What do you do when one of your fastest-growing demographics is under five years old? Start a Sunday service just for them.
Bondi-Waverley parish hosts this service at its Bondi Beach site and it’s advertised as being for kids and their parents – although anyone is welcome – with games, songs, Bible stories, craft and plenty of time to play.
The 9.30am Little Souls service was born out of years of running playgroups and building a community of young families at the Bondi Beach church.
“We decided to take the format kids and families already loved and made it a place for engaging with Jesus as Lord and Saviour together,” says the Rev Blake Hatton, the parish’s assistant minister and the site pastor at Bondi Beach. “[I had been told] Bondi has lots of fitness space, retail space, even social space, but very little communal space where you see the same people each week and grow in connection and depth. I think we’ve created a very special community space.”
Bringing play to Sunday
For Annie Smith, Little Souls was a perfect fit for her family. Juggling full-time work and parenting meant she didn’t have the opportunity to take her two young children to many of the midweek playgroups on offer. They’ve now been regularly attending Little Souls for two years and love both the format and the community.
“For all of us, it’s just a fun part of our week,” Mrs Smith says. “It’s structured fun. There's a good community for people who go regularly and a good format that keeps kids engaged in lots of different activities. It’s a good way to start the conversation [about faith] at an early age so they are prepared to make decisions they want to make about what they want to believe and where life might take them.”
Parents along for the ride
Since starting with a trial in the summer of 2021, there are now 20 to 40 people attending weekly.
The trial started as a way to help families move from a booming playgroup ministry to participating in church life. Lacking the resources to start a morning congregation with a creche running alongside, and given that the 5pm service was a tricky time for toddlers, they decided to experiment with a service that incorporated every member of the family.
Most of those who currently attend “are non-church people,” Mr Hatton says. “They have now heard heaps of the Bible through the kids' readings and lessons. We also produce a nice print card for parents called ‘The Bit for Adults’, where I take 500 words to say what I would like to say to the adults if the kids' attention spans would allow it.”
Out of Sunday's gathering, a “thing for dads” has also begun. Mr Hatton explains that, from time to time, “we get dads together to talk about parenting and marriage. We share wisdom, techniques and are also open about our faith and how that feeds us as fathers and powers us for grace and gentleness for our families.” The hope is to run a mums’ version in time, as well as starting a regular Bible study group for parents.
He adds that the idea of taking the popular playgroup format and using it to connect with families on a Sunday morning has proved to be a wonderful blessing to the community. “We have all of these kids engaging with Jesus as they sing, listen to the Bible and pray, and their parents are watching on, listening and taking it in themselves. It is delightful.”
- Praise God for the families who have joined the Little Souls community.
- Pray that the children and their families will continue to grow together in community and also in faith.
- Pray that the “things for dads”, as well as the future mums’ group and Bible study will be a great blessing to families.