A few weeks ago, on Easter weekend, we launched a children’s church program. If you want to launch one, here are some things to keep in mind, as well as some lessons we’ve learned since starting.
1. Determine the purpose. This is the most important thing you could figure out. Why do you want to start one? Is it because they’re popular these days? And by the way, to grow your church is not the right reason.
We wanted to start one because we noticed that there were many guests coming with young children, and they weren’t able to concentrate or even be in the service because they were so distracted with their kids. As a pastor, I could see the families having to leave the service because their kids started acting up.
“What about a mother’s/parent’s room,” you ask?
We’ve tried that. Parents aren’t able to concentrate when they’re in the same room with their kids. It just doesn’t work well at all. Many of these families never return as a result. So our bottom line reason for starting is because we wanted to provide an experience so that our guests could relax, take in the message, and be spoken to by God.
2. Determine age groups. With the amount of volunteers and people in your church, how many age groups will you be able to cover?
We decided that we could cover three age groups well:
0-1 year olds: These kids are cared for in our nursery room. We have various cribs, changing tables, and pack & plays in here, as well as toys that the children can be engaged with. If parents prefer, they can stay in this room with their kids. There is clear glass so they can see into the sanctuary and still hear the service.
2-5 year olds: These kids are in one decent-sized room. There are various “stations” where they’re engaged in age appropriate ways.
Finally, we have the 6-12 year olds in another room.
3. Determine curriculum. There are dozens of different curriculums you can use for the various age groups. Group produces a good one. You have to pay for theirs, though. Lifechurch.tv produces a professional video-led program that is completely free. You can check it out here. After evaluating the pro’s and con’s of the various organizations, we decided to go with materials that are provided by our denomination.
By the way, in this post I’m not getting into the specifics of what actually happens in each age group. If you guys request it, I could have some of our volunteers do some guest posts on the topic so you can get the inside scoop. Let us know in the comments if you’re interested.
4. Access safety protocols. How would a guest feel about dropping their children off in your church’s children’s programs? Does your process communicate that you have safety in mind?
We knew we had to get this one right. You rarely get a second chance at a good first impression, so we decided to go with a good children’s check-in system. In my research, I found that here are various systems out there including Lambs List, Excellerate, and By The Book. I also found that most major church management systems have built in check-in systems.
We’ve been using Connection Power for our CMS, and decided to test out the free built in check-in system. It worked great. You only need two things to get started: a label printer and a computer. We’re using the Dymo 450 for the printer.
The process is really simple. If someone has already registered, the parent gives the last four digits of their phone number, and then it automatically will print out three labels. The first label has the name of the child and a code. The second and third label has the same code for both parents. When the parent returns to check-out their children, the codes have to match up. To alert a parent to retrieve their child during the service, we can flash the code on a small corner of the screen in the church. Most worship software systems have this element built in so you can flash this code on the screen discretely.
5. Sign up volunteers. So you have the plan. You know what you’re going to use. Now you need to get enough volunteers to staff everything. While I don’t think there’s any magic bullet for getting volunteers, we did find that it was easier when we presented the whole plan to the church and told them of the areas in which volunteers could make a difference.
Those are the basics of what we went through to launch our children’s church program. So far we’ve seen many more children than normal, and we feel blessed that we’re able to minister to the parents and children in this way.
We have run into one major issue, though. We’re a church in transition, at the moment. The service officially begins at 11am, along with the children’s church program. Before we started the children’s church program we were having programs for the kids from 10-11am, along with Bible study groups for the adults at that time. We still have a few of those groups for the adults, but sometimes parents come at 10am to join one of those Bible study groups, so we’ve been thinking about how we can receive the children at that time. So not everybody knows, in other words, that we don’t officially have child-care until 11am.
What about you? Have you tried a children’s church program before? How did it go? What questions do you have?
[image by Jess Engelhardt]