How to care for the children in your congregation

August 10, 2016

how_to_care_for_the_children_in_your_congregation-690x387By Tricia Brown (UM Communications Feature) Children likely comprise a significant portion of your congregation. From the infants in the nursery to the sixth-graders tossing a football on the church lawn, they all have a place and a purpose in the church. How can you minister to the needs of the youngest members of your congregation? Acknowledge them We can easily overlook or ignore children. That should not be the case in church. Does your church reach out to families? If so, make every effort to affirm the children in your congregation. Pray regularly for them. If you need inspiration, use a prayer guide or check out this prayer calendar for ideas on how one church specifically prays for children. Welcome them. How can you provide a more welcoming and child-friendly church? Do you have a child-safe sanctuary? Are child-sized bathrooms or water fountains available? Do you include colorful and interesting displays that are attractive to children, not just in the children's department, but in the worship centers as well? Greet children personally. Learn their names. Be happy to see them. Show enthusiasm. Honor them. Baptisms, births and adoptions obviously offer a perfect time to honor children. But you can find many other opportunities as well. The Children's Sabbath and Children's Sundayare two special times to think of children. Back-to-school time and the Blessing of the Backpacksoffer two more great occasions to honor them. Part of acknowledging children is getting to know them. Talk to them. Learn what they enjoy doing. Show interest in who they are. Make families and children with disabilities feel welcome and show how your church can help meet their needs. Include them Jesus told the disciples, "Let the little children come to me" (Mark 10:14b, NRSV). How can your church make a concentrated effort to include children in worship, service and fellowship? In worship. Children's programs are great, but never exclude boys and girls from the primary worship service. Here are five ways you can you be more intentional about including children in worship. Preach to reach children. Work toward kid-friendly sermons. Include sermon guides or activity folders with activity sheets to help children follow along. Help parents with small children by including lots of opportunities to move: shaking/clapping hands, waving banners, including tambourines or other instruments that the children can use at a specified time, incorporating sign language or motions into the songs and so forth. Sing songs that children know or can easily learn and enjoy. Include multimedia and multisensory opportunities in the service: dramas, videos, visual aids, read-and-respond opportunities, tactile teaching aids, special scents and the like. Make sure parents understand what the church believes regarding children and communion. In service. Make sure that children have meaningful worship roles in the church. As children grow up in the body of Christ, serving should become a natural part of their Christian lives. Allow them to serve as ushers, readers, greeters and singers. Create "Bible bucks" as a fun way to teach children stewardship. Involve them in mission opportunities. Encourage them to participate in the choir or drama team. Help them lead the music or a special holiday service, or even preach a short sermon. Protect them You have  a responsibility to make sure that every aspect of a child’s experience at church is a safe one. Make sure that you take into consideration: Children’s classrooms or nurseries. Tables, chairs, cribs, changing tables, and toys should all be safe for use.  Electrical outlets should have covers. Precautions should be taken with doors, toy boxes, gates, and cabinets with hinges where little fingers can be slammed or pinched. Bathrooms and water fountains. Make sure that bathrooms and water fountains are child-sized and that the temperature of the water is not so hot as to burn a child. Playground safety. The playground should be properly fitted with age appropriate equipment that is regularly checked and maintained. An appropriate ground cover should be in place to prevent injuries from falls. Caregivers. Your church should have policies and procedures in place to ensure that those who are working with children are properly approved and trained.  In addition, there should be check-in and check-out procedures in place to make sure that only authorized parents or guardians can leave with a child. The UMC Safe Sanctuaries policy is a good place to start as you work to protect the children in your congregation. In fellowship. An important part of church is getting to know others with whom you can share life. This often happens during times of fellowship. Promote family outreach activities where parents and children can meet other families in the church. Just because children are small doesn't mean they are less important. Are your children being given the best environment and spiritual education that you can provide? Are they learning in the nurseryand on through young adulthood? Be creative. You may even need to experiment a little, but don't neglect the task at hand. Take care of the children in your church. Help them find their place in the body of Christ. Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.