We currently have an 8-week old and a 4-year old, which makes getting to church a challenge. Because we want to cultivate a strong faith in our kids, attending church is a priority for us. But doing so is HARD. Based on our experience, here are 8 ways that you can make it easier for families with babies to worship together in your congregation:
1. Hold the doors open for them. This seems like common sense, but I’m amazed at how many people watch me struggle to get in the church or sanctuary doors with a baby strapped to my chest and a child grasping my hand. Don’t just watch me! Grab the door and hold it open for me.
2. Make space for strollers. Many sanctuaries have spots specifically reserved for wheelchairs. In the same way, make spots specifically reserved for car seat strollers. Many babies fall asleep in a moving vehicle and the last thing you want to do is wake them up on the way into church. It’s far easier to attach the car seat to a stroller and wheel everything in. Having reserved stroller spaces makes it clear that a congregation wants babies in worship… And makes it easy to see where you’re supposed to go in a sanctuary.
3. When babies start crying, tap whosever holding the child on the shoulder and let them know it’s okay for them to stay in worship – crying baby and all. One of my former colleagues often commented that when he distributed worship recordings to homebound members, what got the most positive comments wasn’t the music or the sermon but the crying babies. To homebound members, crying babies mean life. It shows them that the church is alive and well. May it be the same for us.
4. Keep your hands to yourself. Churches are filled with germs. In fact, many pediatricians recommend you stay clear of them until a baby receives their first round of vaccinations at 2 months. So, do families of babies a favor and keep your hands to yourself. Sure, babies are cute… But they’re still cute even if you’re not touching them. If you simply can’t help yourself, ask permission before reaching out to touch babies and then touch the top of their heads or feet – not their face or hands.
5. Offer to hold a baby – but only after you offer to wash your hands. But then don’t be offended if they don’t take you up on your offer (See #4).
6. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Remember this mantra? I think it actually comes from Bambi. But it’s SO true. By the time I get to church on Sunday morning, I’ve already been up for a couple hours – nearly all of which have felt like a battleground. I’ve battled the four-year old through breakfast, going potty, and (gasp) doing her hair. I’ve also struggled to get the newborn nursed and dressed… Not to mention feeding and dressing myself. So, when I get to church, please don’t comment on my child’s unkempt hair, her mismatched shoes, or the fact that it looks like the baby might be sucking her thumb. Instead, assure me that you’re glad my kids and I are there.
7. Welcome nursing moms in worship. Many churches offer nursing moms their own special room – usually outside the sanctuary – where they can go nurse. That’s a nice gesture… And some moms really appreciate it. But you know what's really great? Welcoming nursing moms in worship. After all, we’ve just battled to get our families to worship. Why? Because it’s important to us. We don’t necessarily want to be separated from the very community we’ve longed to be part of. So, post a sign on your worship doors that say nursing moms are welcome in worship. Or better yet, put a row of gliders in the back of your worship space with a sign that says “Reserved for nursing moms”. Such things convey that moms are welcome – just as they are - and that they need not be ashamed of publicly feeding their child.
8. Help parents pack up their stuff. During each of the last two times my family made it to worship, my husband had serving responsibilities immediately following worship. This left me in the pew with a baby, a toddler, and a LOT of stuff. Each time, people came to me and started picking up my pew. They reassembled the toddler’s worship activity bag, packed up our diaper bag, and gathered any other incidentals in the pew. And you know what? They didn't ask, “Can I help you?” (Because if they had, I would have politely responded, "I'm OK" even though I was far from it!) Instead, they simply started packing stuff up in a way that left me unable to refuse their help.
Bottom line: When I get to church on a Sunday morning, I want to feel as though my entire church community supports us; As though we are wanted in worship – crying babies and all. When your congregation follows the aforementioned guidelines, you make it feel as though IF families get to worship, they are NOT alone. Instead, they are part of a community who will do all it can to ensure that families can truly worship together.