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Articles Real Lives Starting a Parent and Toddler group

Starting a Parent and Toddler group

Why did you think a group was a good idea?

{mosimage} In our church a mums and tots group has been running for about twenty years. It has lately had a rather long waiting list and a friend and I felt strongly that we should set up a group to run on another morning so that the people on the waiting list all had a group to go to. We felt it was too good an outreach and friendship evangelism opportunity to miss.

How did you go about setting it up?

{quote_top} Initially we prayed about it and had a think through how we thought it should be run and what we thought were the vital elements. We found out a lot from the other group as to how they did things and why. We also did some research into other groups and thought about the groups we knew of and what we thought they’d got right and wrong from a ‘punters’ point of view. We decided on a morning we could do, drafted in some extra help and put out a bit of advertising in the church magazine. We also rang all of the people on the waiting list for the other group and welcomed them along to ours.

What exactly happens of a morning?

We have a large room and a kitchen area with a separate storage cupboard so three of us arrive about an hour before the group starts to set up the toys, play equipment, craft area and kitchen and to arrange the chairs in a way more conducive to conversation. Then at some time in that hour we sit down with a cup of tea and pray about the morning ahead. We pray generally for safety and for friendships and for the people who come and if we know of any particular prayer needs of a person who comes to the group then we pray about those also. People begin to arrive shortly before 10am and we are ready to move around and welcome people. A lady begins to move around the room collecting the money from people (we charge a pound) and making sure everyone gets a welcome and a little chat. At about 10.20 the person who has planned and brought the craft moves into the craft room and someone else begins to send people through a few at a time to do the craft. This could be anything at all though we tend to theme things around Christmas, Easter, Harvest etc. At 10.30 two ladies bring through the drinks and snacks. We start to tidy away about twenty minutes before the end and then leave ten minutes for singing songs and for singing happy birthday to anyone who has a birthday that week. Then at 11.30 it is time for everyone to head home while we do the last bits of tidying up.

How has it been going?

{quote_middle} It has been going amazingly well. The original waiting list had about eighteen names on it, most of whom came along to our group. Now we have about 35 names on our books and have started a waiting list of our own. Friendships have really grown; children have grown in confidence and really seem to enjoy their morning. We have a good team and have shared jobs between several of us so that it is not one or two people doing everything. Some of the people we have met through this group have begun coming to our pram service on a Friday, which has been really exciting.

What would you say to anyone wanting to start up a similar group?

I would say that if you can think of a room to hold it in and can gather together a group of helpers then pray it through and have a go. Parents at home with children can feel quite isolated and lonely at times and in my experience, putting on something each week to invite them to will always attract people to come, as long as it is well run and friendly.

Would you say it is a Christian group and in what way?

It is a Christian group in that the people who run it are all Christians and are seeing the group as a form of gentle evangelism into the community and as a way to serve and to love those around us. We also pray before the session begins. We have also been providing a stall where people can buy fair trade goods and find out more about Traidcraft and who it helps and how. We do also celebrate Christian festivals and invite people to come along on a Friday to our Pram service. We also do let people know in the notices at the end, what is going on in church that may be of interest to them e.g. the carol service.

Have you seen any increased involvement in church or any interest in faith?

We’ve only been running for six months so far so it is hard to look at this in the long term. But we have seen some crossover between the mums and tots group and the pram service, which is a more overtly Christian group. We have also seen some increased commitment in coming to church. But it’s really not all about getting people into the pews; it’s all about relationships. We befriend people, we are interested in their lives and their struggles, we try to be a friendly face to people who arrive alone, we try to make a follow up call to people we haven’t seen for a while, we commit to praying for the people who come and in all of this, we hope that we can be a good witness. We try to love them and accept them and be ready to talk at any time.

Has it helped you in your own walk with God?

{quote_bottom} Yes it has. It has helped me to develop a more servant heart. It is easy to think, ‘here I am lugging chairs around again and I was up until midnight preparing the craft activity’ but you have to remember why you’re doing it and that it is a calling. You have to leave those resentful feelings behind and just get on with serving. It has also helped us to get to know people in our community. It can be easy to live in a church bubble and to know only other Christians. This breaks us out of that tendency which is really important.

Are there any resources you know of which could help others?

There are lots of books out there; your local Christian bookshop will most probably have a whole section on this sort of thing. And useful craft books are everywhere. This is a good book about children's work. And a selection of good websites are to be found here There is a useful thread on the forum about what makes a good parent and toddler group here.

article by Hilary