In a recent conversation with leaders in a congregation they wondered about people who drop children off at church–particularly on Sunday mornings–and then go to a coffee shop to have some “alone time”. They indicated this was an increasing challenge in their congregation. They wanted to know how often I encounter this, and what advice I give to congregations.
My slice of the world tells me that this is not new. I can recall seeing this 35 years ago in congregations. However, it was primarily happening during secondary programming times each week. Examples would be if there was Sunday afternoon or evening activities, or Wednesday evening activities. I particularly found during Wednesday evening activities young to median age adults needed some time to just relax and talk to friends rather than sit in a training meeting, a Bible study, or prayer service.
What might be recent is that this is happening more on Sunday mornings. In fact, we all realize that many things are happening on Sunday mornings now that compete with the primary church time. It is part of the rising popularity of Saturday night worship, or churches who only meet on Sunday nights.
When your congregation encounters an increasing number of young to median age adults dropping their children and going somewhere else during a church activity, how do you respond? Here are several possibilities:
First, should you tell them they cannot drop their kids and then leave for security and liability reasons? This can obviously be a real crisis if a child becomes sick or injured while the parent is away from the church facilities and you have no idea where they are or how to get in contact with them. Parents are probably not telling you that they are going out for coffee because they already suspect this might be against the rules.
Second, should you tell them they must be in a class or small group meeting during the same time? This is not a child care service they can abuse. Obviously, this seems a little harsh. Yet, it could be the legalistic position some church leaders would want to take.
Third, give them a card that says a small group leader from the church is going to be at a certain coffee shop for fellowship and conversation if you would like to join them. This would give them an alternative that could involve both socializing and meaningful conversation. Such a small group discussion can also be held within the church facilities where you have coffee and refreshments in a relaxed area.
Fourth, make an attempt to talk to them and find out what their life needs might be and then seek to help them address these. Unfortunately, we may not know the life situation of these people, and what it is they are really seeking.
Fifth, in a conversation with them you might discover there is a certain type of life skills class they would love to attend. It could be that they really would like a Bible study with a peer group, or some other type of personal or life skills development.
Sixth, as opposed to judging them, tell them you also do this one Friday night each month to allow couples to have a night out without the expenses of child care. Would they like to sign up?
Seventh, realize this is one of the main reasons non-working mothers enroll their children in the weekday preschool program at your church. They are actually looking for some time to be alone, time to be with friends, or to do some shopping without having their children with them.
About a decade ago I knew a colleague who wrote an article about why he stopped going to church on Sunday mornings. The reality was that he was a part of a church that was meeting on Sunday nights and so his Sunday mornings were free. On Sunday mornings he would visit book stores, grocery stores, shopping malls, and other places where people gathered. He engaged people in casual conversation about why they were here on Sunday morning. People gave him the kinds of answers that support the thought of needing some alone time in the midst of the pressures of life.
I have another ministry colleague who rather than oppose the practice and playing of youth sports on Sunday mornings, actually commissioned one of his sports parents as a chaplain to the soccer league. This layperson announces and holds a brief 15 minute devotional service at the soccer field. He hangs around and is available to talk to people who may be at the field and have life concerns.
Does it almost make you want to drop the kids a church and go get some coffee?