Seven Things the Church Can Learn from The Babysitters Club
The first author book signing I ever went to was for Ann M. Martin – author of The Babysitters Club. To say I was in love with this series as a kid is an understatement. It fostered my love of reading AND contributed to my desire to become an author.
Given this, I was ecstatic to see Netflix create The Babysitters Club. I am only a little bit embarrassed to say that my husband and I enjoyed this series AS MUCH as our five-year old daughter, Hope, did… Even completely losing track of time in a legitimate family binge as we finished the series last week… At 11 pm. Oops.
As I watched The Babysitters Club as a fan, parent, and youth worker, I was also struck by these 7 things the church can learn from this show.
1. The need for friendship is universal. At its core, The Babysitters Club books that I fell in love with as a kid were about a group of tight friends. I remember reading these books and wanting to form my own babysitter’s club SO THAT I could have the kind of friendships that Kristy, Stacey, Mary Anne, and Claudia shared with each other. I saw the same thing in Hope as she watched The Babysitters Club. Our need for connection and relationship is God-given and should be celebrated. We need to examine our children’s and youth ministries to ensure they help kids and teens form the kind of tight-knit friendships exemplified by The Babysitters Club – the kind that are so deep they extend beyond the walls of the church.
2. Being a newcomer is never easy. A few episodes into The Babysitters Club, the group expands to include a new girl, Dawn, who’s just moved to Stony Brook from CA. The group doesn’t all accept Dawn willingly, despite how much she needs a place to belong. As I watched this, my heart went out to every new kid who’s ever come through the door of my ministry. It’s NEVER easy being the new kid… And once they reach a certain age, kids (and certainly teens) are no longer inherently welcoming. Instead, they need to be taught how to legitimately welcome other people into their midst. They need to understand that part of our call as Christians is to be hospitable – and welcoming – to others. What would our communities look like if the church made it its mission to teach kids how to truly see and welcome those on the margins – of our ministries, schools, workplaces, and communities – into their midst?
3. Today’s kids care deeply about social justice. I know this from the teens I work with and yet I was still surprised to see how much emphasis on social justice was in a series targeted at younger kids. From the time they’re very small, kids know whether or not something is fair. When the church can harness a kid’s inherent sense of “rightness” and connect it with God’s heart for social justice, we can equip and unleash them to do incredible kingdom work in the world around them, especially when we also give them opportunities to participate in justice work communally.
4. It’s important to give kids a chance to find their voice. In one of our whole family’s favorite episodes, Mary Anne, a shy, quiet kid finds her voice. She does so by advocating for someone else. In the same way, we need to give kids the chance to find their voices in our churches. Study after study has shown that we speak our belief into being. Perhaps we also speak our identity into being. This means that as adults, we need to talk less and give kids the chance to talk more. We also need to give them language to express doubt, fear, and grief… And then help them find the words to advocate on behalf of the people and things that grieve them.
5. Kids need to be able to talk about hard things. The Babysitters Club deals with a host of hard (and controversial) things: Race, LGBTQ issues, divorce, remarriage, illness, fitting in, etc. Hope (our five-year old) ate these issues up. Especially in our current climate, she hears the adults in her life regularly talking about them. This show gave her a chance to process these issues in a way that was understandable for her. More importantly, because I watched them with her, I was able to use these episodes as conversation starters to go deeper with Hope. As churches, let’s follow Netflix’s example and enter into – rather than ignore - hard conversations with kids. Let’s then equip parents to follow up on those hard conversations so that they can help their child integrate their experiences into their life in a healthy way.
6. Kids need leaders to look up to. The day after we finished watching The Babysitters Club, Hope and I went for a walk. As we headed out the door, she grabbed a pink hat and asked to put her hair in a ponytail. As soon as she tucked her ponytail through her hat, she turned to me and asked, “Don’t you think I look like Kristy (the leader of The Babysitters Club)?” I grinned and affirmed that she did. A few minutes into our walk, Hope looked at me and asked, “Don’t you think I’m also a leader like Kristy?” Hope IS like Kristy. She’s a leader and has been since she was about 2-years old. Thanks to The Babysitters Club, she’s now latched onto a female role model who’s just slightly older than her. In the same way, I want her to be able to look at girls in our church who are “big kids” and see them in various informal and formal leadership roles and think – “That’s who I want to be”.
7. We can’t be afraid to update things. Even though it’s been 30 year since I’ve read The Babysitters Club, I have vivid memories of these characters and the situations they faced. Given this, I was curious how the show would feel to me. I was pleasantly surprised by how authentic it felt, despite being updated to address current issues. Perhaps this is the biggest lesson the church can learn from The Babysitters Club. We must remain authentic to who we are as followers of Jesus while constantly being responsive to the world in which we live. Otherwise, we simply feel dated and out of touch. While nostalgia might bring Gen Xers into the church, it won’t bring Millennials and Gen Z’s. Therefore, we can’t be afraid to update our methods and messaging to stay responsive to the world around us.