The ARK is a place where children and their families can learn about Jesus and explore their faith. Established in 2007 in Newmains, The ARK has since grown significantly and is aiming to make a real difference to the people of the area. Shona Stirling explains more.
We currently have 80 kids on our register and also run something called Oasis for adults, and a youth cell group for those in the first three years of secondary school. Plans are also in the pipeline for a new community project focussed on out of school support.
Oasis runs alongside The ARK in a cafe church style to give everyone the opportunity to learn about God's love, have fellowship and meet new friends over a cuppa.
Our support churches are Coltness Memorial Church and Bonkle Church; they are linked churches in that they have one minister but two of everything else. There has always been a real history of kids' work here but, over the last 10 years or so that work had started to decline. There were all sorts of reasons – changes in family life, different pressures on families, regulars getting older and a decline in the number of young families attending.
I was trying to make things more family friendly but was banging my head against a brick wall. Why did the numbers drop? Basically because we didn't have any influence at all with the kids in the village. As a result we decided to run a holiday club and see what happened, on the back of that we ran a kids' Alpha in the church at the same time as the adult course.
From that we established a core congregation of kids who were really interested, or who had come to faith from Alpha. We launched The ARK as a Tuesday night congregation, but from the beginning we made it clear that this was not an outreach from those meeting on a Sunday morning.
Sundays were definitely not the best time for something new as we've got a lot of single parent families in the area, and kids are either with the other parent at the weekend or the parent wanted to take them somewhere else. As everywhere now, there are also a lot of football clubs and sports clubs so there were lots of tired parents about. They were running around six days a week and, quite understandably, didn’t want to get up early on a Sunday.
It wasn't long before the Tuesday night sessions at Coltness Memorial Hall also had some of the parents coming along as well. They were using The ARK to dip their toe in the water, with the result that we had increasing numbers of adults there.
After another tranche of Alpha on a Tuesday, several parents formed a group to meet on a Tuesday night. For the children, we started off as being for five to 12-year-olds; then it became five to 13, and now it’s five to 14. We have grown up with them!
A particular challenge is trying to bridge the gap for kids between singing and worship. Traditionally we are very strong on sung worship in church but not everyone likes to sing. I do teach sung worship to kids and I do expect that we should sing but I also recognise that there are lots of people who express themselves differently.
We went on to introduce flags because some of our boys who hate singing really love flags. We are not getting it 100% right all the time by any means but we do talk about worship as a response to Jesus, and emphasise that worship can be done in a variety of ways. We say that if we want to respond by singing quietly, that’s fine, but there are all sorts of other expressions too. Some of our boys breakdance and some choose to just sit quietly or to use sign language instead of singing.
At least once a term we also have an all age get-together when we ask the children to invite anyone who lives in their house. The format there is a bit like Messy Church where there is some kind of teaching as well as craft activity.
We use the whole building at Coltness Memorial Church. For a while we did meet in a local café and developed great links with the Muslim owner and his family. Sadly his business faced real difficulties and we couldn’t use the café any more but our friendship with him goes on.
In the next stage we aim to have premises of our own. The church is currently on the periphery of the parish, which has about 3,500 people. Our vision is to move The ARK lock, stock and barrel into the middle of the village from where we could run a community venture, and provide other groups for children’s activities – both spiritual and otherwise. ARK is also working closely with Newmains Primary School and Morningside Primary School to offer a number of clubs for children and their parents.
We have a building in mind so we've been working on a feasibility study and business plan. Both churches are very closely involved in the future plans, and it’s exciting to see!
Fresh expressions of church have always been there but in our traditional congregations we have often become so comfortable with what we're doing that we forget there is any other valid way to 'do' church. As far as we're concerned, the whole fresh expressions thing is about blessing the community, not trying to do the hard sell and convince them that we know what’s best but simply to demonstrate the love of Jesus to those currently outside traditional church circles.