A church in Oamaru is running a successful Friday night club for kids – despite everyone in the congregation being over 55.
Columba Church in Oamaru was very conscious of its age profile and “felt the need to start something new”, says youth worker Michael Frost.
Now every Friday fortnight, up to 25 kids aged between seven and 11 learn and experiment with crafts under the guidance of older volunteers from the church.
Three or four different crafts are covered each term, like making pom-poms and “personalised pizzas”. There’s also been a family movie night, and a kite-flying and BBQ day on a Saturday.
The programme is changing the culture of Columba, Michael says. “They’re just so excited. It’s wonderful that kids are coming, but the greater reward is the value that the people of Columba are seeing in themselves.”
Despite having all the skills – from being school teachers, leading scouts or parenting – the congregation was a bit apprehensive about what they had to offer. There’s a group of about 20 volunteers, with people having to commit to only a couple of evenings each term. “But there are some volunteers who come to every Friday night club,” Michael says.
“The hard thing was getting them to believe that they could do it.
“A lot of the Columba people believed that they were completely detached from current culture and that they didn’t know how to connect with young people.”
Michael is employed by the Waireka Weston Youth Trust but contracted to Columba, which supports the trust for half his time.
When he began the job in early 2008, he started a process where the church spent “six months thinking”. “I’m a youth worker: they believed I’d start a youth group”; but there were already two successful youth groups running nearby.
A large primary school is close to Columba, which has had a strong history of children’s ministry. A core group of four people, Les Whyte, Jane Knewstubb and Tom Weir, along with Michael, decided to develop the idea of a Friday night club that offered simple crafts for children.
Weston Presbyterian Church already had a Friday night club, and part of the planning process saw number of Columba people attending one evening to see how it worked.
To attract children to its new club, Columba started with a school holiday programme, which was three morning session of 2.5 hours and advertised through fliers at the primary school. The Friday night club kicked off the following week.
Children pay $2 for the evening, which includes supper. While they’re eating, they hear a Christian story, with a memory verse challenge for the next time.
The volunteers run the programme, Michael says; his role has been to transfer expertise to them. The Friday night club is also supported by $3500 in Synod of Otago and Southland funding.
Michael says the club’s purpose is not to bring people into the Sunday morning service, which is very traditional. “There is nothing wrong with this, but the current culture finds it hard to connect with God in this style of worship.
“We don’t want the families to feel like we’re trying to buy them. It’s a service to the community and the kids, and we care about them.”
Most people in the Columba congregation understand the families won’t come along on a Sunday morning, he says, though it’s not always an easy concept that something new is needed. “But the fear of the church dying is a stronger feeling.”
“Friday night club is actually church for those young people,” Michael says. “They sing Christian songs, hear a Christian message, then go home and memorise a Bible verse.”