Question: We don’t have “Mommy wars” in our church, but there are obvious parenting differences that become apparent whenever families get together. The rambunctious kids get louder, and the quiet kids retreat to the room where the grown-ups are sometimes studying the Bible. Any ideas how to navigate our differences graciously?
Answer: Before opening our doors to a Bible study group, we have priorities to discuss, and boundaries to set. Here are some things to consider in the developmental stage: Who will be attending the group? What is the number-one purpose of the group? What are the secondary purposes of the group, in descending order?
If the primary focus of the group is fellowship and an outreach to Christian and non-Christian neighbors, then children should be welcomed. In this less structured, more flexible environment, the gospel is shared and the biblical encouragement to “exercise hospitality” (Romans 12:13) comes to life.
The group should meet in a home large enough to accommodate separate activities, held in at least three separate spaces. Children should always have trusted adult supervision when away from the adult groups. Children love to have a variety of projects to choose from—this too should be well planned with built-in flexibility. Plan to have at least two supervised children’s groups based on age and interests.
I would encourage considering a child-free environment when the primary focus of your group is spiritual growth and biblical maturity. Creating an environment where adults feel safe sharing their personal stories is key to building meaningful long-term Christian friendships. The struggles couples and single adults face should not be overheard or interrupted by children.
The successful community groups I have attended limited attendance to adults only, for the above reasons. Some churches have activities one night a week, at the church, for children in middle school and high school. Scheduling your community group that night may be a peacemaking solution. In this scenario, if small children attend the community group with their parents, one adult-supervised children’s group is all that’s necessary.
If you start by determining the main purpose of your group, you’ll be able to better navigate the challenges inherent in gathering any group of people, regardless of age!
Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services.