Nursery schools and childcare programs are more to churches than a source of rental income. Lewis Center Director Doug Powe says they offer important missional opportunities as well. He outlines four simple strategies for engaging children and families.
Many congregations have daycare centers, preschools, nursery schools, or after-school programs. Some see the revenue-generating possibility of these programs as their primary advantage, but they offer important missional opportunities as well. What are some ways congregations can engage families in their childcare programs?
At least once a week, have a team of greeters provide coffee for the parents dropping off or picking up children. Many parents will appreciate a good cup of coffee or tea because they will not have time to stop someplace else to get it. You might even occasionally have your pastor or church staff members join the greeting team. Over time, these greeters will learn the names of the children and their parents and become a familiar, welcoming presence. As the initial point of contact, they can be important ambassadors between the church and families.
Look for fun, family-friendly events on your church calendar, such as a fall festival, trunk-or-treat, block party, or carol sing. These types of low-barrier, intergenerational events are great opportunities for inviting your childcare families. Make sure some of the greeters who are already known to the families will be on hand. Seeing a familiar face will help the children and their parents feel more comfortable and at home. There is no reason to be afraid of extending these invitations. It is a matter of being a good host. And it lets the families know you truly welcome their participation in what the congregation does.
The pastor and/or other mature members of the faith community might set aside time when parents or others connected with your childcare families can drop by and talk. Like anyone else, they may be struggling or experiencing life crises. And even if they do not attend church or have no religious affiliation, they may still have faith questions or just need a listening ear. Set aside some time, perhaps two days a week, for people to just drop by and talk. Typically, this would happen right after or right before picking up a child. The goal is simply to be available for individuals who may just need to talk.
4. Adopt a child
Ask members of your congregation to “adopt” a child or two from the childcare program. At Thanksgiving or other holidays, these members could send the child an appropriate greeting card or a parentally approved treat as a way of letting the child and their family know the church is praying and thinking about them. Certainly, the ability to adopt all the children hinges on the size of your congregation and childcare program. But even for smaller congregations, this can be a cost-effective way of helping the children feel more connected to the congregation.
I often hear congregations lamenting the lack of connection between their nursery school — or other children’s programs — and the church. There are missional opportunities like greeting, inviting, setting aside time, and adopting children that can create a closer connection. The congregation has to be willing to invest the time and energy to make these things happen. These connections are unlikely to happen merely by accident. It’s up to us to initiate appropriate ways of building relationships.
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