Welcoming Families: Four Laws of Childcare in Churches

Maybe this is obvious to you.  But it doesn’t seem to be obvious to a lot of churches.Cartoon of a childcare room door with a sign that says, "Closed."

If you want families with kids to come to your church events (including worship and small group ministry), you have to take care of the children.  Some churches exclusively offer a fabulous intergenerational experience, but most don’t.

Childcare Law 1: If you don’t offer childcare, families won’t come.

Church members sometimes fight this suggesting that adults can arrange for their own childcare.  Well, good luck with that.  I know that my family’s schedule is pretty complicated.  I also know that childcare is expensive.  We barely get date nights.  It’s a lot of ask for parents to pay for childcare to allow them the opportunity for spiritual growth.

Childcare Law 2: Making families pay for childcare narrows your outreach.

If you only want wealthy families, then bay all means, charge for childcare.  But even people who can afford it will not always choose to spend their money that way.  It’s  a barrier to entry.  Just put a nice fat childcare line item in the church budget.  If you do your job well, you may run over – and how great will that be!  If you’re so successful at welcoming families that you need more childcare budget, you can celebrate that with the congregation and ask for some extra giving to cover it – together.

Childcare Law 3: People need to know about the childcare in advance or they won’t come.

Be very clear about what care or activities are available for children.  Will a special event be child-friendly?  For what ages?  What will kids be doing?  What age groups are covered?  Do I need to reserve a space?  (Hint: that one reduces your outreach too, but it warrants its own post.)

Make the information easy to find.  It should be in announcements, printed materials, on the website, and in your all-church email.  Make sure anyone who will be answering questions knows what arrangements there will be for kids.

People generally assume you won’t have it.  And that will keep them away.

If you will not have childcare, by all means post that too.  The worst case is probably a new family coming to your event and assuming childcare when it’s not offered.  It’s uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing.  You probably won’t see them again.

Childcare Law 4: Childcare must be safe, fun, and understandable (i.e., it must be quality childcare)

People love to tell church childcare horror stories.  I’ve heard about the dust bunnies, the ancient toys, the little childcare closet with one stranger in it on the other side of the church campus from where the adults will be.  It would be better not to have childcare at all than offer something unsafe, unpleasant, or uncomfortable.  You may think it’s fine because people won’t tell you.  Some parents will reluctantly leave a child there and feel bad about it during the whole church event.  Some will simply never come back.  It’s uncomfortable to tell someone you don’t trust them or your child didn’t like what they offered.

Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure there’s always more than one adult present.  That’s a basic safety rule.
  • Screen your childcare staff and volunteers.  Everyone else does.  Let’s not make the church the one exception!
  • Ask for feedback!
  • Do kids look happy?
  • Do kids come back?  If not, the issue could lie somewhere else, but it’s worth asking the question.
  • Is the childcare easy to find?  How will kids be picked up?  Is that process secure (i.e. checkin, checkout)?
  • This one’s not obvious: What do kids get out of being there?  Parents and guardians value enriching experiences.  What you offer children may end up being a draw that makes your church attractive to families.

I hope you find the Four Laws helpful.  Feel free to leave your comments or send me questions via the contact form at http://www.steve-whitney.com/blog/contact/.

May God bless you on your journey,


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Humility: No other option for Christians (including me)

I’m becoming less tolerant of arrogance these days – especially from Christians. There’s definitely something to be said for confidence, but let’s be honest – we all know the difference between confidence and arrogance.  I know a number of people who are confidently humble.

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Developing Diversity: Part 1 – Prioritizing

Sometimes, diversity just happens.  That’s wonderful!  But what if it doesn’t?  This series of blog posts is about how leaders can choose to move ahead in developing diversity when it doesn’t arrive of its own accord.

I’ll be opening discussions on six different topics, all of which I’ve shoehorned into words that start with the letter P. 🙂 But I really do intend to start a conversation.  I don’t have all the answers.  If I thought I did, you could safely disregard anything I might say about diversity, dismissing me as hopefully myopic. On to today’s topic!

tl;dr summary: You’re probably not going to develop diversity unless you make a conscious decision and bring some others along. Various people will complain in different ways, but it’s still a good idea and making a commitment to it greatly increases your chances of success.

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Does your church or organization need more diversity?

A couple of months ago, one of my neighbors had a party.  Frequently when someone has a party in our neighborhood, all of the available street parking fills up, and this one was pretty typical – with one exception.  There was a certain sameness about the vehicles.  Here’s what the street looked like:

Blog 2013-09-07 16.52.55


It seems that everyone attending had some kind of full-size white pickup truck.

