Suffer the little ones…


During our search for a church some time ago, we landed for a season at a small congregation that had been a part of the community for about 20 years. The people seemed friendly enough, the corporate worship was solid. We appreciated the family feel of the place, and hoped we might have found a good fit.

My first clue that something was terribly wrong was when I volunteered to help in the nursery. I was a newcomer to the church, so no one knew me beyond those little generic lobby conversations that sandwich a worship service: “Beautiful weather today”, “Wonder how the Bears will do this afternoon”, “Have a good week”. The lady in charge of nursery scheduling asked me one or two questions about who I was and where I’d come from, then added me to the rotation.

My first Sunday in there, she came in to show me where wipes and graham crackers were, and mentioned that a middle-school girl might be in to help me. Then I was on my own for the next hour and a half. I had a half a handful of kids that first day and didn’t know anything about any of them. The three parents dropped their kids off, and a couple of them came to check in partway through the service, but otherwise, I was on my own.

I stayed on the rotation for the next few months. One Sunday, I spent the service caring for a single child. While the little boy played happily with a roomful of toys, I spent the morning pondering what a nearly-empty nursery communicated about the church. (My conclusion: The place had given up on growth and outreach and had instead become a religious clubhouse.) We left shortly afterward, because the place then went through some dramatic leadership changes that caused the place to further contract.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Leadership Summit at Willow Creek, thanks to my new position with Catalyst Lake County. The speakers were terrific, and the event had much to say about encouraging leaders’ soul health and casting a vision for service to others beyond their own tribe. The speaker who left the biggest impression on many was Compassion’s Wess Stafford, who told about his own call to ministry as a result of the abuse he suffered as a child in a missionary kid boarding school in Africa. He explained that the missions organization with whom his parents served sent their failed and washed up missionaries to teach at the school. They threw anyone with a pulse at the job, and horrific physical and sexual abuse was a part of the institution’s culture as a result.

I saw the same expediency at work in a micro way at that little clubhouse church. Kids weren’t important (and there were so few of them) – and they were willing to throw anyone with a pulse at the “problem” of nursery.

Most large churches have formal screening policies in place for those who work with children. But for those of you attending smaller churches, I’m curious – what does your church do to evaluate and monitor the people working with your kids?

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About Michelle Van Loon
  • Eric Nygren

    First of all it's a blessing that our little church needs a nursery. When we first arrived our oldest child was one of two little children in the whole church.

    A couple years ago we put our "child protection policy" in place. It really wasn't all that difficult although it did bring us some new challenges. There are a ton of resources out there that can get a church up to speed relatively quickly.

    One challenge we continue to face is with having enough volunteers. We adopted the two helper rule (two volunteers with kids at all times) but in a church of 45 including youth finding two adults each week gets to be tedious after a while.

    The other challenge was convincing our people that our innocent little church wasn't immune to the problems "out there". When it came time to have all of our volunteers (yes all of them) fill out an application and sign off on background checks we made sure that we were not asking our volunteers to do something that our leadership team wasn't willing to do.

    Like I said, lots of good material out there to help churches get started. There's no excuse to reinvent the wheel or worse ignore the need.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Even if getting the additional help is a challenge, kudos to you for taking these simple, practical steps. They communicate care to all your visitors, even the ones who no longer have nursery-age kiddos.

    Your family has more than doubled the nursery numbers arriving at the church. :)


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