Pastoral Advice: Helping a Young Family

“We’ve been going to this church for a year, and we really like it,” said the husband. “The service is great, the people are great.”

“There’s just one small problem,” said the wife, “and we don’t know what to do about it.”

“This church has a small Sunday school for kids 3 and older. For kids under three there is no nursery (it’s not just that they don’t have a staffed nursery, they don’t have a physical nursery space at all). There is a cry room at the back of the church, that is 8-by-8 and doubles as a staging and storing area for all the Sunday morning supplies for the service (communion elements, candle sticks etc). It’s a tiny makeshift space that is designed for short visits. For the last year, one of us has been in the cry room every Sunday with our oldest child who is too young for Sunday school, and too active to sit through the service.” The husband explained.

“And usually that someone was me,” smiled the wife. “What makes it worse is that part of the staging area has a sink, and the cupboard under the sink has cleaning supplies; the cupboard doesn’t have a lock on it, so guess where the little kids like to go get into mischief?”

“Our oldest child is just turned two, so it’s one more year in the cry room. And we’ve just had our second child, so by the time the oldest is ready for Sunday School, the younger will be no longer at the ‘sleep through the service stage’ and will need to be in the cry room.”

“So we’re looking at three more years of one of us being in the cry room for the majority of the service; and longer if we decide to have more kids!” Said the wife.

“And as soon as there is more than one or two kids in the cry room, it gets awfully crowded. It’s such a tiny space. Yes, they do pipe the service in over a speaker in the cry room, but over the noise of the toddlers it’s really hard to hear and follow along.”

The wife’s smile faded, “You know, by the time we get ourselves to church, and one of us settles into the cry room, it feels like it would have been easier to just stay home. Pull up a video of a sermon on the internet, throw in a worship CD and do church at home. What’s the point of going to church if I just end up sitting in the cry room every week?”

“We don’t want to have a consumer, church-shopping mentality, really we don’t,” said the husband, “but is it time to start looking for another church, one that has more child-friendly options?

*****

Okay Cheese-Wearers, what advice would you give this young family?

  • I have always advised people that if they have a need pressing them to leave, then it should be somethiing that they have discussed and worked on for some time at least. It’s frustrating when the need isn’t known until one foot is out the door.

    This sounds like a great ministry opportunity. If there are “good people” there, then it shouldn’t be hard to work out a solution in community.

    • Over the years I’ve encountered the ‘one foot out the door’ phenomenon and what’s interesting is it usually happens because the person/people etc don’t want to cause a fuss. Maybe it’s a pacifism thing, “better to leave than to cause conflict” type of approach. Of course avoiding conflict that may not actually exist isn’t great either. Presenting a need doesn’t necessarily lead to conflict.

  • From the pastor’s perspective, I would wonder if they had spoken and shared their concerns with others in the congregation (the pastor, youth leader, etc etc.) and would encourage them to do this. Sometimes, and I know this isn’t great but it’s the truth for all us humans, pastors and other leaders do not readily identify that there is a problem for which they might have the solution! I can’t imagine a couple coming to me and my saying, ‘well, they’ll just have to figure that one out themselves or go somewhere else!’ I’d find a way, probably with the assistance of others, to make this more hospitable. From a leadership perspective, if one couple has this struggle, their either are or will be more who do as well and it merits resolving.
    I agree with Michael, if there are “good people” there, then a solution has a high likelyhood of being there as well. If they feel uncomfortable approaching the pastor, I might encourage them to approach a deacon/ elder/ council person/ whatever their term is for ‘leader’ in the church.

  • As a former childrens minister, let me say, find a church with an adequate childrens ministry. They are important too.

  • Rod, I agree with you that children’s ministries are very important. Extremely! However, why must we automatically recommend to someone that they *look* for this or that ministry elsewhere when they are already fulfilled where they are, apart from this lack? Yet, frequently we tend do this right off. Perhaps that is what they must ultimately do, but can we not also encourage them to create ministries within the church where they are? Some of the strongest, well supported and funded ministries I know are ones that were suggested or spearheaded by a member of a congregation, not a professional church leader. We are all called to serve in some form or another. Might it be reasonable to encourage someone to try this first–to see if God is calling them to begin a children’s ministry in their place of worship for both themselves, other families, and other children that will come after them?

    • This is true. It may be wiser to see if they would be open to starting a childrens ministry, through the youth ministry, but AMac did not say they had a youth ministry. I couldnt presume.

