Have you ever had to wrangle a squirmy, cranky baby in the middle of a church service? There are people all around you trying to listen, pray, and otherwise participate in worship, the poor baby hasn’t mastered the norms of social etiquette yet, and you are stuck playing the "Should I Take Her Out?" game. This game involves questions like:
- How loud is the noise?
- Is the noise positive or negative? (cooing and laughing somehow seem more tolerable than crying or screaming)
- How important is the part of worship the child is disrupting? (this one, especially, is highly subjective.)
- Is the noise likely to cease in the next 30 seconds?
- How annoyed are the people around you?
- If you take her out, should you drag along all your gear? (Babies never travel light.)
- Where should you go?
- If she quiets down (which she inevitably will the moment you stand up to leave) how long should you stay out “just to be sure”?
Needless to say, this "game" is no fun.
It is stressful and makes it essentially impossible for the parent to concentrate on worship. As a pastor’s wife, I had to play this game all alone while my husband looked at me helplessly from his pastor-throne up front. Kate fussing and having to be taken out of church was nothing new, but for whatever reason, on a particular Sunday when she was around eight months old, I finally lost it (the game, at least, if not my sanity).
After milling around the hallway with her for most of Sunday school, we started out in worship and made it maybe through announcements and an opening hymn. She fussed during the children's sermon and the Apostles Creed, but I didn't panic (see point 3 above—sorry to anyone who loves those parts). Finally, when she was making it difficult for people to hear the day's Scripture being read, I had to take her out, and stayed out for the whole sermon. I tried to come back for the prayer time, but didn't last too long before I was out again. Finally, I dashed back in during the offering, gathered our "luggage" and left.
I felt so frustrated; not with my baby, just with the situation. I thought, "Why should I even come to church if I spend the whole time out in the hallway or narthex?" This is exactly why a church nursery and/or a cry room are so essential. As the pastor's spouse, I have some incentive to go to church despite knowing that I will hardly experience any of it. I can only imagine how a family just visiting a church, or trying to get back into the habit of going would feel that it's just not worth it. Compared to the stress, embarrassment, and complete inability to participate in the service described above, a lazy Sunday at home seems pretty appealing! But take the unique needs of infants and toddlers (and their parents) into consideration, and you remove a major roadblock to attracting and welcoming young families.
I read some research a while back that said the two most important things a church must have to attract and retain visitors are a) a good, clean, well-staffed nursery, and b) an adequately-sized, easily-navigated parking lot. Amenities like these seem much less significant than things like worship music, preaching, or the friendliness of the people, but for people who are not already invested in your church, it's those little things that make their visit go a little more smoothly that can make or break their decision to stick around and experience God with your congregation.