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/ 12 July 2017

Even more top tips for toddler groups

Children playing in a nursery

The first article suggested ideas for advertising, welcome, song and story time; the second article covered prayer, toys, faith at home and building relationships. Now we move onto possibilities for mission and ideas for developing your group. What are the possibilities for mission that might lead from a toddler group?

1. Connecting with people outside the group

You might try running a parenting course, an evening exploring some of the difficult questions children ask, hold a picnic, afternoon tea or a family film afternoon. Do a survey and ask people who come along to the group what they’d like to do and how they can help. Often it’s by being involved and taking responsibility that increases a sense of belonging to a group. Do what you can and, if you’re doing all you can by running a toddler group, don’t feel bad you can’t do more! Try asking others to organise something two or three times a year on a weekend.

2. Get Messy

For some families, traditional Sunday morning church can feel as alien as going into a betting shop. Messy Churches can feel more accessible for families unused to church. Messy Churches usually happen once a month, at a time to suit the families in your area. Messy Church is not a bridge into ‘normal’ church, but church in its own right. It’s all-age too and seeks to engage everyone, not just small children. In the London Diocese there are grants of up to £250 to help start one and you can access the time and expertise of Martyn Payne from the main Messy Church team. Visit the Messy Church website.

3. Connect with dads

Who Let the Dads Out? is a monthly Saturday group for dads and children, with toys and breakfast. There is also a parenting course for dads called Daddy Cool. Other churches have a monthly weekend breakfast or brunch for families, recognizing that for many working parents, midweek groups aren’t an option. For parents working shifts or with an irregular working pattern, belonging to any group is very difficult, but this is one of the realities of London working life. Let parents know that you understand the complexities of family and work life.

4. Make baptism connections

Did you know that, every week, there are about 2,000 baptisms of under-12s in the Church of England? Does your group provide information about baptisms? There are excellent resources here.

5. Have a welcoming Sunday crèche

When a family comes along to a brilliant toddler group during the week then decides to come along to your Sunday service, will they receive the same warm welcome? A draughty room with nothing to do during the sermon sends out the wrong signals about the generosity and acceptance of God and the church. So, think carefully about what you can provide on a Sunday. Many churches make a real effort: they provide books, toys, shakers for songs, story bags on Bible story themes and make it clear they enjoy the presence of children (and say so on their website). It can be daunting going along to church for the first time so it’s helpful to say: “I’ll be there to welcome you and show you around.”

6. Set up baby and toddler services

Some churches have a midweek pram service or buggy mass with coffee and cake afterwards. Others have a service after the toddler group or a breakfast before. These could happen weekly or monthly. This can be a great way of involving your clergy.

7. Get your church leadership along

Do your vicar, curate, churchwardens or PCC members come along regularly to support and encourage you and meet the families who attend? If they can’t stay for the whole time why not get them to help with refreshments so that they become a familiar face? Some clergy realise that toddler groups are an essential part of the mission of the church and turn up faithfully each week, tell stories, sing songs or even run the group. You are the often hidden treasure of the church and should never be taken for granted! Some toddler groups have been running for so long that the church leadership forget they may well be the most missional activity your church has, reaching hundreds of people who never normally attend church. So invite the leaders of your church regularly!

8. Connect with your Sunday service

Get a regular time in your service to enthuse about the toddler group. Ask one or two parents or carers who come along to share their story of the difference it makes to their lives. It’s hearing the vision and stories that can encourage people to want to join the toddler group team. This usually works better than a desperate plea for help. Or be bold and see if the toddler group can take the whole service – perhaps on its birthday.

9. Join a toddler group prayer network

Would you enjoy connecting with other groups in your area to share ideas, pray together, energize and encourage each other? If you’d like to be part of a network or would like to know more, please contact Tessa. For more information on the benefits of belonging to a network please see the Joining the Dots leaflet.

If you would like Tessa to come along to your group for encouragement, to talk through ideas for developing the group or for better connecting your group to Sunday Church, then please do contact her. Or having read the three articles you may have other ideas that you’d like to share. Tessa would love to hear from you.

About Tessa Rust

Tessa Rust is Early Years Mission Adviser for the London Diocese. She is passionate about toddler groups being at the heart of communities and central to church life and mission.

Read more from Tessa Rust

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