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:
- How loud is the noise?
- Is the noise positive or negative? (cooing and laughing seem more tolerable than crying or screaming)
- How important is the element of worship the child is distrupting? (this one, especially, is highly subjective)
- Is the noise likely to cease in the next 30 seconds?
- 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.)
- 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.