For Fairfax Christian Church, listening is an important part of worshiping in community.
To solicit suggestions for improvements, the church office conducted a congregational survey in 2017.
One congregant’s response immediately captured the attention of the church’s leaders. That member missed listening to something more specific at church: the sounds of children.
Three years earlier, the church stopped offering a nursery for children during worship. For a small church, staffing a nursery with certified attendants became too burdensome.
Still, the church wanted to attract young families, so they began looking for a way to include children in their worship planning.
Office manager and church treasurer Marnie DeVaughan took on this project right away.
“I just ran with it,” she says.
In her research, DeVaughan came across the idea of a “prayground”: an area for children and their parents in the sanctuary, as opposed to in a separate room.
This idea fit all the criteria Fairfax needed: it provided a safe, fun place for children – without requiring a separate area and staff of caretakers. Parents could sit with their children in the prayground while still participating in worship.
Next came building the prayground.
To create a new space on a small budget, DeVaughan searched the former nursery and supply closets, collecting chairs, a baby jumper, and activities left from past Vacation Bible School programs. She brought those materials to the back of the sanctuary for children and their parents to use, making this program cost-effective and simple for a church of their size.
Over time, Fairfax Christian’s prayground has become a popular place. With more children attending church now, Fairfax has introduced a Children’s Moment into their worship time, to continue including children in their community.
“It has been amazing,” DeVaughan says. “You can see the children’s eyes light up as they interact with the pastor.”
Rev. Deborah Carlton, one of the church’s guest ministers, agrees. “I wasn’t a stickler about too many things in my days of pastoring a congregation but ‘Let the little children come to me,’ was a given for me. I’ll choose the happy (and not so happy) sound of children in worship over a quiet service without them, every time!”
While logistics of the prayground have made it successful, DeVaughan has noticed another, more spiritual, benefit of the project.
“Kids are paying more attention than we think,” she says, so providing a way to involve children in worship allows them to pick up on songs and stories that they would otherwise miss while in a nursery down the hall.
For Disciples Home Missions’ Minister of Family and Children’s Ministries Rev. Olivia Bryan Updegrove, involving all ages in worship is an important process. “Fairfax Christian took prayerful, intentional, faithful steps in considering how the entire worshipping community could be together. It also took a willingness of leadership to live into what that reality actually means. Every church has the potential to truly welcome all ages, and we have many resources with which to walk alongside them.”
As Fairfax Christian hopes to attract even more families with children to join their community, they’ve learned the importance of listening.
Thanks to an individual’s suggestion, and another’s follow-through, families can enjoy spending worship time together, and the rest of the congregation can enjoy hearing the sounds of children again.