There are so many activities and groups for parents and toddlers, some run by churches and others by independent groups or companies. Most are set up specifically with the focus on the children, the parents and carers are there in the background and there’s little for them apart from a coffee.
I had a real sense that God wanted these adults to be nurtured too. It is such a key time in people’s lives – it can be a joyful yet exhausting phase of life looking after little ones, and can often lonely too. I felt God wanted there to be something for these parents, grandparents and carers, while also offering play space and activities for their little ones.
My question was: how can I help them meet Jesus?
I really wanted the space to be somewhere the families would be welcomed, encouraged and refreshed, and where they might experience something of God’s love for them.
Seven years ago, we set up our Refresh Café. It takes place on Friday mornings during term time, offering adults a refreshing morning physically, emotionally and spiritually. We offer fresh coffee and croissants (physical refreshment). We have plenty of team to talk with the adults (emotional refreshment) and a two-minute ‘thought for the day’ shared by one of the team (spiritual refreshment). This key part of our morning is probably the most challenging. The thought is for the adults and the content is Christian, but gentle and low key. We encourage everyone to pause what they are doing and listen.
Most of the families that come to Refresh are not part of a church family. We don’t advertise Refresh, yet there are always many new faces joining us, due to recommendation by others, and we now regularly have more than 65 families each week.
We gather together as a team after we have set up and before we open the doors for the morning, to pray and talk about anything. We pray for each other, especially for the person giving the ‘thought’ that week and for any prayer requests people may have placed in the café prayer box. The team are all volunteers and it is so important that we don’t take them for granted and for them to know they are valued, nurtured and appreciated.
We register the adults and children and collect a nominal fee per family. We give each adult guest a sticker with their name on, written in blue if they’ve been before or red if it is their first visit. This makes it easier when talking with guests, helps us learn names and spot who is new. The parents and carers are responsible for their children at all times.
Towards the end of the morning we have singing for the children led by two of the team. They sing nursery rhymes with actions and puppets.
The thought time varies – it could be an interview, testimony or film clip followed by a few words. We offer to pray for anyone that would like that. We always have a verse from the Bible printed out on the café tables.
At Christmas, Easter or other festival, we have different craft activities for both children and adults (specifically for them and not suitable for the children). The aim is for the adults to have a way of expressing themselves creatively, which can be very therapeutic.
Many have said it is the best group they have attended, that there is something different about it – a sense of peace (even when it is busy). It is a ‘way in’ to our church community – some have done Alpha or other courses and we also now have a Life Group for mums and little ones as a follow on for those wanting to explore more about faith and go deeper.
I believe this format could work in more churches where there is a calling to reach out to the families in their community. The key elements are parent/carer focus and a thought for the day, and being ready and available to pray. The size of the group isn’t important. Refresh works, small or large. We wouldn’t want anyone to be put off by our numbers because we have been running Refresh for many years and a small group with just a few helpers would still feed guests physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Caroline Montgomery is the Family Life Ministry Leader at St Stephen’s Twickenham. She helps to run the Refresh Café, a group for families with young children.