Anytime we run a programme, we can fall into a pattern. We can become used to working our way through the curriculum or activities, and we can come to expect each session to run generally on the same path, with a few quirks. Good planning and consistency can be essential to well-run sessions. But they can also miss out on something essential: relationship. I’m not just talking about the ‘let’s get to know you’ kind of relationship, but the relationships that we want our church’s home groups to have; the side-by-side, life-together, unplanned companionship of community that gives such joy and learning. Real relationships that we rarely have time to prioritise in a kids’ group.

It was one of those weeks where I barely had a chance to breathe or eat. Saturday evening rolled round and I thought: “I really must get preparing for tomorrow.” But my brain was tired and my body hurt, so I watched Netflix for two hours and went to sleep instead.

In the morning, I did the panic pray: “Oh God, what do you want us to do this morning?” while I flipped through the curriculum, but just had an impression that the answer was “nothing”. So I threw some stuff in a box and ran to church. Praying through the worship, I still felt this booming answer: “nothing”.

Time came for the kids to go out, and we had five kids. Three I know, and two visitors, one of whom is autistic. With nothing to teach, I suggested that we go outside and as we walked I watched them relax. I watched them laugh with each other. We got outside and one of the children suggested we play tag. So we ran around for 15 minutes until I couldn’t move anymore and neither could they. We collapsed on the grass and got some water. Since I had no teaching point, I just asked a question I truly wanted to know about: “When we sing together in church - what do you feel? What is it like for you?” Their faces turned sombre as they considered the question.

One boy spoke: “I like it because when I hear the music, all my insides rise up to praise God.”

I had never seen this child sing in worship before. “Really?” I asked. “That is a really good description. I find that so interesting because I can’t tell what is happening inside you when I look from the outside.”

He nodded: “I can’t read well, but I love listening and the words that other people sing helps my heart sing.”

The other children chipped in, sharing stories of worship, and I shared mine. We lay in the grass looking at the clouds and I asked about what life with God looks like for them during the rest of their week. One older girl shared about how she used to be bullied and how God stood with her while it was happening and another girl popped up out of the grass to say that she is currently being bullied. I stayed lying down in the grass and asked if the older girl had any advice. Advice flowed as did a few tears. I suggested that the older girl might want to pray for the younger one.

“I’ve never prayed for anyone before, but I’d really like to!” she said as she moved over behind the younger girl, put her arm around her and prayed the most genuine, heartfelt plea for her new friend. As the prayer ended, the younger girl’s face lit up: “That was weird, I feel hopeful and warm! Can I pray for you too?”

More prayer followed, completely unprompted by me. Some shared what they needed prayer for and the other children gathered around them to pray. I asked for prayer too, and they passionately prayed.

We cracked out the biscuits and laughed and talked about families and sports. And then one of the children asked about my cancer. I talked about the severe pain, and how I was never afraid, and who God was through it all. I talked about the surgery, and my Uterus Retirement Party, and how I felt that God didn’t heal it instantly.

Sometimes we get so caught up in giving the kids good teaching and a good programme to come to that we forget the power of undirected community

“Let’s listen to worship music and draw in our journals,” a tiny voice piped up and the other children eagerly agreed. One of the boys scrolled through my phone as he chose music while the other children dug out what was needed. And then we drew and wrote and lip-synced to the music as the sun shone on our backs.

It was the best Sunday morning I have had in a while. It was stress-free. It was community. And I felt like I had been to church. We went deeper with each other and with God then we ever had before.

Sometimes we get so caught up in giving the kids good teaching, opportunities to pray, and a good programme to come to, that we forget the power of undirected community; the power of being available to each other; talking and listening, with no agenda or plan besides being together and truly enjoying the fun of togetherness and the natural God stories that come out.

Sometimes the best answer to “what should we do this Sunday?” can be “let’s be a community that figures it out together”. Because where two or three are gathered together, Jesus is in the middle of it.