When I was a baby, the nursery suite in the small-town/rural church was the pine benches in the congregational service. These benches were made of a wide and narrow pine board for the seat, and two narrow boards for the back rest. According to my mother, I could lie on the bench on my stomach with my legs and arms hanging over the bench to secure my sleeping position.
There is a trend among a certain following today to return the nursery to the congregational service, with the mothers caring for their babies in the service regardless of the level of disturbance. This concept is also being applied to church education, stating that it is the parents’ responsibility to teach the children at home. I was in one church recently where everyone was kept together in the auditorium for Sunday school while the lesson was directed to the adults and the children were left to “color”. No one learned anything in this setting, especially the majority of the adults who no longer have small children and were distressed with the chaos.
Several years ago, Dr. Fred Barlow (Mr. Sunday School) would describe the ideal church nursery in his Sunday school workshop as one with attendants in nurses uniforms to show their official qualifications, while a disinfecting light was shining in the room to give the impression that the room was sterile. The institutional setting was purported to be the ideal church nursery setting. Now we realize that young children usually are terrorized at the sight of the nurse, thinking it is time to get another inoculation.
The nursery suite is that group of rooms for children ages 0–3 (crib, creepers, toddlers). While there may be a preference in some communities for a cry room with a window adjacent to the auditorium for mothers and babies, in most settings it is essential to have a nursery suite with view to special ministry of discipleship for young parents and outreach to other community prospects.
The nursery is second only to the rest rooms in expectations related to “first priorities” when people consider your church. You must get them to accept the parking accommodations, rest rooms, and nursery before you have the opportunity to minister to them. This suite of rooms should be directly accessible from the main commons (foyer), but positioned to avoid congestion as parents come to get the children after the service.
Even the smallest church should have a suite of 3 rooms so that crib babies, creepers, and toddlers can be separated for safety and other reasons. A room for nursing mothers is also in strong demand today. The maximum number of children in any of the rooms should be no more than 12. This means the large church should have a nursery complex with the capability of subdividing larger rooms, or providing a series of smaller rooms.
Avoid the institutional look. Make the nursery suite as much like the home nursery as possible. Carpet the floor, including padding under the carpet (while other areas of the building have carpet without padding). Follow a decorating theme (such as birds or animals) and an appropriate, restful color palette. Provide adequate light (at least 20 footcandles), with light that can be dimmed in the crib room.
Design the complex to control parent traffic, providing a single drop-off location. Include a rest room within the nursery suite, a changing table, and marked storage for each child’s belongings. Maintain safe, clean toys, avoiding a collection of junk people leave for the nursery. Provide lower windows and other features sized specifically for toddlers.
Avoid casualties by implementing a system of care for the nursery that protects each child, parent, and worker. Provide a system for screening workers. Work in teams for accountability. Use an electronic system for calling needed parents from the congregational gathering. (I’ll publish more on the nursery operation later.)
Your church nursery can be a very fruitful ministry in outreach and discipleship. Envision it as much more than necessary babysitting. Instill the spiritual ministry ideal into your carefully chosen nursery staff.