Welcoming Families: Four Laws of Childcare in Churches

Posted by on April 25, 2014

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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