Why Birth to Three Ministry?

Birth to Three Ministry: Why Start Now?

More Splash! Ministry News from Augsburg Fortress' Early Childhood expert, Dawn.

Dawn Rundman, Ph.D. is AF's in-house expert when it comes to knowing all about how babies learn from a very early ege.

Here are some questions she hears from customers about early faith formation.

Birth to Three Ministry Why Start Now? Here are some questions she hears from customers about early faith formation.

How early can faith formation really begin?

Dawn: What we know from developmental neuroscience is that the human brain is at its most “plastic” during the first three years of life. This means that experience is especially influential in shaping how brain cells are networked together. There’s a lot going on inside those cute little heads, even when they’re sleeping! So it’s pretty clear from the research on infant learning that faith formation can happen from the start. The infant brain is already very active in starting to figure out the world. What can I expect from this smiling person? Where is that sound coming from? How can I see more of those colorful shapes?

As congregations, we can do a lot to nurture what’s already happening in those busy brains. During an infant baptism, when we welcome the child as a fellow worker with us in God’s kingdom, we don’t tack on the phrase “When you’re old enough.” But if we don’t have anything to offer those children and their families afterwards, we might as well be saying “Now see you in three years when Sunday school starts.” (And we’re actually lucky if that happens – some research suggests that half of all children baptized in Lutheran churches don’t begin any formal Christian education programming three years later.)

How can pastors and family ministers communicate the importance of early childhood ministry?

Dawn: I think that at its best, early childhood ministry embraces young children and their parents to let them know “We love you. You are important to us. You belong here.” Offering caregivers a range of support and programs can be really powerful ministry – maybe that’s delivering meals, or offering child care during meetings, or giving mothers a private place to nurse. But more than any program, I think that the message sent by the whole church family speaks loudest. Some Sundays it’s all I can do to show up at church 2 minutes into the opening hymn and then I realize I have spit-up stains on my shoulder and I forgot to pack a snack. When I see people around me smiling instead of frowning, I know that my kids are part of a faith community that is shaping how they understand God’s love.

The amazing thing I’ve seen in congregations and in my own kids is that when we’re truly open to offering early childhood ministry, we start to realize that young children aren’t just ministered to – they minister to others. It’s one thing to tell Bible stories and teach faith-based songs. But when you realize that the presence, the smile, the “Peace be with you” greeting from a young child is ministering to the person sitting behind them in worship…well, that’s pretty powerful stuff. And I think that is a really important contributor to faith formation – affirming that young children are disciples already, even before they can walk!

How is the importance of early childhood ministry reflected in a healthy congregation?

There’s a lot I could say about this…child-friendly worship, infant and toddler Sunday school, parent support groups and networks. But for congregations that are taking some steps to ramp up their approach to early childhood ministry, I would ask them to look at their nursery. It’s a pretty good barometer of a congregation’s attitudes toward and commitment to young children. If it’s a clean, safe place where kids are loved and cared for by trained staff and volunteers, that’s a great start. If your nursery doesn’t sparkle, think of how parents, especially visitors, will be underwhelmed. They’re going to think that if you can’t get it right with the one place in the church actually devoted to young kids, then what are the chances that your church can offer ministry that is going to matter to their child?

Dawn Rundman is Senior Editor for Birth to Three and Intergenerational Resources at Augsburg Fortress. She has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology and goes home each day to her “living laboratory” of preschooler Paavo, infant Svea, and Dad-at-home Jonathan.

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Faith Formation: What's a Parent to Do?

Rundman emphasizes that many resources help people prepare for parenthood, including books, magazines, and classes. But there isn't much available in the way of describing how faith formation happens or how to nurture it. "Many parents can tell you all sorts of strategies for putting their babies to sleep, dealing with picky eaters, and encouraging language development. What they haven't read about is how to introduce Bible stories to their babies, talk about God with their toddlers, or establish prayer rituals during meals."






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