Childcare facilities are a crucial part of our society. They’re places of retreat for parents, where they can seek help, guidance, or just find some time to talk to an adult. Places where children can grow cognitively, physically, and emotionally. These are hubs; places that communities come to rely on.
Since 2010, 350 Sure Start centres have closed their doors to communities due to cuts. That’s a third of the national state provision for early year’s childcare facilities gone. The Church has always been the leading provider for Early Years. With many churches across the UK running toddler groups, social events and some going as far as opening preschools.
I once heard it said that if the Church in the UK shut down all of its Early Years activities there would be a national childcare crisis. Isn’t that such a sad, but also brilliant, thought? The Church is doing such a great job of serving their local communities that there’d be a crisis if God didn’t continue to urge us to serve. And yet, are we making the most of this amazing opportunity God has given to us?
In my experience, and from speaking to many who lead church run toddler groups, the vast majority of them have little-to-no faith based content. Four months ago this was certainly the case for the toddler group I ran, and we were seeing little fruit. We’d find ourselves comforting one another with empty comments about building relationships and being reliable and loving. Yes these are crucial, we have to communicate love, be relational and welcoming, but all in the name of disciple making. All followers of Christ are called to ‘go and make disciples.’
This was the challenge we faced in January. Again came the old recital, relationship, love… but where are we seeing the fruit of these? If we’re not using relationships to communicate the fullness of the Gospel how are we fulfilling God’s call on our lives?
Our team reflected together on our reluctance to introduce more Christian content, and found the underlying reason was fear. Fear that we might lose people who didn’t want to hear it, fear that we might offend some of the many Muslim and Hindu attenders. Fear that it would destroy the relationships we’d built up over the years. Fear! However when we are filled with the love of Christ fear is not a reason, it’s an excuse! We had to remind ourselves that ‘perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18).
After a lot of time reflecting together and seeking God we finally came to the decision to take the plunge. We made simple and small changes like:
- swapping Julia Donaldson books for Bible story sacks,
- singing a Christian kid’s song each week and,
- playing tots praise during free play.
None of us could have predicted how richly God would bless us through doing this. Yes we were nervous at first, but the relationships we cared so much about grew deeper. People have been more open and vulnerable us. We’ve had more conversations about our faith in the past four months than in all the previous five years before that I’ve been here. Every single one of our fears were proven false, and all our expectations have been exceeded.
I often hear Christians moaning about the fact that so many people use our clubs and activities as cheap childcare, so what! Churches should relish the fact that many communities have come to depend upon them for childcare. When we allow people to depend on us in this way we become focal points of our communities. Let’s not mourn the closure of so many state centres and instead rejoice in the opportunity God has given us to be back at the heart of our communities, and then let’s be bold with it.
Put down the excuse of fear and stop playing the numbers game as we did, instead let’s start intentionally communicating the gospel. Let’s take hold of the opportunities that are already in front of us and reclaim the church toddler group back from the brink of secularisation. Let’s turn our community hubs into places where parents and toddlers can grow spiritually and make those small changes to make a big impact. If we dare not proclaim Christ in our churches what hope do we have elsewhere?
Looking to the future our fear has been replaced with excitement at the opportunities. We’re looking forward to exploring prayer spaces, reclaiming craft times, and bringing more of the gospel into our everyday activities.