Wednesday, June 7, 2017


When asked to write an article on explaining the Reformation to children, I realised I needed to boost my own knowledge. Martin Luther gained some credibility in my mind some years back when I attended a conference led by an amazing Lutheran called Rich Melheim.  Listening to this “Luther-inspired” man I had a “When Sally meets Harry” experience: “I'll have what she's (he’s) having,” and so I set out to discover what this “one man who changed the world”1 did, what this means for us today and what of it do we share with our young people.

I emailed eight “Kids Friendly” ministers to ask them if they had plans to celebrate the Reformation in their church and whether they thought it was important to include children.  Five replied. Three believed it is important to include children in their celebrations and one had children on their reformation celebration plans agenda. 

To encourage our churches to include children in their reformation celebrations, we are developing a range of resources and offer 5 reasons to  share the story of Martin Luther and the reformation with children.

Reason 1: To share an important element of our “Christian” story
“Helping children understand they are part of a movement that has been alive for more than two thousand years in places all around the world is an important part of their spiritual formation,” says Ivy Beckwith.

When my husband, 14 year old son Blake and I visited Rome, sharing the Christian story was the main deciding factor on what activities we should do.  I was especially determined to take Blake to the catacombs because I wanted him to appreciate that our 2000 year old faith is not something to be taken for granted.  Thousands risked their lives in those early days to ensure the gospel endured and many more have done so through the ages.  Luther was unwittingly one of these great “saints” or leaders whose story contains timeless lessons.

Reason 2: To remind children that God does extraordinary things through ordinary people
Luther was a relatively obscure monk when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg’s castle.  He believed that the true gospel had become lost under layers of religious superstition, false doctrine and worldly living and he risked his life to challenge this and the powerful Roman Catholic church.  His actions ignited a “revolution” that would change Christianity as the world knew it. 

Reason 3: To remind children that they (and all Christians) are part of the ongoing reformation
The story of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation refers to a particular historical movement, but in reality the work of reformation is never complete – in us or the church.  We, Jesus’ followers, continue to be reformed in the Holy Spirit and I believe, are called to keep reforming to stay true to the way of Jesus.  We too must ask: “How is the gospel “submerged” today?”  And like Luther (and many others) we must stand up against what we think is unjust or wrong even when it’s scary or risky.

Reason 4: To assure children that God’s radical grace is given freely and not earned
Martin Luther struggled with the sense that he could not do enough to please God and that he could never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  He eventually came to understand that God’s love is never earned, but it is given freely.  God’s love is like the forgiving father in the story of the Prodigal Son who rejoices at his son’s return and continues to shower him with love and acceptance in spite of what he has done. 

Reason 5: To help children know and experience that God can speak to us through Scripture
Martin Luther was troubled for many years by his feeling that he was not good enough for God.  What helped him and changed him and the church as we know it, was Scripture.  It was when reading Paul’s letters to the Romans (Romans 3: 21-28) that Luther got it!  We can stop worrying about living in perfection and live instead in freedom, knowing we are loved by God because of God, not because of what we do.  Luther’s life was so changed by this that he was inspired to help others know the Bible.  He spent years translating the bible into German, the language of the people and then printing it (made possible with the invention of the printing press) so that people could read the good news for themselves rather than having to rely on priests to tell them what the Bible was saying and meant.

To help you share the essence of the Reformation with children we are collating a number of resources for all-age worship, children’s lessons and activities.  Look out for them on the Kids Friendly website and please share your ideas with us too.

Monday, May 1, 2017


When we share the "Kids Friendly" vision with leaders we invite them to walk through their facilities (metaphorically on their knees), to see them through the eyes of a child.

We ask them: “What do children see, feel, hear, experience in your church? What does your building and d├ęcor say to children?”

I was delighted when the minister of a church forced to move premises, contacted me to ask what he should consider to make their new worship space more inclusive of children.

