Just the Toddler Group?
Children's and Family Ministry Tutor Rachel Bennett asks whether we risk overlooking the toddler group as a vital part of the local church's mission.
I wonder what comes to mind when you hear the words “toddler group”.
For some of you the toddler group may conjure up happy memories of a supportive place where you’ve made a much-needed cup of tea and offered a listening ear, or been on the receiving end of one. A place where toddlers have run off energy and where you’ve made friends, still in your life, despite your toddlers now being teenagers sitting their GCSEs. For others of you it’s not a familiar or comfortable place. In fact, it feels quiet alien and not a place you have needed to visit or have felt you had the gifting or time or energy to be involved with.
Whatever your experience there is no denying the fact that toddler groups are one of the most significant and supportive ways that churches can reach out to young families in their communities. It is estimated that half of all 0–3yr olds currently attend a church run toddler group. That’s a lot of families!
Reduced funding to local authorities has resulted in the closure of many children’s centres and family support services, leaving many families struggling, overwhelmed and isolated — now more than ever is the time for the Church to respond to those families in their communities who need connection, support and the transformative love of God in their lives.
The Church of England recently published an excellent resource, It’s Just the Toddler Group, based on a presentation by Mary Hawes, National Children and Youth Adviser. It highlights the huge missional opportunities toddler groups bring to the Church and challenges those in leadership to view these groups as an integral part of the Church’s strategy and vision. If you have a “toddler group” running at your church perhaps take some time to ask yourself these questions — do I take an active interest and view it as a significant part of the church community? How do we as a Church support those who run it? Do I know what goes on and how local people really feel about the group? Are we using the opportunity to be distinctively Christian in our approach?
If your toddler group has been running for years or you’re thinking of setting one up, look to engage the whole church in recognising what a fantastic opportunity toddler groups offer to love and serve, nurture faith journeys and seek transformation of lives across the whole community.
It’s Just the Toddler Group is a free booklet conceived and designed by Chris Priddy and Dan Jones in the Diocese of Bristol, based on a presentation by Mary Hawes, National Children and Youth Adviser for the Church of England. You can download it here.