Just imagine if...

Just imagine if your church discovered a way to effectively engage with over 50% of the local community. Just imagine if half of the young families in your area came along every week.

You’d notice, wouldn’t you?

Well, I’ve got news for you - in many churches in the UK they already do!

Recent research has found that 52% of under-4s in England (and, of course their adult carers) attend a Church-led Toddler Group. [1]

As a young Baptist Minister, it took me some years to realise that every week some 50-60 parents with toddlers from the local area gathered in my church. Furthermore, they were not only willing but eager to do Bible Crafts, hear Bible stories, sing Christian songs and even say prayers!

Of course I knew that the Parent and Toddler Group existed. In fact I was glad it was there… but also very glad I never had to attend! For me it was a scary place. It had that potent cocktail that as a male church leader I tended to avoid - young women and small children.

To my shame, I saw it as unimportant, even trivial. I saw it as just a few mums gathered together to natter about kid’s stuff. Somehow I had segregated the group from the rest of the life and mission of the church.

That was until I visited as part of a Church Mission Audit. I popped in to ask how many of those present attended church.

I sort of knew that 80% of them didn’t. I also assumed that most of them weren't really interested. But when I asked the question, to my surprise, every single parent put their hand up.

I was shocked! In my confusion I asked ‘Which church?’

They looked at me as if I was mad and said in unison ‘This one.’

Suddenly and unexpectedly I was forced to change my view of the group. Despite the fact that they were not yet believers, they saw themselves as part of the church I led.

I began to realise that the Parent and Toddler Group was not some fringe activity but, in the economy of God, a valuable part of His mission to our community. More people from the surrounding area attended this group every week than any other in the life of the church.

As a church, we began to ask ourselves key questions:

  • What is the Parent and Toddler Group for?
  • How can we deepen our relationships and draw those who attend further into the life of the church?
  • How can we show greater love and support?
  • How can we get to know the rest of their friends and families?

Without a doubt, the most important question we asked was, how can we support, value, encourage and resource the Parent and Toddler Group Leaders to be more effective in their ministry?

The answers we came up with not only changed the church’s attitude to the group and its leaders, but also the whole church strategy for mission.

It was this final question that made me want to do what I can, not just for the group in my church, but for all the other groups in the UK.

It is the chief reason why 1277 exists. It aims to bring together all who have a heart to see Toddler Groups make a difference in our society. 1277 seeks to represent the views, concerns and interests of Church-based Toddler Groups with those in authority both in Westminster and around the country.

By registering your group and receiving information from 1277 you will become part of a movement that together will make a difference to our society; by reaching one parent and one toddler at a time.

Rev. Richard Hardy
Director of the Entheos Trust.

[1] - 52% of children under four years old access some form of parent & toddler group via Churches. Source: Children’s Workforce Development Council, ‘More than Sundays’ report, 2009 available from the Family Matters Institute.

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