One of the most enjoyable pastoral duties is rejoicing in the arrival of a new baby with a hospital or home visit. The weeks that follow the initial celebrations, however, are times of abrupt change for the new family.
This is the time for active ministry. What can you do as a pastor to see your regular members through this time of transition and attract new families to your church fellowship? Here are five things every new mom wants to tell her pastor.
1. "I need a place to nurse my baby."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding as the best source of nourishment for babies through their first year of life. More than ever, women are opting to nurse their babies. If your church doesn't have a quiet, comfortable place for a mother to breast-feed her baby, you may not see her until the baby is weaned. "I wanted to nurse my child," says Anne, of Nashville, "and I didn't want to have to stand up in a cold restroom to do it."
Many mothers make a commitment to nurse and then find their church is not suited to this. Support these mothers by finding space. My home church, Parkway Baptist Church in Goodlettsville, Tenn., cleaned out a former laundry closet, painted it, and then simply equipped it with a comfortable rocking chair and side table. Located next to the nursery, it offers privacy and convenience for both mother and baby.
"Providing a comfortable place for nursing mothers to feed their babies is an easy and inexpensive way to communicate the message, 'We care about you!'" explains Gerald James, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Paragould, Ark. "Some people may think that they don't have enough nursing mothers to do something like that, but the fact is, they might have more if word got out that they were a church that really cared about young families."
2. "I need to feel comfortable leaving my baby in the nursery."
Church nurseries can be some of the filthiest places around. Stay-at-home mothers often complain of their children getting sick after visiting the church nursery. "I don't go anywhere else," lamented one Kentucky mom. "When my baby gets sick, it's after we've been to church. My own pediatrician told me that church nurseries are notoriously germ-ridden. Until my baby is past this stage of putting everything in his mouth, we're opting to stay home."
Is your nursery cleaned and sanitized after every service? Are the crib sheets washed and changed? Are good health rules posted so that all workers are reminded to wash their hands after changing diapers or wiping noses?
Eddie Poole, discipleship pastor at Canopy Roads Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., recognizes what many young mothers are looking for. "The target demographic for our church is professional couples with children," he explains. "We've found that one of the first things these families look for in a church is a clean and secure nursery, staffed with competent workers for their children. If we don't offer first-class [care] and excellence in the nursery, the families will not return."
3. "I need to know the nursery workers care about my baby and me."
Who is on the front lines of your church nursery? Staff your clean nursery with friendly, experienced people who sincerely love children and parents. While older youth can be great helpers in the children's department, they do not need to work with children under 2 years of age, and even then, there must be an adult supervisor.
There should always be at least two people caring for the babies. You are understaffed with one. This fact was underscored for me when my son was first learning to walk. Our family attended the early morning service, and there were never more than three children in the nursery at that time. We had one nursery worker. One Sunday, my son fell and injured his head on a doorframe. The nursery worker brought him, screaming, and the other two children under her care to the door of the sanctuary to notify me. There was no other way for her to get help.
What about other emergencies? Deborah Allen, who serves as nursery coordinator at Eastside Foursquare Church in Bothell, Wash., says, "It's a good idea to have one person who is CPR-certified on duty at all times. We arranged a certification class with members of our local fire department and then offered it to the entire church." This kind of sensible teaching would be helpful not only to children's workers, but also to parents. It shows the church caring for children in a truly practical, active fashion.
Allen also recommends that the nursery be equipped with a telephone and smoke alarm. And if the nursery is some distance from the sanctuary, she cautions, "Be sure outside doors are locked during nighttime services." Maybe you haven't thought about some of these safety measures. These days, unfortunately, we have to.
4. "I need help!"
"It is essential that the church family provide help for moms in the first couple of weeks after giving birth, especially if their extended family is not close by," Eddie Poole says. "In our church, this care, including meals and home visits, has often been what God has used to draw a family closer to him." Gerald James agrees. "I know of no better opportunity for a Sunday school class to build bridges of love to members or prospects than when they have been blessed with a new child. Unlike ministry in times of sorrow or crisis, ministering to a family with a newborn can be a joyful time of celebration. It's an opportunity to see and rejoice over the precious gift of life."
For the new mom, the first few weeks can be a particularly trying time, as she and the baby adjust to one another. This is true for a first-time mom and also for mothers with one or more children. "Moms need meals provided during those first few weeks," says Marla, a mother of four. "They also need an afternoon out with playmates for their older children, a load of laundry washed, or just an hour or two of time donated for a nap. These are all things I could have used but did not want to ask for."
Poole suggests that the church family work as a team arranging meals and running errands for the new family. His final recommendation focuses on the baby's parents as a couple. "When the mom is comfortable enough to get out of the house, we encourage a date night with her husband. Our church family gives her the opportunity through free babysitting for the older children and even the baby if she desires. This has been a true blessing to many moms."
5. "I need to fit in."
Not all new mothers are married. Where does the single mother fit in to your church? She should be made to feel welcome, and she should be ministered to in the same way as a married mother, with meals, visits and the celebration of her baby's life. Lynnae Hall, of Cove United Methodist Church in Hampton Cove, Ala., has worked with several single mothers. "The single mother needs to celebrate her baby. The difference between her and a married mother is one regarding shame and feelings of guilt. She feels that she doesn't deserve the attention, but she wants it at the same time."
A single mom experiences all the ups and downs of life with a newborn on her own, without a husband. "I think Jesus would minister more intensely to the single mom," Hall says, "because she does not have the fellowship of a husband, the friendship of a husband or his physical support during that time of fatigue and postpartum depression." A church can minister to single mothers by partnering with local crisis pregnancy centers. A Sunday school class can "adopt" a mom and her baby and tend to their needs, not only by providing for them financially, if necessary, but also by building a relationship.
Ministering to single mothers and supporting them does not mean the church condones sex outside of marriage. What it does mean is that the church recognizes an opportunity to share the love of Jesus with people who need him.
Rebecca Ingram Powell is a certified speaker with Proverbs 31 Ministries and the author of "Baby Boot Camp: Basic Training for the First Six Weeks of Motherhood," a devotional book for new mothers. To find out more, please visit www.rebeccapowell.com.