Today’s question comes from a staff member who is new to both his (or her) role and his (or her) church. For obvious rockin’-the-boat reasons, he (or she) has asked to remain anonymous.
One of our campuses is experiencing dynamic growth among young families which is great; however, we are encountering a challenge with parents bringing small children into our worship service. We would like to know if you have any suggestions about how to encourage young parents to use our preschool area and avoid bringing their children into service?
Anonymous, indeed. The “kids in worship” discussion is as popular as a beer keg at a Baptist men’s breakfast (and like the beer keg, Baptists may secretly be okay with it, but they’d never make their true feelings public).
One one hand, you have “family church” advocates, who strongly believe that families should worship in the same environment. After all, how will children learn to love Jesus if they don’t see their mom and dad modeling loving Jesus?
On the other hand, you have “big church is for big people” advocates, who strongly believe that targeted environments are best for the spiritual development of mom, dad, and the kids. After all, how will parents model Jesus if they are constantly being distracGET DOWN OFF THAT PEW THIS INSTANT HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU…
To be clear, I think there are valid arguments on both sides. My wife and I have four kids, and we’ve approached all four differently. Some were in service with us as little-bittys. Some benefitted more from a structured, kid-friendly environment. And now that our kids are out of the toddler realm, I find myself distracted by other people’s kids. Because let’s face it: few sermons can stack up to the cute bald-headed baby who is making faces at you from two rows up.
And there’s the rub: whether it’s an adorable little cherub whose giggles and grins are totes adorbs, or Rosemary’s Baby who is screeching and expelling all internal demons and / or strained carrots, babies and toddlers will eventually be a distraction. Minor? Perhaps. Major? Almost definitely. And if it keeps people from clearly hearing the gospel, that’s an issue that leaders need to address.
But we must address it carefully, oh so carefully. May the Lord have mercy on the pastor, staff member, or usher who loses their cool and makes a young mom feel like a failure because they couldn’t quiet their baby on the first try. As leaders, we must care for the frazzled and distraught parent as tenderly as we care for the frustrated and distracted pew dweller.
So, anonymous question-asker (and interested bystanders), take the following suggestions as just that…suggestions. Your church’s particular culture will play a major role in how you proceed.
1. Improve and promote your kids’ spaces. Gray cinder block walls and 1962-era flannel graphs don’t inspire new parents to leave their kids with you. So yes, improve them, but also promote them. Get in touch with expectant mothers and offer a tour of your space. Talk about your security procedures, your sick child policy, your nursing mom’s area…figure out the questions they’re asking (and the ones they don’t know to ask) and help them get familiar with how you plan to partner with them to raise the next generation.
2. Provide parents spaces. Even though we have crowd control bars to encourage people to scoot down front, we leave 3-5 rows open in the back. While anyone can sit here, we intend the space for volunteers who may need to slip out early or parents who need to beat a path to the door.
3. Remember that it takes moms to reach moms. Your gnarled and grizzled 78 year old male usher may have survived the Pew-Saver Crisis of ’84, but his gruff disposition and “no-holds-barred” approach won’t work with young parents. So recruit some other moms (young or old) to serve on your seating team. Their job is to ooh and aah over the babies as parents come in, let them know they’ve walked this road before, and gently but proactively point out convenient seating and the aforementioned kids spaces. If the time comes that the parents need to make a hasty exit, Aunt Mabel will be an easier assist than The Enforcer.
4. Invest in Emergency Parent Packs. I’m stealing this idea from Jason Young at Buckhead Church. Jason’s team has kits available that include activity pads, stickers, Goldfish crackers / Teddy Grahams, and coloring sheets to pass along to parents in case of a “situation.” It’s a generous and intermediate step that lets the parents know you’re for them. And that gift can build a bridge that will make parents more willing to seek help if they decide to leave the service.
5. Build systems that keep parents connected to their kids. Some of our kids staff make it a point to take the cell number of nervous parents who are dropping off their kids for the first time. They’ll go so far as to text a photo to say “Timmy is having a great time!” Yes, it’s a minor distraction to the parent, but it’s tiny compared to how distracted they are by not knowing what’s going on with their child.
Those are five quick things. I’m curious: what does your church do about the “kids in service” question? Comment below.
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Pssst…are you still here? Good. Because I have a funny story to share with you, dear readers:
I hammered out this post at 11 PM, then launched preview mode so I could proof it. WordPress has a feature where it will generate related posts (if you’re reading this on the site, you can see ’em below). And apparently, I wrote this exact same post six months ago. So, yes, call me forgetful. Call me a lazy content reproducer. But never call me inconsistent when it comes to crying baby advice.