iconz4girlz (IFG) or i-girlz, as the girls call themselves, is a personal development programme in which girls are encouraged to reach their potential while growing in their relationship with God, through fun and practical activities. It is a ministry of Girls’ Brigade New Zealand, with the motto ‘Growing girls for good!’
IFG is based on the Boys’ Brigade ICONZ programme and in many churches the two programmes run side by side
The first IFG Unit launched at Northpoint Baptist Church in New Plymouth in 2009. There are now 25 groups across the country, including eight in Baptist churches. We hear from three of these below.
IFG in Welcome Bay for a decade – and still going strong!
Shirley Hampshire has been at the IFG Unit at Welcome Bay Baptist Church since the beginning in 2009 and is IFG’s longest-serving leader. The iconz4girlz programme is based on the foundations of spiritual, adventure, community service and interest. Interwoven with the badge work are devotions – teaching the girls Bible stories and how they relate to the girls’ everyday lives. Games, crafts and music also play important roles.
A drop in numbers in recent times had the team wondering if it was worth continuing the programme.
“However, it became clear to us that God brings us the girls he wants us to work with,” says Shirley. “Having a smaller number has meant that we have been able to engage with the girls one on one and get to know their parents as well. IFG is still playing an important role in the Welcome Bay community. Some of the most special times at IFG in Welcome Bay have been when girls give their hearts to the Lord.”
Shirley estimates that half of the girls attending IFG in Welcome Bay don’t come from Christian families, but the programme has never been rejected because of its Christian values. Even if the leaders don’t see girls come to Jesus during their time at iconz4girlz, the leaders know the programme still makes a huge difference.
“We see ourselves as a stepping stone in the Holy Spirit’s work in the girls’ lives,” she says.
IFG gives Blenheim group a fresh start
Girls’ Brigade began in Marlborough in 1946 with the opening of the 1st Blenheim Company. But after 70 plus years, the diminishing numbers of girls attending prompted the leaders to seek alternative ways to attract new members.
Sarah Millar, who works at the Blenheim Baptist Church, had been the national youth representative on the board of Girls’ Brigade NZ so knew all about the iconz4girlz programme. The IFG system caters equally for girls who go to church and girls who don’t, and Sarah identified it as the ideal vehicle to revitalise the work in Blenheim.
“Christian content is woven through all the badge programmes, meaning that girls don’t need to have a church connection to hear about God. What they learn about God on IFG nights is just as valuable as what they could learn on a Sunday at church,” says Sarah.
“Our girls love iconz4girlz and we’re continually gaining new girls through word of mouth. The majority of our girls are from non-church homes, and their parents are appreciative of the work we are doing with their daughters. The transition from Girls’ Brigade to iconz4girlz was incredibly easy with both our church and girls’ families being supportive of the idea.”
Many in the church served in the Girls’ and Boys’ Brigades over the years and are excited that the core aims of the Brigade are continuing.
IFG is connecting with the St Albans community
Don Benn, the children’s and families pastor at St Albans Baptist Church says that the IFG programme (alongside boys’ ICONZ) is proving to be an incredibly effective means to engage with their community.
“iconz4girlz is a wonderful programme that enables us to engage with people regardless of whether they are churchgoers or not. It’s about presence in people’s lives, responding to things that matter and helping meet needs,” says Don.
“We have created a small community of people (kids, parents/caregivers and volunteer leaders) who are doing life together. Shared experiences build relationships. Relationships help people not to feel so isolated. Happy, more settled kids, make for calmer home life. We, the church, have a role to play in demonstrating Jesus to our community. Over time we have intentionally built in opportunities for the parents and wider family to join in on IFG and ICONZ activities. Our girls and boys and families all get together. Don’t underestimate the power of fun and activity when parents are doing it with their kids as part of a community.”
Last year an ICONZ Parentz group was set up. Each week parents of the IFG and ICONZ groups can stay for a cuppa hosted by a couple of church members. This means parents of new children can remain close by should a child need support settling in. Often there is a Blessing Table where items no longer needed are available for those who may find a use for them.
“For us, IFG and ICONZ have been fantastic tools to help us connect with our community,” says Don. “It provides a framework for running a programme but also gives flexibility for leaders to work to their strengths. If you’re a church looking to build your connection to your local community, then a programme like IFG does give great support in doing it.
“I’m always open to having a chat with anyone who might have questions about any other aspects of the programme and how we have worked with it, adapted it and initiated new things from it. Feel free to email me if you’re interested.”
For more about Baptist involvement in the history of Girls’ and Boys’ Brigade, see https://baptistmag.org.nz/girls-brigade-turns-90/.