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The growing reach of Bubble Church

Revd Marcus Gibbs from Ascension Balham tells the story of Bubble Church, a new Sunday gathering that has emerged from the pandemic as a popular space for young children and their families to discover faith while having fun together.

A church for young children and their families which began as a mid-pandemic experiment has seen amazing growth, attracting those who have not previously been to church before. That’s something to celebrate, says Revd Marcus Gibbs, vicar at Ascension Balham, as more churches prepare to replicate the model across the UK.

Bubble Church, named after the social bubbles which were a hallmark of pandemic lockdowns of 2020, launched under the strapline “A puppet-packed, Jesus-centred, socially distanced, coffee-and-croissant-fuelled, kids and families adventure every Sunday morning”.  Young children were welcomed with their families at 9.30am to sit on a socially distanced ‘bubble’ (a patch of blue circular carpet) and take part in song, puppets Bible story, prayer alongside a simple and fun liturgy.

It’s an experiment which has been hugely successful, offering something not only for children but for adults too and has continued to grow. According to Marcus, the ‘bubbles’ have been a key part of building the community and encouraging families to discover faith while having fun together.

“Because carers and parents sit with their child or children on their bubble,” he says, “they learn about the Christian faith together alongside their children in a way that’s non-threatening – everyone learns and grows together. We’ve realised that for many who come regularly, while we offer an energetic and action-packed experience, it’s also a profound moment in their week.”

The success of Bubble Church has led to growth in other areas of church life, as some of the older members of Bubble Church are now attending Sunday school at Ascension’s 10.30 service. A new mid-week group of parents and carers from Bubble Church has also started – seeing around 12 people meeting to grow together on their faith journey.

Marcus says: “We emphasise that Bubble Church is church in its own right – those come consider it ‘their’ church – its aim isn’t to get people to our main Sunday service, although of course people are welcome to come to that too!

“One of Bubble Church’s strengths is that it’s intergenerational – some members of our main service have become involved in helping; likewise, some of the young people who have ‘outgrown’ bubble church are now forming part of the ministry leadership team.

Far from the ‘bubble’ being a limitation, as might have appeared in those first meetings, it has been the basis of a hugely attractive model which is about to be multiplied in other churches. Marcus explains:

“We’ve seen God at work in a wonderful way and we’re so thankful that he is using Bubble Church to reach those who may otherwise not have come to church in our area of London. It’s a simple formula and allows everyone regardless of their knowledge of the Christian faith to join and learn together. And now, we’re excited to be able to roll out Bubble Church to other churches starting with a pilot of five churches in Southwark Diocese. This is being made possible by innovation funding which has been awarded over three years – we really want to see people blessed as a result!”

Since making the Bubble Church model available to others in the South London Area in 2022, Marcus has been in contact with over 150 churches via their Zoom introduction sessions. 30 churches are set to launch their own Bubble Church services by Christmas 2023, with more set to follow in 2024.

“A colleague who has started Bubble Church in another area of London told me that one member of his new congregation has a four-year-old daughter who wakes up each day and asks, ‘Is it time for Bubble Church yet?’ Hearing that really encourages me, it’s evidence that God is working and that young and old are being blessed by this new way we have discovered of offering church. I am so thankful to God for all he is doing and excited to see how he’ll continue to work through this model bringing little ones and their families to a place where they can feel welcome and join us on our journey of faith.”

Story updated in October 2023, with news of 30 churches launching their own Bubble Church services by Christmas 2023.