Picture the scene: new mum Alice has just been to her local children’s centre where she was given a leaflet advertising all the local toddler groups.
Monday morning: ‘Wriggle and Jiggle’ at St Ethel-on-the-Moor Church
Wednesday afternoon: ‘Story and Snack’ at Cornerstone Baptist Church
Friday morning: ‘Come and Play’ at Living Oceans Free Church
Alice decides she will give them all a try. It will be the first time she goes through the doors of any church, let alone three! She’s not really sure why there are three different churches in a two-mile radius of one another? And what do their different names mean? What will the people be like? What will the different groups do? How different will they be from each other?
Alice and her new baby are not unusual. In every village, town and city across the UK, young mums and dads in the first months of parenthood will often encounter church for the first time when they start to attend a toddler group. And over the next few months and years, their weekly routine may include visits to two or more groups run by different churches in the area. As leaders, we may be used to asking ourselves what impression they receive when they come to our toddler group, but do we ever stop to think about the experience they are having from attending groups in different churches each week? Will they be struck by our differences or our similarities?
In John 13:35 Jesus said that people will know that we are his disciples because of our love for one another. This means that as well as showing love and support to the families and to each other in our own toddler groups, we will want to encourage and care for the toddler groups in other churches.
This is about far more than “presenting a united front”. When we work together as local churches, we can help the families who come to our groups experience our rich diversity of stories, cultures and traditions.
While we carry on our regular activities separately, there may be opportunities to work together for the occasional special event, perhaps setting up a free play area at the village fete, for instance.
In a world where competition is the norm, we can decide to be different by choosing to work together. Not only we will benefit ourselves as we support one another, but we will allow our families to experience the breadth of the church in action, helping to grow God’s kingdom right where we are.
Coffee and catch-up
Supporting one another in this way takes place at conferences like Playtime, when we begin to see that we are all small pieces who fit into a large jigsaw; but we can also work together by taking opportunities to meet toddler group leaders from different churches in our community. Meeting up with other toddler group leaders can be wonderfully encouraging, and in many areas, networking events are already taking place. If one isn’t already happening in your area, why not suggest getting together. Perhaps you can meet monthly or termly in a local coffee shop or garden centre cafe to share ideas, pray for one another, and look for opportunities to work together.
Advertise each other’s activities
Consider creating an advertising leaflet that lists all of your toddler groups; this can be left in places like your local children’s centre or GP practices. You can also share news of each other’s special events, plan to host different Christmas events, and schedule summer holiday clubs at different times during the holidays.
Our toddler groups and churches will all be different – with a different “feel” or flavour – but these differences shouldn’t be something that divide us. We can celebrate our diversity and find our unique place in the lives of the families we serve.