Jeff and Sally Wright are the parents of newborn baby Zack and they are visiting your church for the first time. Jeff and Sally may come away from their visit to your congregation greatly impressed with your church’s friendliness, strongly affected by your church’s hospitality, deeply challenged by the Sunday school lesson they heard, and inspiringly moved by your church’s worship service. Yet the ultimate decision for them as to whether they will visit your church again will most likely hinge not on their own experiences but on that of their newborn son. Did Zack have a pleasant nursery experience?
Churches that practice hospitality and provide welcome for newcomers understand the importance of the church nursery for families visiting with young children and infants. The nursery enables parents to participate fully in worship while feeling confident that their children are well cared for. Hospitality starts at the church door as someone directs the family to the nursery, and continues at the door of the nursery. You will make a good impression when your nursery worker or volunteer warmly greets your visitors and asks the name of the parents and infant. Nursery workers or volunteers will make a lasting impression when they remember these visitors’ names and call the parents and infants by name when the parents come to pick up the child, as well as in future encounters.
Trained and competent nursery workers give visiting parents additional assurance of quality care when they take the time to explain nursery policies to the visitors and offer them a welcome packet with a small gift. Visitors gain added confidence in your nursery when there is a sign-in sheet where the parents can indicate any special needs of the child and can inform the nursery workers where they can be found in case of emergency. Visitors are pleased when your nursery workers take care of children’s belongings, making sure that they are properly marked and placed in a visitor cubby. Visitors to the nursery are glad to receive visitor packets that include information about your illness policy and your child safety policy. All of these expressions of hospitality indicate to visitors that your nursery is a place of welcome and safekeeping for children.
Jeff and Sally enjoy spending time looking at the bulletin board outside your nursery door, which contains pictures of the nursery children along with the announcement of an infant recently baptized in the church. As they look into the nursery room, its very appearance says to them and to Zack, “You are welcome here!” The nursery room is inviting, colorful, clean, and supplied with adequate toys and materials to meet the needs of the various developmental stages of the children in the nursery. The nursery workers are dressed casually, but neatly and professionally, as they wear aprons with the name of your church on the front. Visiting parents feel secure leaving their child in your church nursery because they recognize that you have provided a quality atmosphere for their child.
Since Zack’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs were well cared for in your church nursery, Zack’s parents are highly likely to visit your church again. They are willing to invest their time and lives in a church that is willing to invest in the life of their infant son.
Jose and Margaret Rodriguez are visiting your church for the first time, accompanied by their two children, Juan and Rose. As observant visitors, they are curious to see if your church is a place where children, along with adults, are welcomed and affirmed. They are pleased when their children are recognized and greeted, given a Children’s Worship Bag, and provided information about what will happen during the service that relates to their children. Juan and Rose are invited by other children to come to the chancel for the Children’s Message and are escorted to Children’s Worship by the volunteers. The Rodriguezes are delighted to find children serving as ushers, acolytes, and scripture readers. They notice that children are greeted by several generations of adults within the life of the congregation. Information provided to them by greeters indicates that your congregation is one in which children have opportunities to participate in a variety of ministries, but children are also allowed to use their gifts in service.
Your congregation appears to the Rodriguez family to be a place where generations interact and serve together in ministry. At lunch, Juan and Rose excitedly share their adventures in Children’s Worship and beg to be able to return to your church. No doubt, their parents will grant their wishes!
A good nursery and good children’s programs attract families to your church. Families who visit your church are looking for quality nurseries and excellent children’s programs. Parents are used to high quality in many aspects of their children’s lives, including day care centers, school, sporting events, and other activities in which their children are involved on a daily basis. They expect nothing less when they attend your church.
Yet you have so much more to offer them than just quality events and a quality nursery. You have a theological understanding of children in the Kingdom of God. When we baptize children as infants, we pledge to help parents raise their children in the Christian faith. We vow that each child is a child of God, claimed by God, and we promise to partner with parents to live before each child an example of Christ-likeness. Visitors can easily recognize if your church is serious about the vows taken at infant baptism. It will not take visitors long to discern if your church gives children a place of priority. Visitors will readily detect whether you bless children as Jesus did, or ignore them.
Our understanding of hospitality for infants and children stems from our Wesleyan concept of prevenient grace. God reaches out to our children the moment they are born, extending God’s grace and love. God begins a marvelous work in the lives of each infant, created in God’s very image. When your nursery room is filled with grace upon grace, infants and their parents cannot help but feel welcomed by you and by a loving God. When your church extends grace upon grace to every child you have been blessed to nurture in the faith, visitors cannot help but be captured by God’s grace and your gracious hospitality. Grace that begins in the nursery cannot be contained in any one room; this grace spills out into other spaces and places in your church until they too are sacred spaces, overflowing with God’s grace and love.