Monday, September 21, 2009

The Most Important Space in the Church

Kate and I had a rough time in church yesterday. She was just more fussy in general this weekend, and naps did not really help relieve the crankiness, as they usually would. I'm not sure if it's the teething, or what, but she hasn't been taking her bottles very well lately--taking a few gulps, then just playing with it, gnawing on the nipple (good thing I'm not nursing, I guess!), turning around, wanting to stand up, and fussing if I try to keep her from doing so... it's crazy. Not a huge deal, but feedings can take longer and take a lot more patience. It can a bit frustrating, but we generally deal with it just fine.

In church, though, this rigamarole gets really frustrating, because (obviously) there are other people around trying to listen, pray, and otherwise concentrate on worship, and I am stuck playing the "Should I Take Her Out?" game. The game involves questions like:
  1. How loud is the noise?
  2. Is the noise positive or negative? (cooing and laughing seem more tolerable than crying or screaming)
  3. How important is the element of worship the child is distrupting? (this one, especially, is highly subjective)
  4. Is the noise likely to cease in the next 30 seconds?
  5. How annoyed are the people around you? (I always sit up front, so I am terrible with this question; I can't see people turning around to glare at me or whatnot.)
  6. If I take her out, should I take all our gear? Where should I go? If she quiets down (which Kate usually does the moment I stand up to leave) how long should I stay out?
Needless to say, this "game" is no fun. It is stressful and makes it essentially impossible to concentrate on worship. Kate fussing and having to be taken out of church is nothing new, but for whatever reason, yesterday I lost it (the game, at least, if not my sanity). After milling around the hallway with her for most of Sunday school, we started out in worship and made it maybe through announcements and an opening hymn. She fussed during the children's sermon and the affirmation, but I let it be (see point 3 above--sorry to anyone who loves those parts). Finally, when she was making it difficult for people to hear the day's scripture being read, I had to take her out, and stayed out for the whole sermon. I tried to come back for prayer time, but didn't last too long, and was out again. Finally, I dashed back in during the offering, gathered our "luggage" and left.

Kate is a good, happy baby--even good, happy babies cry sometimes!--and I really wasn't frustrated with her, just with the situation. I felt like "why should I even come if I spend the whole time out in the hallway or narthex?" This is exactly why a church nursery (and/or a cry room) are so essential.
Due to the fire, our church is in an interim location right now, so this is not a commentary on what we had before or what we will have in the future. I do hope that any other churches' pastors or decision-makers reading this, however, will think about the experience of parents attending your church and how much of a difference a good, staffed, functional nursery and/or cry room can make. I'm the pastor's wife, so I have some incentive to go to church despite knowing that I will hardly experience any of it, but I can only imagine how a family just visiting a church, or trying to get back into the habit of going would feel it's just not worth it.

I recently received a copy of The Most Important Space in the Church: The Nursery, by Rita Hays (who, incidentally, was on staff for many years at Matt's parents' church). I actually hadn't started reading it until Sunday afternoon, after getting all worked up about this issue, but as I suspected, it is a valuable look at the significant role of the nursery--not just practically, but theologically--to a church. I recommend it to anyone with a role in children's ministry or in building-planning.

More concerned about the practical aspect at the moment, I am reminded of some research I read a while back that said the two most important things a church must have to attract and retain visitors are a) a good, clean, well-staffed nursery, and b) an adequately-sized, easily-navigated parking lot. Amenities like these seem much less significant than things like worship music, preaching, or the friendliness of the people, but for people who are not already invested in your church, it's those little things that make their visit go a little more smoothly that can make or break their decision to stick around and experience God with your congregation.


Katie Rose said...

This is all so true. Andrew and I were succesfully church hunting in Spring Hill, then Jd reached that age where it becomes like cattle-wrangling to keep him in our laps. It is difficult to visit a church without a nursery...and difficult to visit a church with a nursery (with people in charge that you don't know)...the room for mothers or fathers to be with their children and still participate in worship is so important! I am so glad we are not the only ones with these issues! Thanks for sharing! Katie Rose

Katie Bug said...

I have played the same guessing game many Sundays! Fortunately, we do have a good nursery at our church. Unfortunately, my baby girl is not a fan of it just yet. Now I spend most of the service in the nursery with her because she becomes a Kate-a-saurus when away from me.

SpeasHill said...

I especially appreciate churches with cry rooms, as Becca isn't cleared medically for the nursery. They are also really important for older kids with special needs who either need the toned-down stimulation or who can't control their vocalizations. Now that I'm not on staff, I have actually driven all the way in to Hendersonville (about 20 miles) to worship because they have a cry room, and everyone at our church wants to get their grubby hands on her. And the music at our church is WAY too loud for little ears that already have some damage. (It even hurts my ears.) It's really a question of whether or not a church is hospitable to the least of these...and especially (I think) special "these."

Rachael. said...

I'm pretty sure i'm going to be getting this book. My husband and i just moved across the country to plant a church. we have seen plenty of bad nurseries. grrr.


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