I got an email from an e-friend, another church planter who (if I follow the story right from his blog) is re-booting their church plant.
Hey Bob, my crew is looking for gathering space and I, like you, like hanging out in bars – uh, while that’s true for me, I mean I love the whole idea of using the community’s gathering point…
My question for you is what do you do with kids in the Lab? Not having been to that pub myself (but having tried their beers), is there separate space for them? Or do you include them with the gathering?
Yes and yes!
Here's the story... when we started, one of the things I put into the category of "Don't do for the people the ministry they should do for themselves" was kid's ministry. In our core group phase (a month or two before our first child was born) I'd look around at the group and say things like "We're going to have a kid soon. I was wondering what you guys are thinking of doing about that." They'd look at each other and say things like, "Uh... Well we thought that was your job."
So, as we started at the Multnomah Village Lucky Lab, we put a patch of carpet in the back, someone else got a tub of toys, and that was it. The Patch. The kids would hang inthe back, parents would sit with them, others would take turns hanging out with them.
This was fine up to the point where the number of kids started to mean too much noise. We had a lot of weeks where it was clearly an issue... but I wasn't going to solve the problem (not that I really could, and not that it was exactly a "problem", but you know what I mean).
When we reached a tipping point and it was clear to everyone that we needed to do something, I volunteered to talk to the management about letting us use a bit of space downstairs. They were amenable, so I told the community that we could move The Patch downstairs if they liked, but it would mean a couple of things...
1st- a sign up sheet. We were all going to be responsible. Everyone. Not just selected volunteers, but the whole community. We were going to need to take turns hanging with the kids.
2nd- background checks. Before signing up, everyone would need to get the background check. We have a lawyer in the community who graciously volunteered to handle this part.
When we moved the Patch downstairs, we supplemented with an area in the back of our gathering for older kids (5-10) who were old enough to hang with us, but might need to keep their hands busy.
When we moved to the new location, we continued the same setup of a place for smaller kids and an area in the back of the gathering for the bigger kids. we have access to a side room where we put the Patch, and some tables in the back with drawing and Play Dough.
Now... the Patch has mainly been kids hanging out and playing. Our gathering is about an hour and 20 minutes or so, and that's been hard sometimes for some of the little ones. It's mainly been babysitting.
But recently, some people in the community have stepped up and begun to put some structure into place- some stories, activities, etc. All "lay" run... and very, very cool.
While we hope that the littlest evergreeners will be well cared for in the Patch, we're also hoping that most older kids (especially those over 7) will hang with us throughout the gatherings and grow up being a part of and included in what we do...
Here's something I wrote awhile ago on this:
Like in all things at the Evergreen Community, we are attempting to move away from a program-based approach to children's ministry. As a community, we want to take good care of the children among us. But one thing we don't want to see happen is have our gatherings become a place where people walk in the door and quickly begin to split along gender and age/ demographic lines (women over there, kids 6-12 over there, single men with no pets or houseplants over there...)
Our hope is that the children of our community will worship with us and become an integral part of our gatherings. This is going to be a challenge for those in our community raised in churches where the kids were kept out of sight (and perhaps more to the point, out of hearing.) It's going to require special patience and servanthood on our part to allow the young among us to sit in our gatherings, paying attention when they can, and being kids the rest of the time. It's also going to take a recovery of the idea that parents are the chief spiritual educators of their children, with the help of the church community, and not the other way around. We want to avoid outsourcing the spiritual education and discipleship of our community's children to paid professionals.
So what will children's ministry look like @ Evergreen? For now, we have a separate room where the very small and where those who need to can hang out and be occupied, but still feel as though they are connected to the community as a whole. The Kid's area is the responsibility of the whole community. Everyone is encouraged (ahem!) to get their background check and sign up on the calendar in the back of the room on Sundays, or here on our forum. (If you want info on the background check, email info(at)evergreenlife(dot)org.)
Also, we'd love to see people without kids take on the role of asking parents if kids can sit with them, either with the group or in the back of the room, and helping those kids through the things we do in our gatherings- speaking, singing, praying, listening... and coloring too.
The main challenge of this approach is that it requires a community to give up the (usually unspoken, sometimes not) idea that children's ministry is a "draw." I know that we've "lost" people who have come looking for a more developed kid's ministry. I've challenged them to stay and create what it is that they wanted... but some people aren't up for that.
My main concern isn't that we'll lose people who want more than we offer, but that when people from evergreen do step up and create something cool, those who come later will view it as a program our community "offers" them and will feel a sense of entitlement. I try to counteract that when and as I can...
I don't know if we're doing it "right." I know it's definitely not the ChurchPlanter 101™ way of doing things. I don't even know if it will be a net positive for our community in the long run... but my suspicion is that if we as a community are forced to re-invent certain wheels, it will be better for us in the long run.