Bubble Church was a mid-pandemic experiment. There are lots of young families in Balham, most of whom have no connection with church, and Bubble Church was our experiment to see if we could connect with them in a period when parents were starved of personal contact, and were struggling to find things to occupy their little ones. So we came up with Bubble Church, and the strapline: A puppet-packed, Jesus-centred, socially-distanced, coffee-and-croissant-fuelled, 30 minute kids and families adventure every Sunday morning. Families would arrive, have a coffee and croissant, sit on a socially distanced “bubble” (blue circular carpet), and join in with 30 mins of song, puppets, Bible story, prayer, simple and fun liturgy, and then leave.
Numbers grew quickly, and now 6 months on 100+ new people are coming along, with new faces still appearing each week. A new congregation has formed. People come and people tell their friends to come because they’re getting what they want for free: fun, good news, entertainment for their little children, food, structure, kindness, and welcome (as one parent reflected, “no one else is so happy to see us!”). The families who come are a mix. Some are Christians from other churches seeking child-friendly services – many of them have now stopped coming since their home churches opened up again. Some are unchurched families who like the fun, feeling of community, and message of hope. Some are “nominally” Christian families who don’t normally go to church but want their children to grow up in the faith. To let this momentum of growth continue unhindered, we’ve needed to embrace regular change, flexibility, and failing fast. We’ve regularly experimented changing the service timings, we’ve adapted to Bubble Church on Zoom, we’ve experimented with having two services each Sunday morning, and we’ve tried different forms of social media outreach.
So the hard part hasn’t been getting people to come. The hard part has been getting to know people under lockdown conditions. However, two things have begun to work for forging relationships despite the restrictions. 1. Calling people up – it’s a slog phoning strangers and trying to get to know them, but it’s been worth it. And 2. inviting parents onto the Bubble Church team – every parent we asked said “yes”, and we’re finding that participation is a powerful form of discipleship for those individuals.
Now that restrictions are easing, more opportunities for forming relationships and encouraging discipleship are emerging. We hosted a Bubble Church Party on a Saturday morning which was great for strengthening relationships and forming connections, and we’re offering a Christening Course over the summer with eight families currently on board. It’s going to be exciting to continue experimenting with Bubble Church to fit the slowly emerging post-pandemic landscape.