mums and a pram

When I think about why playgroups work so well as a ministry of the local church, the characteristic that stands out is connectedness. Playgroups that are an authentic ministry of the local church make four important connections. They are connected with the local community, connected with the church, connected with playgroup families, and connected with Jesus.

These connections don’t just happen. Like all relationships, taking some time to think about the best ways to connect, and what we want to achieve, is important. In this series on Making Connections, we will look at some of the issues that playgroups deal with and share some ideas on how to make the connections.

One of the great potential strengths of playgroups as a ministry of the parish is the opportunity that they provide to connect with people in the local community. Young families are very open to connecting with groups in their community, and there is the potential to build long-lasting connections, since this is the start of a lifetime journey. Many parish ministries can be built on the connections that begin in playgroup.

Many people who are interested in joining a playgroup have little or no previous contact with the local church.

Parents of young children are at a stage of life that is demanding and full of adjustments. Many parents of young children are feeling sleep-deprived, burdened with a mortgage or higher rents to provide the extra accommodation that they need for their children, overwhelmed by the responsibilities of parenting. Playgroups have so much to offer: a social network for both the adults and the children, an environment that is supportive and the chance to talk with people that understand the highs and lows of parenting young children.

Many people who are interested in joining a playgroup have little or no previous contact with the local church. They may have approached the church to enquire about having their baby baptised, and an invitation to join the playgroup can be a great way to maintain contact with the family. Or they may have heard about the playgroup in some other way.

Connection with the families living around them is a necessary fact of life for most playgroups in order to attract members. Advertising is relatively easy for playgroups. Local councils usually list playgroups on their website. Playgroup Victoria maintains a list of member playgroups. Maternal and Child Health Centres usually have a list of local playgroups and may even be happy to hand out a promotional brochure. Advertising in the newsletters of local primary schools or kindergartens may be a possibility, and most local papers will let community groups advertise their activities in the What’s On column.

Even if your playgroup is full, it is worth considering doing some targeted promotion. Some playgroups have some places that they reserve for families with special needs. Talking to agencies that work with families within your local community (Maternal and Child Health Centres, Anglicare, for example) may identify a need that the church, through the playgroup, could minister to.

Some parishes have developed creative ways of using playgroups to connect with their local community. There are playgroups that meet in aged-care facilities and community centres. It is worth considering different ways of connecting to groups in the local community that may not be able to attend the more traditional mid-week playgroup in the church hall.

Some churches have met particular community needs by running “supported playgroups” that meet the special needs of a particular target group. Examples are playgroups for children with disabilities, groups for refugee families, groups supporting parenting skills. While these playgroups may require more skilled leadership or greater resources, it is possible to access grants to support these projects. Playgroup Victoria also provides a Supported Playgroups Manual and offers advice and other support.

Finally, try this exercise. Imagine you have no connection with your local church. How easy is it to find? Are there signposts on strategic street corners? On approaching your church, is it easy to find the entry to the car park? Do the buildings and surrounds look attractive, clean and cared for? Are signs or notice boards up-to-date and inviting? When you have parked your car is it easy to see the way to the front door? If you were pushing a pram and carrying bags, and you had a toddler hanging off your leg, could you get up the pathway, up the steps and through the doors? Having arrived, how are you welcomed? Are the people you meet friendly, and is the entry clean, bright and uncluttered? If you are having trouble imagining how your church might look to an outsider, ask someone who has not been to your church before to take you for a “visit”, in their car, with no directions from you. How easily do you think your local community would connect?