Richard Wilson
A new kids’ work on the block

In Martin and Natalie’s second book, A Church for the Poor, they looked at how some of the ways we often do church – the assumptions about life, the cultural norms, the expected level of literacy – can often be barriers to the very people we are trying to reach. If that is true for the adults in our communities, how much more is it true of the children?

This was the concern of East End Church in London, serving children in an urban inner-city environment, with many living in poverty. As they looked around at existing resources for children’s ministry, they couldn’t find anything that felt relevant to the circumstances of the children they were seeking to serve. To them the answer became obvious: write your own material!

Driven by a fear

The website for Equipping Every Kid (EEK) makes a surprising confession: the work is driven by fear! Charlie MacDonald, who heads-up the work, explains:

It’s not a fear of being offensive, or a fear of stepping out of line. We’re driven by a fear that the kids of today’s generation might never be confronted with or challenged by the real Jesus. So that’s the Jesus we present to them. The offensive, rebellious, classless, servant-hearted Jesus that we all love and want kids to fall in love with too.

We then want to equip every kid with the knowledge, tools and wherewithal to let Jesus take control of their lives. To help them realise that, unlike what today’s culture is telling them, it’s not about them. It’s about Him. The one who gave up everything to take their place and meet the punishment that God required for their sin. So that’s all we do. We just serve up the real Jesus – and it works.

So, if that was the answer, what were some of the factors that led East End Church to look again at how the church was undertaking work with their children?

Charlie again:

We live in a world where kids are being constantly targeted and messaged; challenged to be different and told to do life just as they wish. Yet when today’s church serves Jesus up to them, we’re guilty of dodging all these real issues. We hide behind religious theory, moralistic teaching and a meek and mild attitude. Sunday school may have been appropriate for us, but it won’t cut it for the hyper-engaged, hyper-connected kids today.

Plus, importantly, the old approach seemed to be at variance with the gospel message of grace being proclaimed through the rest of the church’s teaching.

A lot of the existing children’s material assumed a level of parental involvement and encouragement. But many of the East End inner-city children were not ‘church kids’ who had home support. There needed to be more of an emphasis on directly equipping the children, Sunday by Sunday, for the week ahead; particularly when the children were coming from backgrounds with very different worldviews or backstories.

Then there was a feeling that for many of the boys especially the traditional ways used get kids to connect with God wasn’t working; things like small group discussion, eyes closed, staying still, being quiet! More physical or noisy activities have been successful; one on one with God, giving a challenge and giving opportunities for questions. And for all the children there was a greater need to encounter Jesus, to understand grace and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. As a result, the church has seen kids who might be seen with their hoods up and causing trouble in the local area on other days, connecting with God on a Sunday morning; talking to him, asking questions, and receiving revelation.

COVID-friendly content

When COVID-19 arrived and churches went into lock-down – not long after the launch of the website ­– there was a need to re-think the approach for children at home. During this period EEK has turned out ‘Kids in Lockdown’ ­– new material week-by-week with games, teaching and response that can all be done at home using everyday household items – also passing it free of charge to other churches. The material, broadcast in the church’s Sunday Zoom meetings, uses short, snappy, Jesus-focussed lessons to equip children for the week ahead.

Charlie talks enthusiastically of her journey writing the material for East End Church. Although she acknowledges that she is not alone in looking again at the way we lead and equip our children, EEK is certainly finding wider favour in other churches too; other London churches have been using the resources since 2016. The COVID lockdown has increased the demand and there are also now plans for a YouTube channel with the aim of showing big doctrine in bite-size chunks.