Leaders of a church I visited recently proudly showed me a space (playground?) they had created especially for children by removing two back pews and installing a basket of toys. I gently pointed out that children sitting in that space would be completely disconnected and disengaged from the worshiping community. They would not be able to see anything and it would be impossible for the minister to communicate with them from the front of the church.

Children learn by observing and practising. 

"Children learn by watching and imitating adults and by projecting themselves into imaginary worlds. Clergy and worship committees must give serious thought to making the Sunday worship truly accessible to children and educating parents and other parishioners to see children as fellow-worshippers, not as intruders who have to be hushed or distracted so that adults are left free to pray!” says Gretchen Pritchard-Wolff in her book “Offering the Gospel to Children”. 

And from Ivy Beckwith, author of "Transformational Children’s Ministry""The act of becoming Christian is the actual practicing of being Christian over and over and over again.”

We need to create spaces in churches that promote Children's participation, nurture their spirits and recognise them as full and valued members of the worshiping community.

At an ordination service I preached at recently, the children were invited to sit upfront so that they could see everything that was happening and those officiating could address them when explaining proceedings. I loved the way they joined in all the singing with great enthusiasm (the band was only a metre away from them) and some danced to the music. When proceedings failed to capture their attention, they returned to lying on their tummies on the carpet working with the material in their “welcome packs”.

Children are not only more engaged upfront, they also more attentive and better behaved. I think it’s a misnomer that parents feel more comfortable at the back with their children. If we explain how important it is for children to be included in worship, I think they’ll respond.

This trend of creating a space at the front of the sanctuary for children during worship is being coined “praygrounds”. It’s a way of offering radical hospitality to children. Give it a go. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

NO CONTEST by Rev Stan Stewart, St Heliers Presbyterian Church, Auckland

For the last half of my life my wife Pauline and I have worked to encourage mainstream protestant churches (in New Zealand, Australia and beyond) to welcome, include and nurture children in their fellowship and in their worship.

It was mainly mainstream protestant churches that were established in every town and suburb across the Australia and New Zealand, 50 to 100 years ago. Their buildings look like churches and the denominations are generally Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Christ.

Today the numbers attending these churches are shrinking.  Many have closed and of those that remain, many have few or no children at all.

There are several reasons why this is so, but this week I have been reflecting on one of them. I call it the ‘giggle factor’. I recognise that once parents take the ‘giggle factor’ seriously, churches, Sunday Schools, Christian clubs etc. simply cannot compete. There is no contest.

Through my work, I came to understand that the ‘giggle factor’ does not cut much ice in some religious groups. Mormons, Bahia and some other tightly knit groups give it no credence. Catholics, Seven Day Adventists and Lutherans have not been as vulnerable to the ‘giggle factor’ as the mainstream churches either.

This is how the ‘giggle factor’ works.

In recent years parents have become increasingly concerned about parenting. This is particularly so with single parents and parents of blended families which are the result of divorce or separation. Parents want to raise ‘happy’ children. Happy children in turn become positive credentials for the parents. On the other hand, unhappy children suggest to the world that something is wrong with the parent.

But, how do you know when a child is happy? Many parents assume that the happiness of the child can be gauged by his/her facial expression. The child who is smiling and laughing is clearly happy.

The assessment of a child’s ‘happiness’ by facial expressions has many variants. Only a few parents would go all the way with me on my assertions about the ‘giggle factor’. However, the opposite, the ‘bored’ child causes disquiet to most parents. In our society children soon learn the power of the phrase, ‘I’m bored’.

Some of the churches I have worked with have gone to extraordinary lengths to make children happy and keep them smiling. At a seminar in the United States I asked ministers to share their ideas about keeping children happy in and around the church. One minister told us that he had hit upon a sure-fire way to keep children smiling.

