When you understand that your children’s ministry is way more than babysitting, you’ll see your ministry — and church grow!
When new families try your church, they’re often willing to park quite a distance from the door or don’t mind too much if the music seems a little loud. But if their little child is not given loving care in the church nursery, you’ll never see that family again. Excellent church nurseries are a security blanket for parents, and only those nurseries that try hard to please will attract young families. If you want your nursery to be a magnet for new families, make sure your nursery has these eight characteristics:
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1. A Clear Purpose
Too often the church nursery is seen as the loud “holding tank” for a flock of cute, but disruptive, little lambs. Don’t treat the nursery as a convenience for parents. Instead, give it the lofty purposes it rightfully deserves.
Decide what’s really important and unique to the church nursery as opposed to other age-level classes. Set your goals much higher than just “providing a baby-sitting service.” For example, the nursery should strive to love every child, teach Bible basics such as “God made you” or “Jesus loves you,” be filled with praise to God, promote a secure and safe environment in God’s church, and help babies and toddlers develop social and play skills.
2. Excellent Leadership
You need a nursery director who loves little children, listens well to parents, is spiritually mature, is dependable, and considers every detail important. Develop a clear job description that explains these qualities. Then look for possible candidates. The nursery director will represent the church nursery, so choose well. Just as the personality of a church is largely defined by the pastor’s personality, so, too, the nursery will personify the strengths and weaknesses of its director.
3. Church Leaders’ Enthusiastic Support
Continually pass along positive comments about the nursery to church leaders. Report the number of families who are coming and staying, based on the nursery’s records. Make sure nursery growth and improvements are reported to the people in charge of next year’s budget. Schedule church leaders for quick tours of the nursery in action.
If the church leadership doesn’t understand the importance of the nursery for church growth, then pray and work to convince them of its high priority! If the leadership is already supportive, then find creative ways to thank them. For example, send a thank-you picture of a happy new family to the pastor.
4. Clear Communication
To have an effective communication system, listen well to the parents. Respond promptly, no matter what the need or complaint. Learn children’s and parents’ names so nursery communication is personal. Be ready at times to “over-communicate” with parents. If one rumor (“The nursery accepts sick babies”) isn’t responded to quickly, it’ll cause parents to doubt the church’s care of their baby.
Publish colorful and creative brochures introducing new moms and dads to the nursery. New families love to receive a nice introduction to the nursery through the mail. Make sure all brochures are attractive, easy to read, and clearly communicate nursery goals, key policies, procedures, and general care items. This will help parents trust your nursery before their newborn has spent a minute in your care.
5. Established policies
How old must a teenager be before he or she may work in the nursery? What snacks are allowed? Who can check out the child? Policies should be decided and written down before they’re needed. Always communicate your policies in a positive way, whether through a booklet, newsletter, or personal conversation. All policies should be evaluated concerning their practicality and helpfulness. They should convey your church’s priority for the safety of each child and family. Make sure your attitude toward enforcement communicates love and care more than just a list of rules.
6. Adequate Funding
An excellent nursery can’t be run merely on donated hand-me-downs that may or may not meet safety standards. If you request donations, consider asking for financial contributions toward a specific project rather than publicizing a general need for “more rocking chairs.” If the church resists budgeting much nursery money, it’s most likely a lack of overall support from church leadership. If so, start nurturing that support.
7. Attractive and Spacious Facilities
A good first impression is shaped by how the nursery check-in area and rooms appear. A room may not be quite large enough, but it can be made to look and feel larger. Improve the lighting, paint with different colors, change the layout, and unclutter the doorways.
Above all else, keep the nursery area clean. Picture “clean” as how the home nursery looks when the first baby is brought home from the hospital by an excited, young couple. Not only is the area sanitized, but there’s a clean, sharp look to the whole room. Colors coordinate and everything in the room is there by loving decree. When those families look for a church home, the nursery that has the same sharp look will make a great impression and probably become the standard for comparing other church nurseries.
8. Trained, Loving Staff
It’s difficult to train volunteers to have a natural love for children. When recruiting, emphasize the need for workers who genuinely love kids. Then, (assuming you’ve gone through a thorough screening process), communicate the goals and pertinent policies of the nursery. Train volunteers in key responsibilities.
Require volunteers to show love to children by playing on the floor with them. Encourage workers to talk and sing quietly with the children even though babies may not respond. Train all workers to watch for unsafe practices so they can help prevent accidents rather than react to a problem. All this can’t be covered at a meeting. Instead, free up the nursery director or a training leader to work in the nursery when children and volunteers are there. The on-the-job suggestions and tips can be more easily offered and applied.
These eight points can seem overwhelming to you, depending on what the nursery is like at your church. If so, decide on the top two areas and make specific changes there, rather than attempting a complete makeover.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your nursery. Your church nursery is a magnet to attract young families to your church.
Tim Cox is a Christian education pastor in North Carolina. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.