Looking for a simple, creative way to engage young families in the life of your congregation? Jessica Anschutz explains how providing a gathering space for young parents and their children can be a high-impact, low-budget way to build a supportive, nurturing community for young families.
In the New York state community where I serve, young adults comprise 25% of the population. Theology on Tap seemed like a logical opportunity to reach new young people. They readily expressed excitement about gathering at a local pub for conversations about faith and life, but very few actually participated. While local young adults were excited about building community and engaging in conversation, concerns over the cost of hiring a babysitter and disruptions to their young children’s bedtime routine kept them home. Theology on Tap failed to engage a thriving community of young adults, so it was time to pivot. “Coffee, Kids, and Chaos” was born.
A space for parents to gather while their children play
Rather than meet at a local pub in the evening, why not use the church’s fellowship hall in the morning as a gathering space for young adults and their children? The idea was simple. Offer a space for parents to gather for coffee and conversation one morning a week while watching their children play.
The congregation was excited about the prospect of welcoming new, young people to the church. The hall was already supplied with toys abandoned in the years since the church offered a Sunday school program or nursery. Minimal time and effort were required to spruce up the space, clean and organize toys, and dispose of broken toys. A few pieces of child-friendly art were donated and hung over the toy shelves. Weekly set up was limited to brewing a pot of coffee and putting the snacks out. A shoestring budget funded by a new ministry grant provided local coffee, child-friendly snacks, reusable snack cups, and a coffee pot. A key to the success of Coffee, Kids, and Chaos was good, local coffee!
A supportive, nurturing community
This minimal investment led to the creation of a supportive and nurturing community for care providers (moms, dads, grandmas, babysitters) and a safe space for children to play and enjoy snacks. Two area pastors served as hosts and participants asked questions about faith, spirituality, parenting, sleep training, and transitioning to preschool/school. Families donated toys that were rarely used at home and the children would proudly exclaim, “I have this toy at home!” as their parents muttered under their breath, “not anymore.” As relationships grew among the participants, families handed down clothes and toys to one another. Many also brought snacks to share and some children brought special treats to celebrate their birthdays.
When weather permitted, Coffee, Kids, and Chaos moved to the local tot park and other area parks. Prepackaged goldfish and a box of joe were great recruitment tools for other parents at the park often eager to find a place to play when the winter weather came. In the fall, Coffee, Kids, and Chaos went to a local farm to pick apples. Special simple craft projects were offered around the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. Halloween was celebrated with a costume parade and themed snacks, and Easter was a great time for an egg hunt.
Coffee, Kids and Chaos is a high-impact, low-budget ministry that engages participants in the life of the congregation. While most participants did not attend worship, they supported the missions of the host church by donating school supplies and food for the local food pantry and beautifully handcrafted items for the congregation’s fair.
Coffee, Kids, and Chaos may be a great way to reach new people in your community if there are stay-at-home/work-from-home parents, nannies, or grandparents caring for young children. And if you have a spirit of welcome and hospitality, include clergy and laity who can serve as hosts, welcome people, engage in conversation, and nurture relationships.
When considering the venue, choose an area where caregivers feel comfortable bringing children with convenient parking for cars, bikes, and strollers. You’ll also need:
- A gathering space, such as a gym, fellowship hall, nursery, or Sunday school classroom with a child-friendly bathroom and a changing table nearby. The space should be child-safe with covers on all electrical sockets, child-safety locks on cabinets and doors, and no sharp objects or safety hazards.
- Toys and books for children ages 0-5, such as blocks, trains, riding toys, dress-up clothes, dolls, highchairs, walkers, and bouncy seats
- Simple art supplies
- Snacks such as goldfish crackers, gluten-free bars, and fresh fruit
- Coffee, creamer, sugar, and various sweeteners
- Cleaning supplies, including paper towels, tissues, and disinfecting wipes
- Advertising flyers to distribute throughout the community, a sign in front of the church, and clear directional signage within the building
Other important considerations include:
- Complying with your congregation’s Safe Sanctuary or child-safety policies
- Developing an inclement weather policy (The simplest way may be to follow the local schools.)
- Establishing a way to reach participants via social media posts, a group text service, or direct contacts in the event of a change or cancellation or COVID-19 exposure
- Developing a protocol to clean the toys regularly (This is a great way to get volunteers from the congregation involved.)
Keep in mind that the chaos part of Coffee, Kids and Chaos may present itself in different forms: crying children, demand for toys, spilled snacks or coffee, leaky diapers, empty toy bins, and more. Of course, the children aren’t the only ones who bring the chaos, sometimes it’s the adults who spill coffee or tears. While Coffee, Kids and Chaos always brings some element of chaos, it is a lot of fun and a wonderful way to support children and their caregivers in your community.