In this section:
Starting a toddler group is a great way to begin work with young families within the parish and can often be a first step to working with children if a church has few or no children.
Many church based toddler groups have close links with the church, having been established by church members and continuing to be run as part of the churchs regular activities. Not all groups are confident about their Christian distinctiveness or about the missional opportunities toddler groups can provide. Many young families that attend a mid-week group feel connected or part of the wider Church despite not attending on a Sunday, although whether the main congregation would consider them so is a different matter.
Although raising a young family is mostly joyful, it can also be exhausting and often lonely.Churches can create a safe and welcoming space for both children and their families where they can feel accepted and loved. For new parents, the birth of their baby can lead to an unusual openness of spirituality and many long to meet new people in similar situations. This space is an opportunity to demonstrate Christian hospitality, share Bible stories, pray with and about families and develop childrens spirituality. An age appropriate and stimulating environment is key for under 5s to develop their spirituality. Young children are often seeing and experiencing things for the very first time and learn through play, exploring and their senses.
Vision and strategy
Church based toddler groups are increasingly recognised as a mission opportunity and a valuable resource within the community.Most successful toddler groups have a shared vision and strategy. This usually outlines clearly who the group is aimed at, its purpose, and how it fits into Churchs wider vision and strategy. Any vision and strategy should outline how the group will demonstrate that it is distinctively Christian, and include expectations on volunteers and staff about how they will share the Christian faith with those attending. Two frequent approaches are; showing Christian hospitality and love until people ask what it is all about, or being distinctly Christian with the Gospel being shared through Bible stories, prayer and songs. It is important that this vision is shared and owned by the wider Church, with regular opportunities to link between. This could be the invitation to members of the congregation to the toddler group, prayer partnerships, sharing photos, videos and displaying crafts from the group in Church or bringing people together through a fresh expression.
Identifying childrens God given gifts, interests and passions and creating opportunities to use them and live them out as their faith develops.
Encouraging leaders and families to share their faith and to be opento questions and discussions.
Sharing the Gospel and our faith with families and encouraging them on their journey of faith.
Christian hospitality and Sharing Faith
Toddler groups are a great way for the church to engage in the local community. For many parents or carers with a young family, a toddler group may provide a chance to be in a welcoming, safe environment with someone to talk to. Demonstrating a real interest and concern alongside a loving attitude is a good environment to introduce Christian faith. Remembering names, birthdays and particular circumstances can be very special to a family attending. Having a specific volunteer or paid worker who is gifted at listening and responding to parents can work well in a busy group.
Groups may be at different stages in this journey with some being overt about the sharing of the Gospel and their faith with others demonstrating faith through their relationships and examples. Growing in faith as a team of volunteers or workers can be a great start to sharing faith intentionally. Praying together for families at the start or end of the session, offering prayer and being prepared to share personal journeys of faith are all
Sharing faith intentionally is for young children as well as for grown-ups. Young children need to be given an opportunity to explore and nurture their spiritual life. Often they are seeing or experiencing things for the very first time and experience awe and wonder. For young children their experience of relationships with adults can develop to concepts of God from the love and care they receive. As children grow they begin to think about the world around them and ask questions. A toddler group with well thought out early years activities can enable children to explore the Gospel through play, making choices and their senses.