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Toddler groups grow churches as well as children

03 July 2015

iSTOCK

CHURCH-BASED parent-and-toddler groups are having a significant impact on the lives of the children and parents who attend, as well as on the group leaders, the first detailed report to examine their influence suggests. Such groups also directly lead to church growth.

The report, The Impact of Church-based Parent and Toddler Groups, estimates that up to 27,000 churches in the UK run parent-and-toddler groups, which are used by 52 per cent of children. Churches' involvement in organising groups for parents and carers was last year second only to churches' involvement in food-distribution schemes, such as foodbanks.

The research, carried out by the charity Jubilee plus, included a survey of 440 group leaders and 30 parents. It found that the greatest impact toddler groups have is in building friendships and improving children's early social skills.

Eighty-eight per cent of groups reported that parents and carers acquired a friendship support network through the group; 88 per cent reported that children built friendships; and 86 per cent that they acquired social skills. Some 79 per cent reported that team members also built friendships with parents.

Attending a group also lowered stress levels for parents and carers of young children, particularly those who felt isolated. And 87 per cent of those helping to run a group reported a greater sense of personal well-being as a result of their involvement.

Those toddler groups that were supported by prayer reported a greater impact in all areas. Just over a quarter of the groups also said that they included a prayer-time in activities with parents and children.

It also found that, although in some cases the effects were small, toddler groups were having an evangelistic impact, leading to some parents' and families' joining the church. Groups set up specifically to target those normally on the fringes of communities (because of race, or financial status, or gender) had more impact than groups that served anyone in the community.

The report recommends that churches that want to make the greatest impact should find where there is the most need, and set up a new group with trained volunteers.

"Churches who do so can expect growth in the capability and outward focus of its people, as well as in the scope for making connection with their community, and increasing the opportunity to connect people with other worthwhile activities that the church undertakes.

"Such growth might not be numerically spectacular, but is likely to be of immense value."

One of the report's authors, Andy Biggs, said that, while everyone recognised the value of church-run toddler groups, being "intentional" about the way they were run, including being part of the church's vision, and having the support of the leadership, made a big difference to the impact that the group was able to have.

"While government initiatives wax and wane, the Church remains. There is huge value to the work the Church does in this area for society, as well as for churches themselves, and we urge churches to make sure their local authorities recognise what they are doing." 

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