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By an Anonymous Pastor
Our congregation operated a daycare for a number of years and sincerely worked to make it an effective ministry of the church. However, after prolonged consideration, we decided to close the daycare. Here are some observations from our experience which may be helpful to congregations considering opening a church daycare.
There were some positive things about having a church daycare:
1. We had an opportunity for a Christian witness in the children's lives.
2. We were able to meet a need in the community.
Be prepared for the negative
Operating a church daycare may present problems and challenges you have not anticipated. Our experience may not be typical, but here are several issues we faced.
1. We faced conflict over dual usage space.
A Sunday School teacher would buy supplies for her class, but then a daycare worker would use those supplies. Some of our well-prepared teachers soon learned that they had to carry their supplies back and forth from home to the church. Daycare workers tend to think that since they are the ones there five days a week they have the priority. Sunday School teachers and others have to work around the furniture and decorations for the daycare. There were many occasions for frustration or conflict. Another aspect of this problem is that the daycare limited what other ministries or programs could operate during the week.
2. It was hard to staff our daycare with qualified Christian teachers.
First, because it was hard to pay a good wage and keep our prices down, that limited our prospects. Everyone we interviewed would tell us they are Christians and active members of their churches, but our experience with them was often disappointing.
3. Most of the people who applied for a job at our daycare were young mothers with children.
When daycare teachers are young mothers, they will often miss work to stay home with their sick children. We generally had at least one worker out every day we were open. Then, you have to give these workers free (or reduced-rate) childcare for their children so they can afford to work for you.
4. We encountered a large turnover in workers.
When you pay the lower wages you must pay, workers find better paying jobs and leave. This turnover displeased parents using the daycare.
5. There were teachers who had to be fired.
When the person we had to let go was a church member, she would leave the church along with her family.
6. There were a few instances when disgruntled teachers or parents called the overseeing government agency with false accusations.
Then we had to take the time to talk to the agency and prove the charges false.
7. We had parents, even church members, who did not pay their bills.
When past due amounts get large, parents will often change daycares and not attempt to pay their past-due amount. When you have to deal with members who have delinquent accounts, and you will, they are likely to leave the church.
8. The church had to subsidize the cost of operating the daycare.
Liability is greatly increased, workman's comp cost will triple for the church, utility bills and all facilities' related expenses will increase. You cannot charge enough to offset these additional costs, so be prepared to underwrite certain costs from your church budget.
9. The daycare did not help our church grow.
People often think a daycare will help attract young families to their church. That was not our experience. Most of the families who used our daycare saw us as a service and, since they were paying for the service, it did not come across to them as a ministry. Most were just using the service. The truth is, the daycare lost more families from our church than we gained. Only a tiny fraction of the families using our daycare attended our church.
10. Understand that you may be encouraging mothers to work outside the home who could actually stay at home and raise their children themselves.
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