Throughout the gospels, we see that Jesus sowed seeds.

He sowed seeds of kindness, welcomed strangers, valued children, fed the hungry, prayed, laughed, cried, noticed the lonely, had compassion on those in pain, and managed a team of various personalities with their strengths and weaknesses. To me, this all sounds very familiar. Perhaps you also recognise that these are just a handful of the hallmarks of a church toddler group – and the list could go on and on.

I have had the pleasure of running Daniel’s Den (a toddler group based in north-west London) for more than 22 years, and I know many who have been doing this for more than 30 years. It’s a privilege to run a toddler group, but also jolly hard work… Week by week, teams of volunteers serve families in their local community, offering a safe place for people to experience an unconditional welcome and encounter the love of Christ!

I don’t believe there is a ‘one size fits all' model when it comes to creating a welcoming space for carers and toddlers to meet Jesus.

The Children’s Workforce Development Council ‘More than Sundays’ report in 2009 claimed that 52% of under-4’s in England (and, of course, their adult carers) attend a church-led toddler group. This suggests that thousands and thousands of children and families have the opportunity to be welcomed, valued, fed, and loved by the local church.

Groups can come in all shapes and sizes. Some tell Bible stories and sing Christian songs, while others sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and enjoy the story of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. I don’t believe there is a ‘one size fits all’ model when it comes to creating a welcoming space for carers and toddlers to meet Jesus. Ultimately, all groups need the love, support, and prayers of their church as they seek to meet the needs of the local community. Encouragement is a vital commodity in our world, and it needs to be poured into these groups.

The missional opportunities afforded by toddler groups are immense.

Toddler groups are often referred to as the ‘hidden treasure’ of the nation.

For example, a mum with no option of public funds was dumped in a bed and breakfast with her toddler, just down the street from one of our groups. A phone call from an 82 year old lady in Guildford brought this to our attention and, 24 hours later, bags of food, nappies, toiletries, and kitchen equipment were donated by friends of Daniel’s Den. Tears of joy and thankfulness were shed by the mum, who’d been living on bread for 2 weeks. Within days, she and her daughter were part of the Daniel’s Den family, experiencing the love and acceptance of God. We were able to get her help and she now has her own flat. She was so thankful to God for this connection, and the lady in Guildford cried tears of joy as she commented that she’d not known there’d be such a quick answer to her prayers.

A dad from the Czech Republic bought a CD we played in our group because his daughter loved it (Action Songs for Toddlers by Care for the Family) and on a trip back home they played it all the way there (a mere 12-hour drive) and all the way back (yet another 12 hours). He remarked that he now knows all the words – something that we pray will continue to speak to him about who God is!

Finally, these words were words shared by one mum recovering from post-natal depression:

“She welcomed me and my son and at that moment I relaxed for the first time in ages! I was then offered a cup of tea by the lady on reception and she kindly held my son whilst I was made a drink. It was heaven! It’s often these little experiences of kindness and understanding that we truly need in today’s world.”

Toddler groups are often referred to as the ‘hidden treasure’ of the nation, as these small acts of kindness are regularly undervalued but make an incredible impact in the lives of carers and toddlers who don’t yet know Jesus.

What seeds are we planting and how are we helping them grow?

June is the National Month of Prayer for toddler groups – an initiative of ‘1277 The National Network for Church-based Toddler groups’ – and it’s an opportunity for the local church to focus on praying for their own group and other groups in the area. This prayer support is vital, as it can often encourage practical support too.

The theme for this year is The Parable of the Mustard Seed. We all know that seeds need planting and the right conditions to grow. The challenge is what seeds are we planting and how are we helping them grow? Is there anything inhibiting this growth?

Toddler groups, like seeds, hold so much potential. Let’s pray they continue to blossom and bloom across the nation, offering a safe place for families to encounter the love of God and His people.