I wasn’t invited to the party so I didn’t get to see who attended, but I wonder if anyone noticed the “sameness.”  Or did they just feel “comfortable.”  There can be a sense of “instant affinity” for people who have a lot in common.  I’ve been to churches where the cars in the parking lot are as similar as these trucks.  One church had pretty much only white, married Republican couples with children under 16.  The parking lot was full of silver SUVs.  Did they notice?

That level of lack of diversity might be OK for someone’s party, but if the church, business, or nonprofit has that level of homogeneity, it’s really missing out.

A few problems that result from a lack of diversity:

  • Limited vision
  • Limited empathy
  • Tendency toward tunnel vision
  • Difficulty reaching much / most of the community
  • Limited growth potential

Next week, I’m planning to post the first in a series of posts called Developing Diversity. As a middle-class white male, I have the opportunity to hear the reasons people give for resisting diversity.  As a pastor, I’ve also had the opportunity to talk to many people who have been excluded – whether intentionally or unintentionally – from churches, businesses, and other groups.

I’m planning to share some of what I’ve learned, and I hope you’ll share your experience as well.  If you think I’m off-base, I hope you’ll post a comment so we can all learn!  If you have particular concerns or challenges, post those too so I can address them in the weeks to come.

Categories: Church and the World, Church Leaders, Church Transformation, Diversity, Reaching Out, Undercover Pastor | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Actually, Appearances Do Matter at Church

The door handles at this restaurant have some kind of goo up and down them.In the church, we talk a lot about the need for authenticity and inviting people just as they are.  It could be tempting to extrapolate from that and say, “Appearances don’t really matter.”  Well, they do.  This isn’t just true for churches.  It’s true for businesses and individuals with goals too.

I just got a sandwich from a restaurant that had some kind of gunk on the door handles.  Take a look at the picture on the right. I don’t know what that goo on the door was, but it didn’t exactly make me feel good about the cleanliness of the kitchen that my sandwich would be prepared in.  I mean the employees have to walk past that every day and they never cleaned it up talked to someone about getting it fixed.

You may have read the same studies I have about the ways people judge churches (and restaurants and other businesses) by the condition of the parking lot and the restrooms.  It would be nice if people would assume, “This church is using all of its resources to feed the hungry and provide safe drinking water in Africa.”  I’m afraid they’re more likely to think, “If they don’t take proper care of the parking lot, how can I trust that they’ll take good care of my child.”  Or try this one for churches: “If they don’t understand how to maintain their facilities, I wonder if I can trust what their leadership says and does today.”

A church may make the conscious decision to be informal.  That’s not saying that appearances don’t matter.  It’s saying, “We’re going to choose an appearance that’s more likely to make newcomers feel comfortable.”  Or it could be saying, “We are deliberately going to be informal because that’s who we are.”  Those appearance choices might be perceived as “not caring about appearance,” but they are really an affirmation that appearances of the facility and those in leadership do matter.

So, did I go in and have a sandwich anyway?  Yep.  Was I really comfortable about it?  No.  Will that place be my first choice next time?  No.  If you see a lot of people come to your church for the first time and not come back, you might want to do an audit of the messages you’re (possibly inadvertently) sending to those who attend.  But more on that another time!


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Everyday Evangelism: Seeing with Jesus’ Eyes

Evangelism literally means bringing the Good News to someone. Everyone can do it. One way is simply to keep your eyes open for need or pain around you. That’s what Jesus did in the gospels! If you see someone who looks confused, ask “May I help you?” If you see someone who looks distressed or hurting, you can say, “It looks like something is bothering you.” If you see someone who looks lonely, you can ask, “Would you mind if I join you for a minute?” If you see someone who’s having trouble with a door or carrying something or reaching a can on a grocery store shelf, you could just say, “Let me help you with that.”

You don’t need a script from there. That person may share a whole story with you. Or they may say “no thanks.” If they tell you a story, you can offer to pray with them or share a bit of your story that relates to theirs.  It’s not that hard.  And you never know what will come of these simple acts of kindness.

The whole time you may be silently praying, “God, please help me through this.” It’s OK if you don’t feel comfortable. God will still use you. Are you ready to bring good news to someone in need? Keep your eyes open!

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How do Christians look to others?

I recently went to a seminar and was able to be helpful to the presenter. He asked me what I do and I told him that I’m a pastor and software developer. Then he sighed and said, “Why do the kind and helpful people always turn out to be Christians?”

I don’t think ALL the kind and helpful people are Christians, but it’s a job requirement for followers of Jesus, right?

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control…” Galatians 5:22-23

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“Practicing Peace” a practical guide to anxiety reduction

Preparing to preach at my home church this Sunday, I realized that I hadn’t shared the message I shared last time I preached there. I find Paul’s advice on how to live a low-anxiety life really helpful!  He shares 6 simple practices that we can all use.

