No. That’s not why your church has a preschool, if you are hoping to be a thriving 21st Century congregation. Don’t say it. Don’t think it.
Here are the reasons to have a church preschool:
- To serve families in your community.
- To form authentic relationships with God’s children – the little ones and their parents alike.
- To share the love of Jesus either overtly (i.e. your preschool is church-related and you have weekly chapel services with Bible stories) or with actions that show what Jesus’ love looks like.
Also, please do not say you hope to call a new pastor who can bring in young families. No. You are setting up your new pastor for failure.
We in the church can and will change lives by offering non-transactional relationships with our preschool children and their parents. Here are some ideas shared with me by various people who know how to create community:
- At the beginning of the preschool year (like now) ask church members to take the name of one of your church’s preschool kids. (You’ll need a list of the students’ names.) When you get a name, you also get a cute handmade bracelet with that child’s name on it in beads. You wear that bracelet with “your preschooler’s” name on it all year long and your job is to pray for that child. (Note: It is not your job to be a creepy stalker who gives gifts, cards, or invitations to the zoo.) Your only job is to pray for young Olivia, Harper, Ethan, Kennedy, or Jude.
- Early in the preschool year, the church holds an informal welcome for parents/babysitters who drop off the children. Church people say things like, “Welcome to our preschool” and “We’re happy you’re here.” Give them coffee and tea or a water bottle. Things you don’t say: “There’s a new member class this Sunday.” “Here is how you can make a donation to our church.” Please no.
- During the first conference between preschool staff and parents OR in a note about how things are going, let the parents know that each child has a church person who is praying for them. If ever there is a special prayer request (e.g. Jude has a broken arm and Jude’s parents would appreciate prayers for healing) they can let the teacher or preschool director know. If there is a holiday program, invite the church – and especially those with bracelets – to come and host a reception afterwards. This would be a great time for church members with bracelets to seek out “their preschooler” and tell them/their parents “I have been praying that you are having a good year in school.” Show them the bracelet. If somebody is praying for my children, I will feel connected to them. They care about my children. Also: remember the parents’ names and greet them by name if you see them around.
- Offer a Parent Get-Together every whenever (Wednesday evenings – with free childcare, Monday mornings, whenever.) This is about the Pastor or Educator offering conversation groups for parents on topics like: Talking With Kids About Death, Talking With Kids About Monsters, Talking With Kids About Being Sad, Talking With Kids About Moving, Talking With Kids About Bullies. Invite parents and their friends for a low key conversation and at the end of the no-longer-than-one-hour gathering, invite one parent to share about their kids briefly. Something like this: “My kids are Jordan and Ava. They are two and six. Jordan loves school but has some attention deficit issues. Ava worries about a class bully.” And then – this is the only church-y thing that happens – the pastor/educator prays for those children by name. Here’s what happens: Other parents with kids who have ADD or bully problems know they are not alone and they might even self-identify to the parents of Jordan and Ava. Other parents might remember to pray for Jordan and Ava through the week or next week they might ask how things are going with the bully. Connections are made. Maybe parents get ice cream later with the kids. This is how relationships and community are created.
Again, these are just a few ideas but the point is RELATIONSHIPS. Bonus recommendation from widely respected youth and families rock star MTB here.
A great preschool offers safe play and learning. An extraordinary preschool offers deep relationships and the church has a role in this, if the church truly wants to show those children and families what God’s love looks like.
It doesn’t look like proselytizing. It doesn’t look like a church membership program.
It looks like relational ministry.