The Story of ‘Grace for the Next Generation’
Why is it necessary to promote children’s work?
Peter Brierley’s book ‘The Tide is Running Out’ caused quite a stir! It reported in the year 2000 that the fall in the average number of Sunday churchgoers was in steep decline and accelerating. His research showed that a primary cause was the loss of children from churches. The church was losing 1000 children every week! The predictions for serious church decline were not well received by many. It was feared that advertising the apparent ‘terminal decline’ of the church would lead to loss of morale amongst those who work for the church.
There is much depressing reading material available for those who wish to understand the current situation. However, there has been much good work and new thinking in the last decade. Encouraging news shows us that there is still hope that current trends could, one day, be reversed. ‘Grace for the Next Generation’ is one of many new initiatives that seeks to provide new opportunities that give ground for such hope.
The seeds of the ideas behind the ‘Grace’ ethos began when Rachel Coupe was working as a church administrator. Although she loved her role, she wondered why she was employed in clerical work. Why was her work as an administrator valued more highly than her role as the Sunday School Superintendent? She asked two questions: ‘Why are we losing so many children?’ and ‘Is there an institutional problem that prevents good children’s workers from using their skills fruitfully?’ After considerable research, she started to understand why there is such a high age profile in many churches. (With each successive generation there are only half as many church-goers.) As a result of engaging with a number of different churches she began to understand the difficulties that were preventing churches from reaching children. There were many congregations with no children in their congregation and no hope of attracting any. Unless someone with skill and experience were to join such a church, there could be no change to their situation. Sadly there was no mechanism for introducing such a person to the churches who would welcome them. A major new initiative to encourage investment in children’s work was needed. Unless this could take place on a large scale in the near future, then Britain could very quickly cease to be a Christian country.
Rachel came up with an idea. It was a practical solution which could, potentially, meet the needs of churches, yet be affordable. The model was simple: four churches share a professional worker. Sharing a worker could be affordable for many churches which couldn’t consider having a full-time worker to themselves. Churches could opt into the scheme on their own, without the need to persuade neighbouring churches to share their vision. All the paperwork necessary for taking on an employee could be done for them. Each children’s worker could be mentored by an expert in developing and sustaining a successful ministry to children.
It was a good idea, but it needed to be tested. In February 2007 a mailing went out to churches in Derbyshire. This included the two documents ‘The Importance of Children’s Work’ and the ‘Grace Leaflet’. In May, the first church volunteered to be a part of the scheme. Rachel resigned from her post as a schools worker and ‘Grace for the Next Generation’ was born.
‘Grace for the Next Generation’ became a limited company in June 2007. It has been a registered charity since January 2008. Rachel was the first ‘Grace Worker’ piloting the scheme during the academic year 2007-2008. She demonstrated that the ‘one day a week; one Sunday a month’ model works well.
In the twelve month period September 2007 to September 2008, the Grace Project grew from three participating churches to twelve, then to twenty in the following year. The project grew quickly, recruiting energetic new workers with a real passion for Christian ministry, children and their families. Outstanding ministry has been achieved and where the church has been able to recruit volunteers, church members have been trained up to continue the work long after the Grace Worker has left.