Here’s a really practical message on practicing peace – almost all straight from the Bible:

Listen to “Practicing Peace”

We also have a handout with blanks to fill in while you listen. It ends up being a handy guide – maybe even a checklist – for practicing peace in your own life:
Practicing Peace Handout (PDF)


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Thanksgiving Smoothie Fun

Picture of a Jamba Juice sign announcing mashed potato and pumpkin smash smoothies

The Jamba Juice near our house is into the Thanksgiving spirit. Here’s the sign announcing their holiday specials. (I’m giving thanks that I haven’t tasted the mashed potato smoothie 🙂

Picture of a Jamba Juice sign announcing mashed potato and pumpkin smash smoothies

Jamba Juice Thanksgiving Specials

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“Look for Jesus!” a post-Easter Message for post-Easter people!

I had the opportunity to preach at Celtic Cross Presbyterian Church in April, right after Easter.  The message is based on Luke 24:13-15.  They use the New Living Translation.

Listen to this message about power of looking for Jesus.

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Self-Driving Cars and Older Adults

Nevada has approved a test of Google’s autonomous cars!  That might seem to be a weird thing to post on my Undercover Pastor blog, but I pastored a congregation with a lot of older adults for eight years.

Losing one’s driver’s license is a big deal.  It means a loss of independence.  Jesus described Peter’s coming martyrdom in language that might seem familiar to a lot of seniors:

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.  – John 21:18.

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Fear vs. faith – which will decide our future?

These are some words on fear and faith from my “pastor resume” (AKA, Personal Information Form) for the Presbyterian Church.  What do you think?  How have you seen this played out?

Fear blocks much of what God seeks to do in our churches and lives.  God says, “Fear not,” but we willingly choose fear over faith.  When we choose fear, we miss out on God’s blessings. Even Jesus himself “could do no acts of power” in his own hometown where he was “amazed by their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5-6) Fear leads to an assumption of scarcity – we tightly grasp what we have, fearing that no more may come. In fear, we see God’s expansive mission as “impossible,” trading it for mere survival. In fear, we mistrust others and take sides rather than working together for God’s solutions.

Jesus exemplifies “faith over fear” and, through the Holy Spirit, God has given us the ability to choose faith over fear too. When God’s people walk in faith, we change lives and communities.

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Unplugged, Quiet, Set Apart – The Power of Time “Away”

Jesus spent time apart. (Just check the gospels. I’ll wait.) Spending time “unplugged,” quiet, and “set apart” from the things that occupy and distract us is good for us too. That kind of time sets us free to understand what we really think and feel and to listen to God. It means time without iPods, radios, books, music, phones, Facebook, newspapers, Netflix, magazines, talking, television, video games, iPads, snacks, text messages, Google, or whatever your favorite distraction is. Can we do it? It took Steve a bout with the stomach flu to even realize he needed it! But you don’t need to get sick. You can just watch the video.

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A New Habit for an Amazing New Year

Here’s a message I preached on January 8, 2012 at Celtic Cross Presbyterian Church (our current home church). In it I share how God got my attention in 1997, what God promises to tithers in the Bible, and what it’s been like to be a tither for 14+ years. (Hint: God hasn’t let my family and me down yet.)

Press the play button below or click download to take the audio file with you.  You may want to download the handout so you can follow along and fill in the blanks.

What has you experience been like? Leave a comment and tell us!

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The Secret of Peace: Part 1 – Gratitude

Times are tough and there’s a lot of stress and anxiety out there. God has a prescription for peace in our lives, and it involves prayer and giving thanks. How can we give thanks when we’ve experienced pain or loss? We’ll explore that together. Read Philippians 4:6-7.

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Change or Die?

Everything changes – just look at nature. And as Christians, we know that God is bringing change in our lives. A lot of the time, we don’t want change – or we only want change that we can control. That’s not how God does it. The only organisms that don’t change are dead. We all go through tough times, but God is with us. Will we choose to seek God’s way? Or to give up. This reflection is an encouragement to stick with it and trust God to bring us through and complete the good work He’s begun in us.

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Thoughts on Receiving Forgiveness

Christians understand the idea that those who become Christians receive forgiveness in Christ, but many of us then expect perfection of ourselves – especially in Christian service but also in other parts of our lives (parenting for me). God calls imperfect people – knowing who we are – loves and forgives us all the way, and provides healing when we blow it!

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Low-Sodium, Low-Wattage Christianity? (Matthew 5:13-16)

Jesus’ first followers lived in a tough time. There was a lot of anxiety, negativity and opposition. Sounds like now! But Jesus called them to be salt (presevative, flavoring, essential chemical for life) and light (help with direction, fear-reduction, and safety). He calls us to that too. In this message, Rev. Steve Whitney shares some keys to avoiding low-sodium, low-wattage Christianity.

