It may come as a surprise to hear that the midweek toddler group is the London Marathon of outreach ministries. These groups take months and months of slog to get anywhere worthwhile as relationships are never built quickly. The preparation of the fiddly craft, the set-up of all those plastic toys and then the hoovering up of the biscuit crumbs will grind down all but the most determined. For all the unseen effort, they are wildly popular. Ready to be shocked? The majority of our nation’s pre-school children attend a church-run midweek toddler group. But is your church’s group effective?
“27,000 UK churches run early years projects and 52% of children in England access some form of parent and toddler group via churches.”
Take that in. In a landscape of falling attendances, our churches are reaching into the lives of our young families on a massive scale. And they are proving to be good for the team members, vital for the visiting carers and helpful in the development of the children.
• 87% of team members report increased personal wellbeing through serving.
• 66% of parents feel less stressed as a result of being part of the group.
• 88% of groups reported that parents / carers get a friendship support network.
• 88% reported that children build friendships. 86% that they acquire social skills.
• 79% reported that team members build friendships with parents.
My observation would be that the holy trinity of a popular toddler group in our area is clean toys, home-made cake and good coffee. That may say more about our area than it does about the ingredients of a successful toddler group!
What we hear from churches up and down the country is that it is not so hard to develop a popular midweek toddler group. The difficulty is finding the large, committed team required to create an effective group. Surely any church opening their doors to so many toddlers and their carers would want to build great friendships with their community? For that to happen a ratio of about 5 visiting carers for each church team member is a minimum. A ratio of 3:1 would be the goal. With a team of that size, our guests would leave the group each week having met and been loved by a Christian. And over time that is when these groups will become effective.
So, as with the London Marathon, a strong finish will not come by accident. To recruit, encourage and train a team for the long haul will require the clear support of the church leadership. The research gently puts it, “The group leaders who felt a lack of church leadership support also reported less impact upon children, parents and team workers.”
I would put it more strongly. “Church leaders, do you have a better outreach opportunity in your church? No? Then get behind this one because your team may well have hit the wall”
But it would be a mistake to finish this piece about effective toddler groups with a plea for the support of the church leadership. Any church toddler group offering the good news of Jesus Christ to their community has the backing of our greater Leader! Let me leave the final word to the research, “the evidence suggests that reported impact is higher when groups, team members and churches engage in some level of public and private prayer.”
We pray to the Creator, Sustainer and Lord of every toddler and every carer.
For the source of this data go to the full report at www.jubilee-plus.org/research
For resources to use in your existing groups click here