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Starting a Day Care in Your Church

Carla Williams

Meet the needs of children and their families in your community: Starting a day care in your church.

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 safer."

What better way to meet families' needs in your community than inviting children and families into a church-sponsored day care?

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 congregation.

"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 academic."

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.

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 outreach.

*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 obtaining licensing.

*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 other.

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 congregation's goal.

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 backgrounds.

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 on.

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.

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