One of the most common excuses I hear from people for not being able to attend or host a small group is, “I don’t know what to do with my children.” This particular issue, although it requires a little bit of thought, should not be used as excuse to disengage from small group community.
Biblical disciples are formed in biblical community. Children are a blessing from God, not a deal-breaker for your own spiritual formation. At first, the childcare issue can look like an obstacle to being involved in groups. However, like many dynamics in our life, it is another key opportunity for us to ask ourselves, “Do we really believe we need to be plugged into biblical community?” If the answer is a resounding “yes,” (and I hope that it is) then our attention and energy shifts away from waiving the white flag towards focusing on practical solutions.
As a Small Groups Pastor, I’ve always tried to identify groups in our church directory that are “child-friendly” so parents know what their options are but this is only the first step (Note: Groups that are marked “child-friendly” in our groups directory are facilitated by hosts who have been asked to go through the same screening process we use for our children’s ministry volunteers).
Allow me to share 11 Ways To Value Children and Small Groups
1. Design an intergenerational small group.
There are many churches that have successfully integrated children and adults into their small group model. By planning out the group time with the children in mind, the small group meeting is the solution for the children that show up with their parents.
If you’ve never been a part of a group like this, I would highly recommend using pre-written material that has already been field-tested and published the first time you undertake such a group. Trying to figure it out on your own has the potential to be a discouraging process on the front-end.
One book I would encourage you to check out would be Shouting in the Temple by Lorna Jenkins.
2. Include them in an opening segment of the small group meeting.
Affirm the children’s place in the group by involving them at the beginning of the meeting. You could open with an icebreaker question that is tailored toward the ages of the children that are present. You could play a short game and/or open with a praise and worship song that they can participate in. The more you can make them feel a part of the group, the more they will value it too.
3. Offer an activity in another area for the children.
The resources available in the home of the meeting will determine which activities you can offer. If the home is able to have a room with toys for the kids to play with, that can be a fun option. Providing a movie for them is probably the simplest option or a combination of the two.
If the home has a backyard and/or basketball hoop, they can also be fun options for the children.
4. Rotate supervision of the children each week.
Instead of putting the burden of supervision on one adult or on the spouse of the group host, organize a rotation schedule among the members of the group. Volunteering once to watch the children during a group meeting is a digest-able service for a person to commit to as part of the spiritual community. It is a best practice not to leave children alone with one adult.
5. Trade childcare with another small group.
If your group meets on Sunday night and you know of another group that meets on Wednesday night, offer to watch their children for their group time in return for them to do the same for your group. This can also be set up on a rotation between the members of the two groups. This removes the onus of financial cost.
6. High school students from the church can provide childcare as a ministry project.¹
As a former youth pastor, I met many teenagers who had a heart for children. By partnering with the youth ministry, childcare for groups can be designated as a ministry project for the youth leaders. This allows for young people to use their gifts to serve the body of the Christ. Check your state laws to ensure your church has no legal liability.
7. Arrange for baby-sitting as a group.
If there are a handful of families in the group with children, everyone could chip in resources to provide for baby-sitting. Dividing up the cost is much easier than paying it alone.
8. Aim not to have more than 2-3 families with kids at one group.
Make sure you are realistic about the limitations of the location where the group is meeting. Based on the available space in the home, you may want to limit how many children you can have for a group (2-3 families is just an arbitrary number; it obviously depends on your own situation). While it is no fun to turn a family away, it is better to have a group meeting than to not to do it all from a fear of being overwhelmed. If we can spread the families out over a number of groups, it becomes much easier to organize all the details.
9. Have each family arrange for their own baby-sitting.
Sometimes this is the best a small group host can offer and that’s okay.
10. Offer windows of time at the church where childcare will be provided.
If a church can commit to a block of time when it can provide childcare, it creates one more option for people to consider hosting or attending a small group.
11. Reimburse people for childcare expenses at a pre-determined rate.²
This might not be an option for every church, but North Point Community Church concluded that it was cheaper for them to reimburse their people for childcare than to build more classrooms on their property. Practically speaking, North Point provides a reimbursement form for people to fill out.
Childcare will continue to be a potential barrier for people who aren’t acclimated to the routine of small group life. It’s important not to ignore the issue and provide the necessary solutions.
¹Steve Gladen, Small Groups With Purpose (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011) 149-150.
²Andy Stanley and Bill Wilits, Creating Community (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2004) 168.