What do we do with the kids? This is one of the perennial struggles for many small groups. It was rarely a problem for previous generations who attended Sunday school classes while their kids were cared for by a team of dedicated volunteers. But as more churches have traded classes for groups, one demographic is often left out: parents with small children. There are, however, several solutions to this challenge that engage rather than exclude families.
Why does this matter?
Before we explore solutions, we should answer a simple question. Why does this matter? After all, parents are already stretched by careers and hustling kids from daycare to school to sports. Some might suggest it’s enough if parents make it to a weekend service and have a few spiritual conversations at the dinner table. Why not allow families at this stage of life to take a breather from groups?
Along with needing an intimate community, parents set the tone and teach life lessons to their children as much by what they do as by what they say. “More is caught than taught,” as the old adage says. When parents participate in a Christian community through small groups, they express a value to their children through actions, not merely words. Christian parents are eager to see their kids forge healthy relationships with other kids who will encourage their faith. This becomes more pronounced as children move through adolescence. If parents want this for their kids, it’s wise to model this value when their kids are small.
The most common metaphor for the church in the New Testament is family. While broad participation in the church as a whole can show children the extended family, a small group shows what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ. Family-oriented groups provide spiritual aunts and uncles and cousins for those who participate.
Here are the most common ways groups include (or choose not to include) children in the group:
1. Children NOT in the group
Most small groups are adults only. While children are wonderful gifts, they often distract from meaningful discussion. Nursing babies may be welcome, but once children are mobile it’s time for parents to find someone to watch them elsewhere.
The family and the group are two separate entities that rarely intersect. The group knows about each other’s children through stories, the occasional prayer for the kids, or interactions before and after weekend church services. The kids may know about the group and the group may know about the kids, but the two worlds rarely collide.
This approach requires that parents turn to family, friends, or a hired sitter to watch the kids. Some innovative churches have encouraged forming relationship networks where parents from a Sunday night group take the kids of parents who meet on Wednesday night and vice versa. It’s economical but pretty complicated to arrange. More affluent churches may even reimburse childcare costs of group participants.
The obvious benefit is that kids are taken care of and parents can focus on the group experience. For parents who don’t have family or trusted caretakers nearby, this presents a challenge. Others find the cost prohibitive, or feel they are already away from their kids enough because of career demands and don’t want to further remove themselves with another commitment. That’s where the next solution may fit the need.
2. Children OCCASIONALLY in the group
I’m a Michigan native and my wife is from Wisconsin. Throughout the years, we have served churches in Kentucky, California, and Oklahoma. As a result, our kids have grown up far away from extended family. Families like ours often crave surrogate relatives for their children. They want aunts, uncles, and cousins for their kids, but the small group just described doesn’t offer quite enough interaction between adults and children.