      • This may be a difference in churches (both structure and leader personalities). I had not assumed that there needed to be an existing youth ministry. There would not need to be and existing one in a tiny congregation like mine. Additionally, I am making the assumption that these persons in this particular instance feel called to remain at that church.
        I still believe, in the wider sense of this issue, we often perpetuate the church-shopping notion by assuming that the first choice is to go elsewhere. I wish we church-type-people (myself included!) could develop the habit of first asking if someone is being called by God to do something where they are before suggesting that another location might be better.

      • Yeah, I don’t really know if this church has a youth ministry, or what state it is in.

    • “I still believe, in the wider sense of this issue, we often perpetuate the church-shopping notion by assuming that the first choice is to go elsewhere. I wish we church-type-people (myself included!) could develop the habit of first asking if someone is being called by God to do something where they are before suggesting that another location might be better.”

      On the other hand, there’s a town back in Ontario that has an abundance of churches for it’s population, and because one church has an awesome youth program (as an example), other churches in the community recommend that families with young people attend that church. Likewise another church has an awesome bible study network, so the other churches plug that ministry, rather than trying to duplicate it.

  • Anne Stevenson

    I suspect I know exactly which church you are talking about and if so I realize one of the present problems is that it is entering a time of several months without a full time pastor while a new one is being sought. May I suggest that if this is the case that the problem be presented to Deacon Arleen. She may know best how to approach the wardens and vestry with this very big problem that is hindering that church’s growth and has been for some time.

    • Anne,
      How did you know? lol!

      Actually D.Arleen’s response was “one day we’ll have a nursery, just be patient” but since that would be tied to the massive renovation game plan of the church it could be YEARS before it happens.

  • Anne Stevenson

    I am also wondering, again assuming I know which church you are asking about, if the seminary and college students that are such faithful attenders all during the school terms would be up for trading off doing nursery. There are spaces in those buildings that could be used….if they are not perfect they would be adequate while awaiting more renovation completion. If I am totally misguided as to what church this is, then I apologize and sorry to waste your blogging space.

    • I think this is the only church that doesn’t ‘use’ college students to run ministries. I wonder why that is? Most other churches do the big push for recruiting college volunteers.

  • Amanda – Thanks so much for this post! I have been struggling with my own perceived anxiety over church, and your post really puts my situation into perspective! I love the follow-on comments from everyone as well, they really have me thinking different about my own view of church (and the notion of church shopping) recently!

  • From the lectionary Gospel reading two weeks ago:
    Disciples: “Lord, send them away so that they may find food.”
    Jesus: “YOU give them something to eat.”

    Just saying.

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  • I’ve said this before, but for everyone else’s sake, this is a church in the midst of renovations that are taking a long time to get done. There used to be a nursery space and there will be again, but who knows when? College students used to volunteer on a regular basis to staff this nursery, as well as older women in the church. Eric helped coordinate this schedule, and I’m sure we could get it going again. I’m sure these volunteers would be willing to be in the cry room as well if they knew of the need. I don’t know your comfort level, but I just used to sit in the service with my baby, it was the toddler stage that was tricky.

  • Oh, as for someone to speak with, I’d run this past Ellen, who heads up children’s ministries. She is frustrated by space issues all around, and has been talking to vestry about it.

  • Deacon Arleen

    Amanda,
    Your frustration and pain has not been ignored by the church community. Since it was first brought to the attention of Vestry about 3 months ago, we have been seeking a solution to this problem that has developed in the midst of our renovation. Our problem this year has not been one of people to minister in this area but the place to put a nursery that provides a safe and healthy environment for the little ones. The room that was designated to be used as the nursery during this phase of the renovation process suffered water damage from a water leak on city property that they had a hard time tracking down.

    Developments to date are: locks were installed on the cupboard doors the end of June – if you are going in there and finding the doors not locked, please bring this to our attention.
    Ellen and I have been working to find a space ASAP (we met with one of the wardens last Sunday with a possible solution)

    Bless you Amanda. I believe God has placed you in our midst to open our eyes to a need we have and to help us understand the depth of this need. Do you feel a call to help us work this out and get our nursery program up and running again? We need input from those needing this ministry in order to develop it to meet the needs of young families today. Please continue to dialogue with us in the church that together, in meeting your needs, the needs of others God is bringing to this community may be served.
    Serving with you,
    Deacon Arleen

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