When You Have Childcare Issues

September 23, 2016 | Keith Crain

By Trevor Lee

Sometimes you become knowledgeable in a topic by devoting hours of intentional study to it—like going to graduate school. Other times your circumstances force you to become knowledgeable—like when your first child is born. When I came to Trailhead Church as pastor, I entered an environment where there were as many kids under 12 as there were adults. That’s exciting, but when it came to small groups it was (and is) a challenge.

This abundance of children had already taken its toll on the life of small groups within the church. Years before, when there were fewer children, small groups thrived. But as more families had children, leading meaningful small-group gatherings became a lot more difficult. Slowly, groups quit meeting as families. Men and women met separately so that one parent could stay home with the kids. Participation waned in those groups over time, though.

Six Options

When we decided we wanted to pursue family groups, childcare became a major issue we needed to address. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to childcare, we’ve learned that different solutions work best for different groups. We encourage group leaders to try several options to figure out what works best for their group, and we’ve developed a list of five options that we suggest:

1. Have groups support each other.

When a church has multiple groups with kids, one of the easiest solutions is to have groups support each other by trading childcare duties. This is a tangible way people in your church can serve each other. It eliminates any cost and provides natural interaction between groups. If everyone in a group is on board with this approach, it also doesn’t require a huge time commitment for anyone because group members can take turns.

In a small church this can happen organically. In a larger church it might be helpful to match groups more systematically. We encourage our group leaders to consider this approach first because we place a high value on community, and this approach to caring for kids goes the furthest in reflecting that value.

2. Take turns engaging the kids.

Another option is to ask each person or couple in the group to take a turn being with the kids during the gathering. The downside of this is that someone will always miss the adult study and conversation. If group members see this as an opportunity to help the children know the love of God and teach them to follow his ways, however, this can become a joyful task.

This is an option that works well with groups that meet at least twice a month. Some of our groups only meet once a month officially. In that case, missing one time with the adults means going two months without that community, and that’s too long. If your group meets every week, however, it’s less of an issue to take a turn being with the kids.

3. Make the kids part of the group.

In my current group, we have seven kids. The youngest is six years old. Because they’re a little older, it’s pretty easy for them to play together in another room without supervision for part of the time. We also place a high value on making the kids part of the group rather than just finding ways to manage them. This has led us to do a couple of things.

First, we all eat together. Kids and adults sit together, and the adults actively engage the kids in conversation and relationship during the meal. We want them to know we’re all in community together. After the meal, we encourage the kids to play for about 30 minutes while we have an adults-only conversation. At the end of that time, the adults take five minutes to figure out a way to meaningfully engage the kids on whatever we’ve been discussing. Then we bring the kids back to ask them questions or do an activity related to our discusssion.

We’ve seen some beautiful results from this. The first time we did it, I summoned the kids to the room where we were meeting and my 9-year-old son rolled his eyes and said, “Ugh, why do we have to do this!” I think he was expecting a sermon. But as we began asking the kids questions about how they experience love and what that might mean for their relationship with God, they were engaged. After everyone left, I asked my son if the conversation time had been as bad as he thought it would be. He enthusiastically responded, “No, that was actually pretty fun!”

This solution won’t work for every group, but when the dynamics are right it can have tremendous advantages for the adults and kids.

4. Hire a babysitter.

For some groups, this is the best option. Before small groups go this direction, though, we encourage them to consider if it’s best. It can communicate that kids are a distraction to be managed rather than people to be engaged. Sometimes this is the best option, though, especially if there are very young children in the group.

Rather than each family hiring a babysitter, the children still get to be together and in the same location as the parents. Plus, when each family chips in, the cost of hiring someone to be with the kids doesn’t need to be prohibitive.

We have one small group that hires a babysitter to come for one hour when they get together. They all eat together, and adults intentionally interact with the kids. Then they do a short lesson with the kids before the babysitter comes, and the adults have uninterrupted time to study and interact. This is something that has worked well for them, and it’s helping create a healthy group.

5. Have less official meetings.

One of the things we’ve been experimenting with is meeting less—at least officially. We have groups that meet only once a month for study and intentional conversation. Then they meet at least one other time for fellowship or service where the kids and adults are together. We also encourage these group members to engage with one another outside of official meeting times. People go to the park together, have each other over for dinner, and go to coffee one-on-one. All of these things develop greater connection among group members and make the official meetings more meaningful. Usually groups that do this also meet longer when they do get together. Instead of an hour to study, discuss, and pray, groups meet for an afternoon—eating, playing, talking, and praying.

The benefit of this for childcare is that you only need to figure out childcare once a month. This will not be a good solution for everyone. Some may balk at the idea of meeting less frequently. It’s true that consistency builds greater strength in groups, but with the right strategy, fewer official meetings can be offset in other ways. 

6. Mix and Match

Often the best solution for childcare in small groups is not just one thing. Most of our groups have decided on an approach to childcare that is a hybrid of two or more of these options. Ultimately, the goal is to handle childcare in a way that cultivates healthy group life for the adults and the kids.