If meeting people at a point of personal need is still a fair opening for the gospel in word and deed, then I reckon playgroup is up there amongst the best of them.
At Caringbah Baptist, we have run a playgroup for parents and pre-schoolers for around 20 years. The last 10 of these in particular have seen some fantastic fruit for the kingdom.
We find that playgroup brings together a uniquely stressed bunch of people. Parenting is challenging on a sunny day, let alone when health and learning issues come into it, marriage tensions arise associated with kids and lifestage changes, and maybe a little mastitis on the side. Often the mums and dads who come to playgroup are not only weighed down with the challenges of life, but they’re at a reflective period of their lives where they are re-assessing what’s important for both them and their kids.
Enter a genuine, loving, unhurried Christian community, who are happy to listen more than they speak. Enter ordinary Christian parents, who cook a meal for someone in need and when the time is right, ask, ‘Would you like me to pray for you?’ Enter the unlikely or likely evangelist who says, ‘Can I tell you about what changed my life?’ Enter playgroup ministry.
We’ve found that if you aim to see people saved through playgroup, it helps to have at least one gifted evangelist on the team. They’re harvesters, and without them, it tends to be more of a seed sowing exercise, which of course isn’t such a bad thing. We provide meals for mums who have just had a new baby, we provide pastoral care for those who are working through issues, and we mobilise prayer warriors in the church to cover the whole thing in prayer.
The Alpha course has worked really well for us; prayer ministry for new Christians has also been helpful. We’ve run parenting courses, mothercraft courses and lifekeys courses, all aimed at meeting physical, emotional and educational needs and in the process, meeting the spiritual needs. Inviting parents from playgroup to a vital and authentic church service experience has been the final key to unlock many hearts.
We now have three part-time paid staff working 15 hours each on playgroup. There are six groups totalling somewhere near 200 people per week, the majority of whom are from outside the church. At Caringbah, playgroup wins as our most effective missional endeavour. I couldn’t commend the ministry more highly.