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Church Nursery in the Wake of a Pandemic

June 7, 2021 jill Blog
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By Brandi Kirkland

Here are the three positions in which you’ve likely found yourself if you’re reading this article:

  • You are planning to re-open your nursery.
  • You have reopened your nursery, and no one is bringing you their children.
  • You have reopened your nursery, and everyone is bringing you their children!

Three different states of being, all with the potential for catastrophe. But, there is hope, and we can deal with each of these issues. From the right safety and cleaning protocols to covering the classroom with enough volunteers, we can do this well—if we make a plan.

Here are some questions to answer before you begin:

How many rooms do I need to open and when?

Before the pandemic, you may have had multiple nursery rooms, and you may be wondering, “Do I have to reopen all of them right away?” No! You absolutely do not.

Has your church or children’s ministry done a survey? Do you have an idea of how many babies are in your congregation? Start there. You’re going to want lower ratios and lower capacity for each room you open, at least in the first phase, but you might start with lower attendance, as well. Design accordingly.

How many of my former volunteers are ready to come back and serve?

This one is tricky, but we both know that the only way to find out is to ask. It may be that the last time you’ve spoken to some of them was when you last scheduled them in March 2020. I know. We dropped some balls in the pandemic, friend. But that’s okay, we can (and should) still pick them back up. So, make those phone calls, send those text messages, be sincere and be you. Most people will understand, and the angry ones aren’t benefitting you or your team anyway.

What is my budget for cleaning and COVID-safety protocols?

There are definitely some changes you’ll need to make to your nursery spaces if you haven’t already. The best thing you can do is to ask for a budget from your leadership or create and price out a strategy and present that for approval instead.

Okay, so you’ve answered the hard questions…what now?

Let’s make a plan. Now, there has been a lot of talk about the CDC’s announcement that the risk of people being infected through contact with contaminated surfaces is low, giving rise to questions about the efficacy of “hygiene theater.” But I want you to hear this from me—that only kind of applies to your nursery.

COVID safety is the most important thing, but displaying COVID safety to parents and guardians is a close second.

In fact, if you have reopened and fall into the category of “no one is coming,” it’s possible that those reluctant parents haven’t seen enough hygiene theater from your ministry or your church, whether in-person or in outgoing communications.

Have you sent out a list of precautions that your nursery is taking in emails and mailers? Are you demonstrating some of those precautions when they arrive? Listen, if you are fulfilling all of your protocols before and after grown-ups are in the room, you are missing a great opportunity to express that you take their children’s safety seriously.

Hopefully, you have a policy for volunteers to be temperature checked as they arrive, to wash their hands before going to their rooms to serve, and maybe even to take off their shoes. But all of that happened before parents and guardians arrived with their precious little ones. Maybe you have a policy for using a yuck bucket for used toys and good sanitation policies throughout and after service. Guess what? They don’t see that either. What are you doing to give nods to safety that show you really care about the children God has placed in your care?

Here are some simple ways you can show parents and guardians that you are keeping their children safe:

  • Have volunteers use hand sanitizer before taking a child or infant carrier from a grown-up even if they have just washed their hands.
  • Create a safe way to keep hallway doors open for ventilation. (Baby gates work great!)
  • Ensure a lower capacity for every room you have open.
  • Keep a lower ratio than pre-pandemic where possible and appropriate.

This brings us to our next question:

What ratios should we keep as we reopen the nursery?

Every state has their own ratios for childcare facilities, and it is important to know the expectations in your state, even if, as a church, you may not have to follow them. Let me be clear, though; we always want to do better than childcare standards as we represent Jesus.

Typical Ratios:

  • Infants 3:1 – 4:1
  • Toddlers 6:1 – 11:1
  • Preschoolers 8:1 – 20:1

These are the stats to beat when we’re not in a global pandemic, so what should we look like now? General advice is the newer the baby, the lower the ratio. A good idea for the smallest infants, at least for now, is to keep a 1:1 ratio. A volunteer should be able to safely hold one baby, change their diapers, serve their bottles, and minimize the risk for the most vulnerable little ones.

Older babies who crawl and walk can be anywhere between 2:1 – 4:1. If they are in the same room, just assign volunteers to accept the littlest and to stay with them the whole time, while assigning others to oversee the older crawlers and walkers.

Friends, leading a nursery ministry is hard, but with God’s help, with the right equipment, and with the right people, you can come out of this pandemic stronger than ever. It has been a hard season for pastors and parents alike, but when they trust us with their children, they are one step closer to trusting Jesus. Keep going—the work you do is changing eternities.

Brandi Kirkland is a staff consultant and blog writer for Ministry Architects, a highly skilled team of pastors, teachers, executives, youth workers, children’s pastors, writers and professors helping churches succeed through targeted change consulting, ministry leadership coaching, search services, ministry cohorts, and more,

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