Managing Expectations (Childcare and Otherwise)

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Sometimes a question comes in that has answers…but they’re not simple answers.  Take a minute to read the following…and then we’ll talk:

In Small Groups, one of the things I face most often is what do we do with our kids?  This prevents participation and potential leaders from leading. Our church offers Sunday School, Small Groups and we have adult programming on Wednesday nights here at church.  However, I have such a difficult time getting people plugged into small groups because they don’t want to leave the church where the children are, or they don’t like the idea of babysitters.

Our on campus programming is nearly full, if we want to add anything else, it has to be off campus in a small group.  How do you tackle the challenge of providing good quality care for your kids, while parents are able to participate in group life?

Let me say to begin, as much as this might seem like a question about childcare, this is really about managing expectations.  This question is about managing expectations in two ways.  First, just like every business makes an offer of a certain level of service (think McDonald’s vs. Outback), every church makes an offer of a certain level of service.

When you walk into a McDonald’s you expect it to be clean.  You expect prompt service at the counter.  You expect your food to cost a certain amount.  But you don’t expect to be greeted by a maitre d’ or offered a wine list.  You don’t expect a waiter to attend to your every need.  Frankly, you don’t expect that at Outback either.  But if you’re at Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s…

Every church makes an offer of a level of service.  The notion that the church is somehow responsible to provide childcare for off-campus events is problematic.  Remember, the reader asked: “How do you tackle the challenge of providing good quality care for your kids, while parents are able to participate in group life?”

To that question I have to draw attention to the fact that I don’t recommend that your church take on that responsibility.  After all, if these same parents want to participate in a softball league, have a regular date night, or any number of other activities…they’re able to figure out how to do it!  Is it easy to find a good babysitter?  Rarely.  Can it be done?  Absolutely.

It should also be noted that there are many churches with vibrant small group ministries that are connecting big numbers of parents with kids in off-campus groups, and are not doing it by providing childcare.  They’ve simply put that responsibility back on the parents (where I believe it belongs).

There are some very good and practical childcare solutions and I’ve written about them right here.

The second set of expectations that must be managed concern the number of programs needed to move people in the direction you are trying to take them.   While commitment to providing Sunday School and small groups may feel necessary (based on the history of your church) and may actually be necessary (based on the current politics of your church), it would be wise to be in discussions about how many programs are essential…and which ones.  I’m thinking primarily about the Wednesday night programming for adults and wondering about participation levels and how many of those people are also in groups?

Finally, I should note that neither of the discussions I’ve mentioned are easy.  It is never easy to alter expectations.  At the same time, effective ministry is dependent on managing expectations in a way that leads to the win you’ve identified for your church.

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  1. Eric Dunaway on March 17, 2010 at 10:00 am

    This is something that constantly comes up with our groups… what to do with childcare. Thanks for the post, Mark, and the link to some practical solutions. I actually wrote a blog post on this topic, as well, and have included the link. (you can read Eric’s post right here)

  2. Mark Howell on March 17, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Just checked your article Eric. It’s great! Thanks for jumping in here.