It’s always good to be reminded how it feels to be “new” at something….a new class, new school, new job, because reliving those times gives us more empathy for others going through the situation. Recently, I was reminded what it’s like to be a first-time church visitor and the feelings you have when you place your child or grandchild in an unfamiliar church nursery. Not too long ago, my husband and I visited a church with our son, daughter-in-law, and one-year-old granddaughter, Aly. We were there because a friend was taking part in the service, and we wanted to share in that experience.
The plan was for Aly to go the nursery. While she did end up there and had a wonderful time, it could have been a much better experience for the adults. Here are some thoughts from our visit:
It’s important for nursery staff to be in place on time.
Ten minutes before the service began, no one was in the nursery, so our granddaughter started the service with us. She’s a busy one-year-old and we worked to keep her quiet. Thankfully, we later learned the nursery was open and I left as quietly as possible to drop her off.
Have ample space, equipment, and caretakers.
The nursery room was overflowing. A lot of churches would love to have this problem because it means they are growing, but I had misgivings about leaving Aly in such a cramped room. I tried to get a quick count of adults and children to see if I felt there was enough supervision. At that point, there was, so I left her.
Security is important and your visitors need to know what you have in place.
I was given a label to fill out listing any allergies she had, if she had a diaper bag, and who could pick her up. The label also had a number on it and was stuck to the back of her dress. I got a second label with the same number that I needed to show when I picked her up at the end of the service.
That was good! There was a check in/out system, but having a check in/out system didn’t tell me if background checks had been done on the volunteers, or if volunteers had gone through any nursery training. I wanted to ask some questions, but there were two couples behind me waiting to drop off children and the nursery worker helping me, though nice, was in a hurry.
Something as simple as giving first-time visitors a 4x6 card with church/nursery security practices and other guidelines on it, or posting the information in a prominent place just outside the nursery door would have given me the information I wanted.
Identify your workers.
I had just shared quite a bit of information about my granddaughter with complete strangers, but I knew nothing about those taking care of her. Name badges, or even better, name badges with a picture ID identifying those working in the nursery would have been nice.
Have a plan in place when you need extra help in the nursery.
During the service, an announcement was made asking for volunteers to help in the nursery. This wasn’t surprising based on the crowd I had seen. It was good that they were asking for additional help - it was definitely needed. But as a first-time visitor several questions popped into my mind: Had these volunteers ever been in the nursery before? What about their background checks and nursery training?
Wouldn’t it be better to have had a plan where “on call” volunteers could be quickly reached? Backup workers could receive a text, or a code could flash over a message system that meant “on call workers, please come to the nursery”.
What if something happens?
There was no pager system in place and I wasn’t requested to give my cell phone number so I could be texted if something happened in the nursery. As a first-time visitor, how would anyone in the nursery know who to look for in the large auditorium? Put all parents, but especially first-time visitors at ease by using a paging system.
From our visit, I came up with four important thoughts that all churches and nurseries should remember:
- Have a well thought out program.
Do you have guidelines in place as to who can work with your children? Do you follow through with these guidelines? What about snacks and children with food allergies, children who are ill, child to adult ratios? How many babies/toddlers/children can be in one room? How do you get additional help? How do you contact parents? What guidelines are in place to keep the nursery clean and safe? What are the responsibilities of the nursery caregivers? How do you deal with special needs babies/small children? These are only a few of the areas that should be addressed. A well thought out program is important to first-time visitors, regular attendees, and members alike.
- Communication is vital.
Churches make huge assumptions about the nursery guidelines they have in place. You may have a well-run nursery, and members may know all about your procedures and processes, but visitors do not. Visiting parents will feel more comfortable and know their children are important to you if you share the safeguards and guidelines you follow.
- What’s important gets attention.
You’ve heard the saying “actions speak louder than words”. Overcrowded nurseries with inadequate supervision or failing equipment immediately tell a first-time visitor that children aren’t very important. Even though we enjoyed the church service, if I had a young child and was looking for a church home, I would likely not return.
- Nursery workers are heroes. Thank them.
Until this church visit, I forgot how vitally important nursery workers are, and to all of you who help in your nursery, I want to say “thank you.” You are unsung heroes who play an important part in your church’s ministry, probably more than you will ever know until you get to Heaven. Your participation may make the difference in whether a first time visitor returns, or if that harried mom or dad hears a sermon that brings about life changes. Nursery workers trade worship and fellowship with others to change dirty diapers, keep crawling babies safe, and much more, while staying calm and hopefully radiating Jesus’ love to the young ones around them.
The nursery is a ministry. How important is it to your congregation? Mark 9:36-37
Carol Brown started her career with ACS Technologies in 1987 as a trainer for the ACS DOS product. Today she is a Senior Technical Writer in the Information Design and Development department. Away from work, she has a variety of interests but foremost is her grandchild, Aly.