“He said, “It’s so simple and it always works’. He went on to describe how from time to time he has a lolly-scramble in church. He said that without announcement, he would step into the central aisle of the church and throw a handful of wrapped sweets down the aisle. He said, “The children love it. It is always a hit. I don’t do it every Sunday, but the children come each Sunday hoping that this will turn out to be lolly-scramble Sunday”.

However, few if any liked this idea. It was objected to on educational, theological, health and law-and-order grounds. But what other alternatives do we have? Well when the ‘giggle factor’ decides what a child is involved with, not much. What a church has to offer on Sunday mornings with stories, songs and prayers is no match for sport, hobbies, TV, and increasingly phone and computer games. For most children these are vastly more attractive. There is no contest!

I have wondered for years about how it is that some groups do not lose their children and young people. I now think it is about categorizing.

Many families in churches I have worked for categorize church attendance and Christian education as an optional extra. Few would say this plainly, but their actions confirm that this is so. It is placed in the same category as sport and entertainment and has to compete on this level. As long as it produces smiles (better still giggles) it is something to support. However, as soon the children start voicing ‘I’m bored’, it is dropped in favour of activity that produces smiles (better still giggles).

Groups like the Mormons, Adventists, Catholics and Lutherans have a different approach. They categorize church attendance and Christian education alongside maths and reading. It is seen as a cornerstone of life. If it’s fun, all to the good, but if it’s not, it remains a priority (like maths and reading etc.). So, grumpy faces and ‘boring’ don’t come into it. It’s as important as eating your vegetables. Once this is understood, even with the most loving and progressive parents, it is non-negotiable.

Making life decisions on the basis of what makes you smile, giggle or in recent parlance, ‘whatever turns you on’, is a very bad idea. Children whose life choices are decided by the ‘giggle factor’ or a variant of it, grow into teens and young adults who hanker for the adrenalin rush. Chemicals are the most effective medium for obtaining this rush. Hmmm!

The other side of the yearning for an adrenaline rush is the determination to keep pain at bay by any means. America is currently in the grip of a drug epidemic that is killing almost as many people as die in auto accidents - 28,647 deaths last year. This epidemic is fuelled as much by well-meaning doctors as it is by dope pushers. Overdoses of the most popularly prescribed legal painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, accounted for more deaths last year than heroin. (February 2017 - the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention - CDCP)

I love to laugh. My silly pranks and jokes sometimes cause others to laugh and other times embarrass – me included.

I enjoy parties, “Too much”, says Pauline my wife.  But laughs and parties are not the guiding star by which I set my course.

Understanding Jesus and relating to his spirit and his people in the local church is the most important thing in my life. He tells us that a life full and abundant is to be found in a life of service. The force of his spirit breaks down barriers race, clan and religions. He said we will meet him in the poor and prisoner.  In his family, no one has more importance than children and women.

In our church family, we have a wide variety of beliefs. In some ways, we cover the spectrum from atheist to fundamentalist. We accept each other and in one way or another we are all influenced by Jesus. In my view this concept of community could breathe health into a divided world. These insights are the very best things a parent and a church can share with their child. These values are going to be needed in the future that rushes toward us.

But it can never happen when children’s activities are decided by the ‘giggle factor’. Nor can it be left solely to the “church school”. The place these concepts are to be engaged with is in a local congregation, a community, an extended all-age, international family – just like ours.

In many ways, we are swimming against the tide of the world we live in. At some points, it will be difficult for our children and hard work for us. But what of value in life can be achieved without hard work?

Stan Stewart

PS: No contest. I realise it is not a contest. Sport and entertainment and what we do in our church family are two very different things.  Certainly, we have had many laughs together and I am sure we will have many more. But, that is not our main aim. Our commitment is to building a future of hope and for that we need everyone, from youngest to the oldest. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Small Things, Great Love and the Size of the Holy Spirit

By Kaila Pettigrove, Kids Friendly Coach, Auckland

In their book Small Matters, Greg Nettle and Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado make the point that “Kids don’t have a miniature-sized Holy Spirit. They have THE Holy Spirit.” 

