switch between comfortable and funny to serious and poignant and back again, engaging children and adults alike.
On the back of the drama there would be an activity to help the church think and ask questions about the topic for the day, after which the children and young people would split off to discussion groups (using activities and questions from the Epic Explorers and CY Leader's Guides), and the adults would stay in the auditorium for a 20-minute talk on the passage.
Often the children wrote or drew thoughts, prayers or questions to add to the display in the auditorium, which grew each week as we visited each new spot on the island.
Was it worth the effort?
This might all seem like a lot of work, and believe me it was, but it was worth it hear that at lunch or at bedtime a child or young person had chatted with family members about questions they had, or shared their steps of faith or asked their parent about their own.
The knowledge that the whole church family are exploring the same stuff seems to give the child more reason to ask the adult’s thoughts, or conversely, gives the adult the keys to ask the child similar questions.
One parent told how their very small child had recounted a discussion they had in their group with the intent of helping their parent to really ‘get’ how much Jesus had done for them. Another told how much their child loved the drama, and thought it was the first time their child had really understood the gospel.
On week four of Epic Explorers it snowed.
We don’t get much snow in Southampton, and don’t really know what to do when we do get some, so when all of the drama group and most of the children’s leaders managed to struggle in I was worried that it might be a bit lonely on the stage that morning.
Just then I was sent a video that put my mind at rest – it was from a parent and was of their daughter opening their curtains to see snow and saying “Well, I hope we’re still going to church – it’s Epic Explorers!” They arrived early on their sledge, followed by (mostly) everyone else!