By Chuck Lawless
Recently, I spent time with a church that is upgrading their children’s wing. In the midst of those discussions, we talked about some of the common problems our Lawless Group consulting team sees in a children’s ministry. Here are 15 of those problems:
- Too little space – Because children are active learners, rooms should be large enough to allow children to move around. In fact, some experts recommend a minimum of 25-35 square feet per child in the room.
- Poor security – In many cases, our “secret shopper” parents choose not to leave their children in childcare because workers are unprepared for guests, do not seek contact information, do not have secure rooms, and/or have no clear drop off/pick up procedure.
- Old furniture – Children deserve clean, modern furniture that fits their stature. Adult tables and chairs don’t work well in a children’s department.
- “Big people” decorations – I’m still surprised when I see bulletin boards at adult eye levels, high school age-graded maps, and pictures with only adults in a children’s classroom. Somebody is not thinking enough about the learners in the room.
- Incomplete sanitization – Infection spreads quickly through church nurseries and preschools, often because workers do not take adequate precautions to prevent it. We encourage workers to wear gloves when changing diapers, sanitize toys after their use, and wash their hands continually.
- Uncovered outlets – The younger the child, the less he/she recognizes the danger of an electrical outlet. This danger is easily reduced with an inexpensive outlet cover.
- Windowless doors — Replacing doors is not inexpensive, but classroom doors should have windows. This change will not eliminate the possibility of abuse, but we must take every precaution we can.
- No background checks or interviews for leaders – Despite potential controversy for the church that has never taken this step, no one who has not passed a background check should be permitted to work with minors. We also encourage interviews and reference checks with potential workers.
- Securing incomplete information – Securing the name of a child attending a class or program is only a start. Leaders and teachers also need to be aware of a child’s allergies (e.g., nuts), the parents’ contact information and location, etc.
- Poor teaching – Teachers who only lecture should probably not be teaching in the children’s department. Good children’s teachers focus on active learning while deeply loving the children they teach.
- Too few adults – This issue is a difficult one, especially as congregations struggle to secure volunteers. Nevertheless, the standard should be clear: the church will avoid any situation where one adult is left alone with minors.
- Leaders untrained for emergencies – It’s great for churches to have members who are nurses or EMT’s on call, but children’s leaders should know how to respond to a choking child, do CPR, operate a fire extinguisher, respond to a tornado warning, and lead a class to evacuate the building if necessary.
- Only minors providing childcare – I affirm the commitment to get teens involved in the work of the church, but minors alone should not be providing care for other minors. Even the wisest, most mature teens are still minors themselves.
- No hall monitoring – Our consultants watch to see if children wander alone in church hallways during small group or worship time. Sadly, many do. If our shoppers could gain unimpeded contact with children, so can others with less pure motives.
- Children released on their own – No child (even the staff’s children) should be released after a class or service unless an adult – a properly identified adult – comes to get him/her. Uncontrolled drop off and release times can be chaotic . . . and dangerous.
God really does love the little children – and so should we. What other suggestions would you add to strengthen children’s ministries?