The message: Don’t underestimate your children!

We are desperately aware that many children of the world suffer from poverty. However, it may surprise you that poverty is not a respecter of socio-economic status. While some children lack basic resources such as food, money and shelter; others (who have a relative wealth of material resources) lack empathy, compassion and love. Wherever we fall on the economic spectrum, we all have a responsibility to impart the greatest commandment: Love God first and love your neighbour as yourself. 

For some reason, there is a reticence to carry out the second half of that commandment in a thoughtful and consistent manner. Churches (who see children once, or maybe twice a week) are expected to disciple children with additional help from parents. Truly, it should be the other way around: Families disciple and churches help. Churches should stand at the ready to equip and support parents in as they endeavour to impart a lifestyle of love and service to others. 

Our view of children’s ministry needs to change from that of a support for the adult worship (Give ‘em something to do and keep ‘em quiet!) to a full on discipleship programme where faith formation(looking after the health and growth of children’s spiritual lives) is at the centre. 

We need to aim for less age-segregation and more integration. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time for age-appropriate learning and activities. But don’t underestimate what can happen when children participate with their elders (role models) in church sacraments and traditions. If you think they’re too young to understand the way in which things are presented, make it accessible to them. Children of all ages learn best through participation. 

Children need to see themselves as possessing the ability to GIVE as well as receive. Put them in charge of something and serve beside them. Let them make mistakes and help them grow. Don’t forget to tell them “You have so much to offer.”

And remember: Children don’t have a mini Holy Spirit; they have THE Holy Spirit and can do all things through Christ who strengthens them!

Kaila Pettigrove is the part-time Kids Friendly Coach based in Auckland.  
Be sure to check out our new "Just Kids" section of the Kids Friendly Website for ideas on teaching children to live a life of social justice.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

TOGETHER IN FAITH - An intergenerational invitation

By Jill Kayser, Kids Friendly Coach, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

I’ve just re-read Hamish Galloway’s 2013 sabbatical report “Empowering the next generation – young adults and the church”. I felt compelled to return to this report in the hope that it would add a local perspective to my bulging “kite” of research on intergenerational church . I want to find every possible tool (and voice) I can to motivate and resource our church leaders and congregations to seriously grasp the importance of fostering intergenerational community. Scriptures command it, Jesus role models it, post-moderns desire it, research confirms the importance of it, but as often is the case, the church is the last to get it, even though we were the first to have it.

Intergenerationality is our Christian faith’s past and future” says John Roberto, author of “Generations Together” and founder of Lifelong Faith Associates.

Our denomination’s commitment to become “Kids Friendly” over the past 13 years has laid a solid foundation for us to build on. Churches who have committed to work to become “Kids Friendly” report a marked shift not only in attitudes to and practices with children, but in the culture of their faith community.

Becoming Kids friendly changed the spirit of our congregation to one of openness, joy and energy,” says Rev Nathan Parry, Island Bay Presbyterian, Wellington

When we at St Aidan's made an intentional decision to become a Kids Friendly Church, we didn't realise the ripple effect this would have on the whole of our faith community. This has resulted in every aspect of our communal life experiencing renewal and creative energy for mission.” Says Rev Alf Taylor, St Aidan’s Presbyterian Church, Birkenhead.”

Being “Kids Friendly” has become a norm for many of our churches and paved the way for promoting and facilitating intergenerational relationships.

An intergenerational community values and promotes all ages worshiping, learning, praying, celebrating, serving and playing together. And “intergenerationality” (as Roberto coins it), like “Kids Friendly” is not a programme, but a practise. It is a way of being that requires intent and commitment from all the members of the faith community.

Galloway uses Deuteronomy as a framework for his thesis. He writes: “It is a book that delves deeply into passing faith down through the generations. It has timeless lessons for us to apply to the generations of today.”

