Meet the needs of children and their families in
your community: Starting a day care in your
Many churches searching for the "perfect" outreach ministry may
find it in the children who are sitting on their knees or snuggled
in the arms of the people they want to reach. That's because the
most important decision employed parents make is choosing who will
care for their children while they work. According to a 1993
survey, 9.9 million children under age 5 need child care while
their parents work. Organized child-care facilities provide care
for 30 percent of these children. Out of that group, 15 percent are
sponsored by a church or religious organization.
Besides these obvious figures, why should a church consider
sponsoring a day-care center? In their book Early Childhood
Ministry and Your Church, authors Kathleen Seaton and Linda Rothaar
state, "A healthy congregation is one in which there is an
awareness of the real needs in the community, respect and love for
all people, and a gospel-driven drive to serve others."
Michele Marr, communications director of St. Matthews Episcopal
Church in Newport Beach, California, says 12 desperate parents call
every week inquiring about day care. As a result, her church is
praying about and researching the possibilities of opening a
facility. "With so much publicity about child abuse," says Marr,
"parents tend to prefer a church day care because it feels
What better way to meet families' needs in your community than
inviting children and families into a church-sponsored day
Churches with day-care facilities have a sense of mission. Robin
Reed directs Carpenter's Kids, a preschool for nearly 400 children
under the age of 6. Her church, South Haven Baptist of Springfield,
Missouri, considers its facility a ministry of the entire
"Families need to have a place where they can feel unconditional
love," she says. "They want an environment where their children's
total needs are met-spiritual, physical, emotional, and
Smaller facilities find that size does not limit their outreach
to the community. Gayle Beeler, of Grace Evangelical Free Church in
Longmont, Colorado, purposely involves the 30 children in her
preschool in community activities. Whenever the children are out in
the community, others notice that these children attend a
church-sponsored day care. It's another way to let people know
about your church.
MAKING THE DECISION
Consider these issues when deciding whether a day-care center is
an option for your church.
*What are your community's needs? How many facilities already
exist in the area? What needs do they meet in terms of hours, ages,
and philosophy? Research the information to make a sound decision.
Then present your research in a congregational meeting.
*Does your congregation have a sense of mission for a day care?
Beeler worked at a public facility before approaching her pastor
about the possibility of opening a day care in her church. She was
delighted when the congregation latched onto the vision of such an
*What is the day-care capacity of your building? Classroom space
doesn't necessarily constitute a day-care center. What are the
licensing requirements in your particular state and community? Each
state has its regulations for employee qualifications, space needed
per child, insurance requirements, and more. Consider that some
insurance companies require training and safeguards for sexual
abuse. Call your department of social services for licensing
information, and check with your local council of churches to see
if there have been any difficulties with other congregations
*How will the day care affect your congregation? Will you have a
separate area for the day care, or will you use Sunday school
classrooms? Renting to an outside party can cause problems in
sharing space, time, and materials. This is why most directors feel
it's important for a facility be operated by the church.
Cooperation is important when rooms are used for Sunday school,
church clubs, and day care activities.
*What ages of children will you provide care for? Will you
provide primarily infant and preschool care, or will you also have
an after-school or summer program for older children? What hours
will you operate? Tailor your programs for the typical working
schedules and commute times in your area.
*Do you have the financial resources needed to start a
child-care center? You'll need to pay salaries, purchase supplies
and equipment, and cover insurance and licensing fees. Will the
center make payments to the church for use of the building? Or will
the church subsidize the center by not charging rent or utilities?
What about providing scholarships to needy families? It might take
several years for the center to establish itself financially.
*Who'll work in your program? This is a major factor in deciding
whether to open a center. If you want your staff to have a vision
for your ministry and a genuine love for kids, consider: Staff
members should belong to your church; and they must able to affirm
a personal faith in Christ. And day-care providers should be more
interested in caring for children than talking with each
Once you decide to set up a church day-care center, develop the
purpose of your ministry. Why are you going to do this as a church?
If you want to minister to families, this should be the entire
Develop a mission statement. Most mission statements include the
goal of meeting the needs of children and families and sharing the
gospel of Jesus Christ. Your mission statement should also make a
commitment to high standards of excellence in providing for the
physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being
of children-regardless of racial, religious, or economic
Keep your written mission statement to two to four sentences.
Give it to parents and congregation members. A written mission
statement will ensure that your purpose is clear.
Start small. Offer only one class. Then develop a sense of how to
deal with the issues that'll invariably arise. Later when the
program has grown, there will be a strong foundation to fall back
Our society today is a working society. Children need day care,
and opening a church day care meets families' needs. Not only can
you care for children's everyday needs, but you can also introduce
them to the gospel. When you open a church day care, you'll be
fulfilling the command of Jesus when he said, "Let the little
children come to me." ú
Carla Williams is a free-lance writer in Colorado.