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Is too much church sponsored childcare harming your children's and family ministry?

SO, I’m going to address an elephant in the room: children’s ministry versus child care. And I’m not talking about people VIEWING your ministry as childcare- that’s bad enough. I’m talking about actual childcare for church events. There is this battle raging in churches across the United States right now, and it’s directly related to children’s ministry and recruiting. Sometime in the late 1980s, when the church-consumer mentality hit its peak, the church began offering free child care for every event during the week. As time has gone by, parents have come to expect free child care for church events. And this problem is further complicated by churches having more and more events, sometimes every night of the week. Many times when a new event or study is announced, child care is just expected, and the new unsuspecting kids’ ministry leader has no idea that he or she was supposed to find babysitters for every event. I think at this point, you realize how passionate I am about children’s and family ministry. I believe in making a clear separation between ministry and babysitting. We do not take kids in another room and “entertain” them or “keep them quiet” while the church does important ministry. We are reaching kids for Christ, and every moment counts. When I first came on staff at my third pastorate, I had no idea my team and I would be expected to find babysitters for Bible studies and events every night of the week. It was beyond overwhelming. We were already using every strategy available just to try to cover our weekend services and our midweek service. Our focus had to be recruiting, training, working with our leaders and parents for our weekend programs, not being on the phone all day begging for sitters at all the other events. Everything finally came to a head when I came to our kids’ leaders meeting one Tuesday morning and laid yet another event on the table. One of my amazing hard-working leaders put her head on the table and started crying. The next day she turned in her resignation. There was no doubt in my mind that she left due to feeling overwhelmed, at least in part, by the child care duties. We were still not able to turn things around in a week, but her departure gave me incentive to keep trying. We were able to completely separate children’s ministry from babysitting, though it took a year and half of hard work to do so. And it was worth EVERY meeting and presentation to make that happen. Most growing churches are now having to address this issue.

If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend the book Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples, by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger (2011, B&H Publishing). Here is the reality: our churches need to do fewer events with more quality, and we need to streamline our events to coincide with what is already going on. What events is your church doing that have run their course? How can we begin moving those Bible studies and classes to Wednesday nights or Sunday during services? For us, we moved all Bible studies and classes to Wednesday nights and Sunday third services. Then we started letting people know that we would no longer be providing child care for events or classes that did not include the whole church. People were surprised and dumbfounded, but we patiently worked with them and eventually they caught on. I recruited an amazing young woman who took over as “Events Child Care Coordinator.” Her volunteer position was to find babysitters only for all-church events and only for an average of two events per month. She also focuses on recruiting and using babysitters who are not from our pool of every-week children’s ministry teachers! Some examples of all church events were: What We Believe 101, the Annual Church Business Meeting, and the Live Worship Album Recording Night. We created and implemented preplanning forms that helped her to plan ahead and stay fully staffed. It also kept other departments of the church from asking for “ten babysitters by tomorrow night.”

The effect of taking babysitting off our hands for our staff, key volunteers and our ministries was beyond description. Instead of finding babysitters every night of the week, we now rarely need to do so. We focus all our energy on children’s ministry, filling classes with amazing leaders, training those leaders, and connecting with parents. As a result, my staff, my team, and I are less stressed, and all of our areas have grown quickly under this laser-focused attention.

Why should your church consider limiting its babysitting services?

We were spreading ourselves and our volunteers too thin. At our church, we were having to ask our same pool of overworked, overcommitted volunteers to bail us out and babysit weeknight after weeknight. We lost two great weekend kids’ ministry leaders because they were burned out babysitting during the week. Do not let this happen. Your weekend kids’ ministry is far too important to sacrifice for any group’s babysitting. Having trouble recruiting? It’s time to cut out recruiting for nonpriorities. No matter how hard you try, you cannot do everything. And if you try to do it all, you will stumble through it poorly with fried, unhappy leaders. Choose the few things you are going to do, and do them well. Your priority needs to be your weekend and midweek services.

All that babysitting can be a liability for the church. Some churches are getting sued because of things happening during these largely unstructured babysitting times on church property. Do we really want to be liable for what happens with kids in church classrooms after office hours? This is usually when items go missing, are broken or destroyed, or a child gets hurt on the church property with no staff member present. Not good.

This is a great opportunity to let people see the value of the children’s ministry at your church. Your first step here needs to be to vision cast, lead UP, to your senior leader and leadership team. This can take time, patience, and effort. Then, as a church team, start streamlining what you do, and being more effective at the few things you continue to do. Be prepared for a lot of arguments and excuses such as:

“But we have to have child care or they won’t show up.” This is true in some cases. There are families that will not attend if no babysitting is provided. So start putting all of these meetings and events when children’s ministry is already in session, such as Sundays or midweek. It is better to streamline events for families anyway. For your events and meetings, you will have to specify and advertise whether you will be providing child care. If families know ahead of time, it gives them time to plan.

“It is what we have always done. Now people expect free babysitting at every event. There are no other options.” The truth is people can learn to do things a different way. It takes time, love, and patience. What did the average family do before we offered child care to every event? What do parents do now when they have a meeting for work, an outing, a PTA gathering, or a date night? They get a babysitter. All of these other events do not provide free babysitting; only the church does. The time has come to rethink that policy.

“Well it involves kids, so it’s the kids’ leader’s job.” That is as ridiculous as saying, “Well, I need a teacher for fourth grade. I need an adult so that’s your job.” This is why job descriptions matter. We are a team, and we need to work together. You cannot perpetuate the outdated thinking that you and your team babysit while the “real staff” does ministry. What your team does each week is far beyond babysitting. Do ministry, and do it together as a church team. Note that over time, people came to expect free babysitting at every church event. Over time, then, you can change that expectation. Helping your people to become active participants in their kids’ ministry is a process, but it’s worth it. What about your church? Has your church/ministry come up with a few creative ways to address the church childcare dilemma?? What are your thoughts?

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