Galloway captures his thesis message, the promotion, nurture and guidance of young people in faith, in the word “generativity”. “It’s a word psychologist Erikson used to describe the way those in mid-life can positively care for and empower younger generations.”

While the motivation for Galloway’s report was to explore how the church (his in particular, but applicable to many,) can best connect with young adults in today’s post-modern world, I believe his findings and suggestions, inspired by Deuteronomy and his exploration of “distinctive generations”, can and should be applied to all ages and as early as possible.

The command of Moses is to embed the principles of the law in the hearts and lives of a new generation. “Talk about it with your children…..” as Galloway points out himself: “Barna research suggest that if people do not make a commitment to Christ by the age of 14, the likelihood of them doing so is slim, so ‘get faith to your young uns’!”

Galloway’s research was informed by a young adult focus group from Hope Presbyterian who expressed a desire to have more opportunities for intergenerational conversations and fellowship.

Embedding an intergenerational ethos in our churches will, I believe, ensure that these intergenerational conversations and friendships are happening from an early age and will continue through the teens into young adulthood. And before we know it this generation of young people will naturally become the older friends and mentors to the emerging generations.

And let’s not forget this is all about passing on faith.

People come to faith by socialisation. “Lectures and books are unlikely to be much help (especially in the early stages). What is required is an immersive learning experience, involving socialisation and non-formal learning through observation, imitation, experiment and many hours of practice so that the skills become second nature.” (Making Disciples in Messy Church, Paul Moore)

But also and possibly even more importantly, people come to faith through relationship. “What appears to be most important in people’s growth to faith is a loving, caring, close relationship with other Christians. In the nurturing process of our children, we must allow them to develop deep personal relationships with as many of the people of God as possible.” Lance Armstrong: Children in Worship. The Road to Faith.

An intergenerational church prioritises and fosters relationships across the generations. It creates opportunities for all ages to worship together, learn together, pray together, serve together and play together. “Intergenerational” is a way of being. It is integral to the church’s culture. It is who they are. And being intergenerational is intentional!

Some pointers for embedding an intergenerational ethos in your faith community:
  • Welcome and value all people, ages and stages, equally
  • Recognise disciples are made in community
  • Understand disciple-making requires intentional, non-formal apprenticeship-style, experiential learning and formal learning
  • Foster and facilitate good relationships between young and old
  • Empower leaders and the congregation to role model this way of being
  • Welcome and bless the lowest and the least
  • Love and serve one another and your community

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Singing together in church

In most of our churches, children are present for the first part of the worship service, but we don't always consider them (along with others) when choosing songs and hymns.

Some churches include a children's song in their 'time with the children", but what about the other songs we sing? And if there's a ‘children’s song’ does that mean all the other songs are not for them? When we (Kids Friendly) are asked by churches: “Can you suggest some children’s songs?” We suggest choosing songs that ALL God's children love to sing when worshipping together.

While there is a place for upbeat children's songs with actions it may not be in the all age worshipping community. Children too enjoy hymns and even the ‘oldie but goodie’ songs that the congregation remember singing as children.

“Churches often choose music and worship forms according to the taste of the children in their midst – but their tastes are not yet biblically formed. That is like letting first graders choose what they want to learn in school,” says Marvin Dawn in her book "Is It A Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children". (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997, p.71)

"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest," said C.S. Lewis. Could the same be true for ‘a children’s song?’

Do adults cringe as they sing silly words? Are children asked to come up and ‘perform’ the actions? We think there's a better way to share the richness of our faith through words and tunes that inspire us and sustain us for life.

We encourage church worship teams to carefully consider their context and how all ages can better participate together in worship, including the sung worship. Children bring their special gifts to worship and grow in their faith through regular inclusion and participation in the worship of the congregation.

