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Why Evangelical Churches Operate Daycares

preachers and money 2

Have you ever wondered why many Evangelical churches have daycares? After I resigned in 1979 from Montpelier Baptist Church, we moved to Newark, Ohio to be near Polly’s parents. I took a job as a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s and Polly started working as a teacher at Temple Tots — a daycare “ministry” operated by the Newark Baptist Temple.

Temple Tots was an unlicensed facility. The state of Ohio exempted church daycares from regulation. What could go wrong, right? Eventually, after countless scandals, the state decided to require church daycares to follow the same laws as secular facilities. This led to a flurry of lawsuits, none of which succeeded. Eventually, the state demanded church daycares get a license, and those that didn’t were forced to close. Temple Tots was the last unlicensed church daycare in Ohio when it closed.

Church daycares typically provide services for single mothers and their children. One of the early goals was to reach needy families for Jesus. The daycares were just a means to an end. Daycares as an evangelistic tool were largely failures. Few mothers or children got saved or became church members. Over time, daycares became cash cows for churches — a means to pay mortgages, salaries, and utility bills. Today, church daycares often provide significant income to their churches. All pretense of “ministry” is gone. Church daycares often charge as much as secular facilities do. Employees are often told that they can’t be paid as much as secular daycare workers because they work in a “ministry.” Yet, parents are paying the full rate and churches are getting fat off the proceeds.

A mother will three children might be making $40,000 a year at a factory, but after daycare and travel costs are accounted for, she is making $20,000 — not a living wage. Imagine if churches put mothers and their children first or fathers and their children, for that matter. Imagine if their rates reflected their desire to help the least of these. Imagine charging the Mom of three $100-$150 a week instead of $450. Boy, that sure would make a difference, would it not?

Many local daycares are owned by churches. Sadly, families don’t have any other choice but to use these daycares. Daycare is an essential part of making life better for needy children and their parents. Surely, there’s a better way than pawning our future off to people who have ulterior motives: to “save” children, indoctrinate children, and make buckets of money while doing it.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    I echo every word, Bruce. 12yrs ago whilst thinking about deconverting, I looked after a small g/child and took her to a church playgroup twice a week. Family aren’t x-tians, but it was very popular, good toys and creative resources, reasonable fees and such nice, older volunteer staff – most folk in UK churches are retirees these days. They sent home details of special services, xmas, Mothering Sunday etc and when kids left for real school, they were given a children’s bible with church details in the front. I began to see that, till recently, I’d have been delighted to be part of that team, convinced god had led us to this great form of evangelism and sure in the knowledge it would be fruitful. Now as I collected my g/child with her latest leaflet about church events, I thought to myself, ‘Seriously? Busy parents in secular Britain are gonna transfer from Playgroup to put their bums on your pews on Sundays?’ I felt I’d seen through my delusion I’d held for decades, that god ‘blessed’ attempts at this sort of evangelism and had called us to set it up and the fact it flourished indicated his 100% approval…..and of course the church would say that if one family out of the 100+ on its Playgroup books, started coming to church….then hallelujah, they were doing god’s will!

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    MJ Lisbeth

    The irony is that many churches started operating daycare centers just when they no longer had any chance of serving as conduits to church membership. When churches stained operating daycares—in the 1980s, I reckon—other things started to compete for kids’—and their parents’—attention. Give most kids a Bible and an X Box, and guess which most kids will pick.

    On a related note: The kinds of enterprises churches can operate under their “non-profit “ status is astounding. As an example, Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan (where Alexander Hamilton is buried) owned 6 billion dollars’ worth of real estate in 2019:

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      Your comment is so true, MJ. When hubby and I began to run kids’ clubs, evangelistic missions and Sunday school back in the 70s, we were pretty much the only providers of kids’ entertainment in the areas we lived in. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were the only others. And parents had more respect for x-tianity back then – after all, they thought, the UK is founded on x-tian values. Though they didn’t want to attend church themselves, they were pleased we were telling them those cutsie bible stories they recalled from their early years. (Cutsie as in the Flood, Daniel or the plagues of Egypt etc.) Then soccer for kids began to compete on Sunday mornings. We prayed about our 12yo musical daughter who’d professed conversion but now needed to attend orchestra rehearsals on Sunday mornings. I love your comment, ‘X-box or bible?’ No contest. I still remember a visiting evangelist wanting to teach kids how to pray, asking them to put Post-it prayer requests on his board. A child wrote, ‘I want to pray for a PS1’…..(1990s maybe??) and the guy asked that whoever wrote it came up and share Psalm 1 with everyone…..I think that was probably the first time I saw how out of date, how irrelevant faith and bible stories were to this generation of kids for whom Play Stations etc were a million times more exciting!

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    Melissa Montana

    They didn’t preach to us at the daycare I attended. They were too busy abusing us. Untrained staff, rotten food, no facilities; we were warehoused in a basement or staff drove us around in their private vehicles. Nothing could go wrong there, right? Teenage staff and older kids allowed to bully us. Church daycare is a scam alright.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Melissa—As I recall, my church didn’t have a daycare. (It was in a place and time where most mothers stayed at home.) That sad, if it had one, it probably would have been something like what you described. I wish that you didn’t have to experience it—or some of the other things you’ve mentioned in your comments.

    Between stories like yours and mine, if I’d had kids, I don’t think I would have let them anywhere near a church—even if I still believed.

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    The church I grew up in had “Mother’s Day Out” when I was small in the 70s, a time when most families needed both parents to work to make ends meet. MDO was entirely an antiquated concept to provide a couple of hours of childcare to SAHMs to run errands a couple of days a week. Our church had 4-year-old nursery school and kindergarten, both half-day, for a few years. There were about 15-18 kids in nursery school and 9 of us in kindergarten. I don’t think those programs lasted many years, certainly not as most members needed full-time child care, and our church didn’t open a full-time program.

    My husband and I were discussing our childhood. His parents both worked, and from the time he can remember he and his brothers were on their own when school let out. They arranged rides to and from sports practices or walked, walked to and from school, madd their own snacks. Their parents weren’t really involved. My mom was divorced, and my grandmother was my main caretaker. When my mom remarried and had my brother when I was 12, she found a local babysitter who kept kids in her home. By a certain age, the kids weren’t allowed in the house except to use the bathroom or on the absolute coldest or snowy days. Gen X kids were kept alive until they were deemed old enough to fend for themselves and find their way home on their own.

    Somewhere along the way things changed and most middle class and wealthier families don’t leave their kids alone much at all, even to walk to park or school. Kids from poorer families have always been left alone, but families with more money have been shamed into more care to the point that “helicopter parents” became a thing.

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