Pastor, one of the most valuable, overlooked and precious commodities in your church is the nursery worker. Please don't take them for granted.
One of the long standing jokes in KidMin is that the nursery team will take "anyone with a pulse." [For the sake of your church, I hope that joke is really closer to, "Anyone with a pulse (who can pass a background check and provide credible character references)."]
To be blunt, this joke has been around so long and is so freely applied to the nursery that I wonder why churches have any Millennial and Gen-X families at all. In today's baby-centric culture, I doubt there's a more important service area than the nursery for attracting, honoring and caring for young families, and I'm not sure if there's a more important resource for a growing, thriving church than young families.
Here are three steps I think churches need to take toward developing, honoring and establishing this vital ministry:
Cast a High Vision
It's not enough to say, "We have a nursery because parent's won't come to our church if we don't have one." Or worse yet, "I can't preach through a crying baby, so we need to staff the nursery." No, we need a stronger and higher vision for our nurseries. Why?
New parents will associate the quality of your church first and foremost with the quality of care their children receive. You can have a super tight worship band, a fantastic sermon, great lighting and a guest appearance from dc Talk fresh off their reunion cruise, but if young parents feel they're putting their kids at risk by leaving them in your nursery, they won't be back. And don't expect parents to need concrete experiences or evidence to ditch your church - the simple feeling that 'something isn't right' can be enough to dissuade them from you church.
Let me say that more clearly: the simple feeling that 'something isn't right' in your nursery can be enough to dissuade families from the gospel.
In other words, a strong nursery is a catalyst for the proclamation of the gospel.
And if you need another reason beyond that, pouring into your nursery program also sends the message: 'Every person - no matter how small or young - has a place at this church.' Don't underestimate the lesson you're sending to kids through a good nursery! You'll be raising kids from infancy to know, 'If I'm crying - if I'm scared - if I feel alone... there are adults at this church who will hold me and comfort me and love me.' That storyline in itself is profound.
Recruit for Passion, Not for Pulse
The nursery is so easy to be a second-thought in our recruiting strategies, and it's probably knee-jerk to think of the nursery as the place "anyone can serve." But that shouldn't be the case.
Throughout your congregation, there are men and women who have a burning passion to care for kids - who love to hold crying children and play with precocious toddlers. From grandmothers to middle-aged men to teenagers, there are people in your church with a passion and a gifting to be serving in your nursery. As a calling.
So why aren't they there?
Perhaps primarily, it's because that message is never stated. It's rarely said, "Serving in the nursery is a full-time ministry position that you should dedicate your passions towards." Instead, we're stuck with the same old lie, "No one likes the nursery - what if you only did it once a month?" We've created a self-fulfilling staffing prophecy, and it's harming our kids.
Instead, start by following your big nursery vision with a big challenge to volunteers. "Serve weekly. Make this your serving calling. Get to know the kids - and the parents and siblings and other workers! Pour into this ministry, and see how God blesses you (and the church)."
Bathe Your Nursery In Prayer
It should be common practice to pray for your Sunday morning services. All aspects, right? The sermon, the worship, the attendance, *the giving,* the Sunday School, the greeters, the newcomers, the coffee. And, oh yeah. The nursery. No blowouts please! *snicker*
The quality of the prayers for our nurseries will mirror the quality of our nurseries.
By that standard, most of our nurseries will fail.
Instead, make it a point to pray for your nursery workers and the families and children who will be impacted through them this Sunday. Let the workers know you're praying for them, that you care for them and that you value the work they're doing. Get to know their lives (even as a senior pastor), and regularly pray for them. This might seem excessive, but the importance you place on the nursery truly will affect its quality and growth.
We need young families in our churches, not just to keep up the growth rate, but because young families are on the forefront of a dramatically changing culture. An emphasis on your nurseries isn't simply a good church-growth plan, it's a strategy close to Jesus' heart.
Let the little children come, and don't be distracted by other, seemingly more important church tasks.
Build into your nurseries.