Mike Burn, in his book “Family Worship 3” says: “In the secular world, the generations tend to be polarised, but in the kingdom of heaven, we are called to unity across all of the divides: national, cultural, denominational, generational. Where the world tends towards enmity and separation, we are called towards love and reconciliation. Surely that should be reflected in our praise and worship together? There are bound to be musical tastes and preferences which differ in the church, but if we "prefer one another in love", then there should be something for everyone in our worship. Music is one of the most powerful communicators, and when we can sing with one voice, it does something powerful in the spiritual realm in demonstrating that we really are one body.

It can be a real challenge for worship leaders to include and satisfy all ages, but a key is to choose songs which cross the boundaries of different ages, and embrace an attitude that everyone matters and should be included in worship.

“In the same way that we want to value and include children and youth in our worship, we should value and include older generations too. It's not a question of compromising and trying to placate all the different ages and preferences we find in the church, but rather a question of saying that every single person is valuable and therefore should be included in what we do together,” says Mike Burn.

“Family worship can be compared to a family meal time, where there is something for everyone. There are times when adults will dine without children, for example at a dinner party and times when children celebrate with their peers like a kids' party. There's nothing wrong with these occasions - they're wonderful, but we need the family meal regularly to express our togetherness, and ensure a healthy diet for everyone. So too we need times when we worship together as the whole family of God.”

And remember that church worship is a public communal activity not a private devotion.

“Some churches seem to treat sung worship as an ‘insular’ experience. This is reinforced with a practice of closing eyes to indicate fervour and earnestness. But worship is first and foremost a communal activity. I often encourage people to engage in ‘eyes open’ worship, to make eye contact and acknowledge one another. In Isaiah 6, the Seraphs are singing ‘Holy, holy, holy’ not to God, but to one another. They are reminding each other of God’s truth. Our children are particularly vulnerable to this ‘insular’ way of worship, and can even be seen as an obstacle to it. My suggestion is that worship with children needs to be communal and relational, not individual and internal,” says Malcolm Gordon, PCANZ’s Worship, music and arts enabler.




This blog is a collaboration between Kids Friendly and Malcolm Gordon

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Raising Up Young “Transformer” Leaders

Jennie McCullough is the

Children, Youth and Families Ministry

Leader at Knox Presbyterian Church

in Waitara. She has extensive

experience in discipling and

raising up young leaders.

By Jennie McCullough

A leader is a person of influence and we as children and youth leaders can encourage and teach our young people Biblical leadership which is leading by serving.

This style of leadership is transformational in a world that is totally self-centred and it makes an incredible impact in our churches and communities.

Servant leadership is key to growing disciples, those who put their trust in Christ, and are indwelled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Those who are established in faith are called to disciple and mentor those new in faith. While many understand the importance of this, they often resist doing it. They claim they don’t know how. But really all that is required is for the more mature person of faith to journey with the beginner Christian. As C.S. Lewis said when asked what a mentor is: ““Think of me as a fellow patient in the same hospital who having been admitted a little earlier, could give some advice.”

Servant Leadership can be developed at any age and is especially effective if you start with young Christian people who are transitioning from childhood at the age of 11 and 12 years. Learning to serve in practical ways helps young people find their strengths and gifts. It also helps them find purpose and drives them to go deeper in their faith. During the mentoring process they establish relationships with people who become “significant others” and influence and guide them at a time when they are starting to individuate and explore values apart from their families.

During this process being part of a peer community is absolutely vital as this age group (11 to 17) need to travel together, often working according to the SBT (Saul, Barnabus, Timothy) principle. And don’t be tempted to segregate your young people by age. Integrating all ages provides a stretch and grow environment - the more mature demonstrating faith, knowledge, character and skill that the less mature can aspire to, which in turn develops their esteem, sense of purpose and acceptance.

Transformers – Raising Up Young Leaders is an initiative of Kids Friendly that introduces servant leadership to children age 10 – 13 years at a weekend camp. Mentors accompany children to camp and continue the mentoring and discipleship process back in their churches. To find out more see