Maddy is 2 and a half years old. She looks forward to Sundays because she gets to spend time with her friend Melissa who is 14. They became friends through their church’s nursery. The nursery is one of the places in this congregation where sturdy intergenerational ministry happens almost every week of the year. It is in these cheerful, baby safe rooms that pre-teens and teens learn how to be babysitters, counselors in training, and perhaps one day, future parents themselves. They learn from folks who have experienced the joys and challenges of being parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and friends to young children. It is also a place where tired parents find solace in casual conversations with others who have walked the same path as they. Every Sunday volunteers participate in both faith nurture as well as childcare, creating many relationships that will last well into the future.
That nursery programs hold this much intergenerational ministry potential is often overlooked in churches where nursery is viewed as the hard to staff, catch all for kids who can’t be, or don’t want to be, in worship. Many a time I have heard volunteers share that they spend as much time “babysitting” the pre-teen volunteers as they did the 2-year-olds. In reaction to this challenge, some nurseries establish rules stating only those 16 and above can do certain tasks like pick up crying infant or toddler, effectively making younger volunteers even more ancillary.
Years ago as a parish pastor I saw my own congregation struggling with these same challenges. Our solution? Have the pastor teach a Better Babysitter Course. And I am so glad I did! Never did I see more willing and engaged students.
You ask, what pastor has time to teach such a specific class that seems so fringe to their ministry? A variety of things motivated me to teach this class: 1) the opportunity to interact with a demographic of my congregation that I didn’t have much access to due to the way our church programs were set up. 2 ) a Nursery volunteer shortage as older volunteers were asking to be taken off of the list and the younger volunteers were being underutilized, and 3) the potential to change our younger volunteers’ motivation “ to get out of worship” which made them less of an asset.
How did the Babysitting course help?
- Serving in nursery became a ministry opportunity as opposed to simply a task to be completed. Every time I taught the course I was able to cast a vision for the important ministry of caring for those who are vulnerable as well as a vision for one generation passing on the faith to the next. One of the first generations that a 3 year looks up to and respects is the group of teenagers that made nursery a safe and welcoming place to be.
- Serving in nursery became real service. By completing the course graduates demonstrated that they had the skills to care for from infants through toddlers. They understood Safe Church standards and nursery protocols. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, these young people became a trusted and valuable part of the team. Adult team leaders related to them differently with their new credentials. (An added bonus was that they could use these skills elsewhere in the community.)
- Serving in Nursery became a tangible way for all congregational members to act on their baptismal promises. Intentional I-GEN churches know that worship, service and learning happens best when we are all together. I loved the conviction I saw on the faces of my Babysitting grads as they stood up to say “I do” when asked if they would support the parents of a newly baptised baby because they knew from our class time together that this was exactly what they were doing when it was their turn to serve in the nursery.
- Serving in nursery grew in Inter-generational ministry potential. Other adults in the congregation began to step up to help me teach the course. Physicians and nurses would take a turn teaching the first aid portion where they were able to cast a vision for competency both in the nursery and other places where students might find themselves as caregivers. Early Childhood teachers supplied me with age appropriate activities which made my grads highly sought after volunteers in other venues as well. My students began interacting in significant ways with a wide range of adults from the congregation.
Teaching the Better Babysitting course was a great way to train and support our youngest volunteers in an multi-generational setting. I wonder what other venues we might be overlooking for this type of activity?
Let’s talk! For more information on how to start something similar in your own congregation, email me at [email protected].