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We had a database error (and I haven’t posted since May so I didn’t notice). It’s fixed now!

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Time to Say Goodbye

Friends, this is a letter to the congregation at Trinity, but anyone interested can read it to find out more about what I’m doing and why.


I’ve been pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in West Sacramento for almost 8 years now. And in that time, God has done many amazing things in us and through us. There has been great personal and church transformation… And Eleanor and I agree that – despite the many struggles and challenges – this has been the best time of our lives. God has been very, very good to us.

We were surprised to find ourselves being called out of Trinity. There had been signs that my time there might be wrapping up, but I hadn’t wanted to believe it. We had figured that we had 4-5 more years of work to do before a different kind of pastor would be needed, but it turns out that now is that time. At some point we felt that asking the same question again an again after having received such a strong answer wasn’t the right thing to do so we began to pray for the transition.

In late April, Eleanor and I committed to a discipline of daily prayer for discernment, and we got some of the clearest answers from God that we have experienced. Every single day the answer to “Is it time to leave Trinity” was yes. Every time. Down to the details. We both saw a date in our minds for talking to the chair of the personnel committee – and it ended up being the same date.


I’ve heard a few concerns or positions that I would like to address:

“If he’s leaving then I’m leaving.” Please don’t do that! I believe that God has plans for Trinity.  I believe that my departure is part of a process that will allow the church to come together as a whole to claim its mission.  If the people who believe in our church’s mission leave, that’ll mess it up for everyone.  At the very least, please commit to praying and seeing what happens next before you make that decision.

“They shouldn’t be kicking him out.” After June 26th, my family and I will not be worshiping at Trinity.  It’s traditional in Presbyterian Churches for pastors to step aside and give the church space when they end their pastoral relationship.  In general, there are very good reasons for this, and in this case it’s even more important.  I believe that I have become the focus of a potentially church-splitting conflict.  My presence as a change agent – and that’s what I am – has become polarizing.  I need to step aside to let the church do its own discernment.  It’s way too easy to say, “That’s Steve’s plan.”  I don’t want that to happen, and if I hang around Trinity I believe the problem will still occur, making my resignation a waste!  So I’m voluntarily stepping out.  I believe it’s God’s will and God will bless my family.  (My kids will likely visit from time to time with my sister or parents or their friends.)

“What will you do next?” This one’s harder to explain.  All we know so far is that it’s time to step out.  I don’t have another job lined up.  But I am confident that God does know what’s next for me.  There are many possibilities.  I don’t think I’m going to know until I’m done with my ministry at Trinity.  What I am very confident about – and I have had it confirmed by a pastor from New Mexico who didn’t even know me when he told this to me as well as someone i met at a conference yesterday – is that God will be taking care of my family and me.  We are doing what we’re supposed to do, and when God’s people do that, God provides what we need.  It will be better than any of us expect.

“What about our friendship?” I’m allowed to have friends from the church; I just won’t be discussing the workings of the church with you.  This means we’ll have to learn more about each other since we can’t “talk business.”  Nobody’s asking you to shun us.

“What will happen next at Trinity?” For about two months after I go, Trinity will ask people to step in temporarily to preach, teach, provide pastoral care, and handle church administration questions.  Then they will hire an “interim pastor.”  Interim pastors are pastors who are specially trained to help congregations find their way through transitions.  They help the church with the grief process and also empower the church leaders to define themselves (by writing a “mission study”) and to choose a new pastor wisely.

Long-term, what happens at Trinity is up to you.  If you have thoughts, questions, ideas, or concerns, please make your voice heard!  Talk to your elders: Rob Armijo, Don Brooks, Steve David, Terri Davis, Sue Goodwin, Carla Hanson, Jill Thom, and Jill Whitney.  Talk to Pastor Tina.  You can also talk to me about it until June 26th.

Stepping into the Future

I’ll be preaching this Sunday (May 15th) about Moses and Joshua and explaining some more of this and how I see it working out.  Please come!

I have six weeks ahead to talk to people who want to talk – I’m hoping to set up a meeting time or two to explore it with people.  If you’d like to talk to me, please let me know!

Finally, on June 25th, we’ll be having a dinner to celebrate our ministry together.  They’re hoping for a roast, and I think it would be fun to laugh with you.  Eleanor and I have done plenty of crying too, but let’s end out time together on a high note!

Eleanor and I have committed to praying for you in this transition.  I hope you will also pray for Trinity and for us.  God knows what he’s doing so let’s give Him a chance to show us what He has in mind. Remember, our God “can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.”  (Ephesians 3:20).  Keep up the good work and remember that you are a family and the Body of Christ.

I’ll write more later.  Let me know what topics you might like me to address.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Steve

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