The church is ideally positioned, equipped and mandated to be the most impactful player in this space. In a time where lack of responsive, nurturing caring is the biggest problem in South Africa, the church can be the greatest agent of healing.
The church has the potential to create modern-day villages that surround and strengthen all parents and caregivers. There are things that we are already doing as local church communities that, with intentionality and more focus, can propel us into being powerful communities of transformation for these families.
There are three motivators for churches to move towards being more intentional in this unique season of life. Firstly, for those families within the faith community, there is intentional pastoral care that is needed for the family. The biblical imagery of a pastor being like a shepherd with sheep is helpful. Just like a pregnant sheep requires intentional care from the shepherd, so the families in this stage require unique intervention and focus to ensure they flourish in this season of increased risk. Tragically, the time that families need the most support, love and nurturing is also the time that they feel isolated, unseen and disconnected in their spiritual community.
There exists, too, a missional opportunity. Secondly, a missional opportunity exists. Many times, families are seeking community and connection with others in the same life space. Churches are well positioned to reach this need through their existing services and, with some intentionality, specialised engagement with families in the FTD. It must be recognized, too, that there exists a justice issue. Thirdly, it must be recognised, that a justice issue exists. Every child everywhere needs nurturing, responsive care and the building blocks to thrive. Due to the past and current reality of South Africa, more than half the children born in our province will not receive the adequate care in order to reach their God-given potential. Cycles of poverty continue from one generation to the next, grieving the heart of God. Churches that have resources, social capital and connection can be participants in serving the most vulnerable, bringing new opportunities for support and growth.
The church is ideally suited to be a significant player in this space. There are things that every church has and does that can be directed at connecting and supporting families in this season of life. With more intentionality and focus, the local church can be a powerful community of transformation for families in the First Thousand Days. There are many assets and strengths that the church has. Three of these are: a Voice, Community and Mobilisation.
The church has a credible & influential voice. She is already speaking and teaching people essential truths for life in all its fullness. Through the already-existing platforms and communication channels, she can bring both Biblical and scientific truth to inform and inspire congregants around the First Thousand Days. She can address the multiple issues faced in the First Thousand Days and build the capacity and knowledge of parents and the community. The whole family can be engaged with this voice. And as a trusted role player, she has a wide reach across urban and rural areas.
The church is already a community, drawing people into smaller and larger gatherings. Through existing relationships, groups can be formed to welcome in and provide specific care and support to families in the FTD. This is both pastoral and missional in nature. Think about how the church visits those who are sick – the church is good at gathering around people in community. Within this community there is social capital that can be accessed, bringing new opportunities. The church already mobilises people to live out their faith in their spheres of influence, whether it be in their neighbourhood, workplace or social spheres.
The church can mobilise congregants to be agents of change to challenge and transform spaces both inside and outside the church to be FTD friendly. They can reach into society in a way that the gathered body can’t. Think about how people in their workplaces can lobby for rooms for women to express breastmilk, making it easier for them to feed baby for as long as possible on what God designed for baby to drink. The church can mobilise thousands of people to ‘see’ parents, to connect with them, to bless them in this stage and lobby for change. This ensures a multiplication from the church into society. In Common Good’s research, they found that 70% of church leaders surveyed had no church activities for children, mothers or fathers in the First Thousand Days. When we look at the life of Jesus in Luke 18, we recognise that Jesus brought young lives into the midst of the adults:
15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Jesus demonstrated that ‘even infants’ are precious to him and worthy of his attention, affection and care. Do our church communities follow the heart and life of Jesus, having open arms, ready to embrace and bless little children? There are many ways that churches can bring young children into the midst of the church: creating awareness, fostering a warm environment for families, having focused pastoral activities on this stage, publicly teaching and celebrating families in the FTD, equipping parents, collaborating with other stakeholders and praying with and for families. This modern-day village around families will profoundly change the capacity of parents to provide the responsive care that their little ones need for future flourishing.
The church can use her voice, community and mobilisation to see the next generation of children in South Africa set up for flourishing. Every child everywhere needs this; every parent everywhere need this; and every church everywhere gets to be part of this – whether resourced or not, big or small or well-connected or not – every church can be doing this. Every church everywhere can create safe, loving, caring spaces that affirm, encourage and build the capacity of all parents. Together we can significantly change South Africa by giving all children a strong start to life.
The great opportunity in The First Thousand Days
Read how science explains what children need to thrive
Explore the unique challenges families face in this season
Read how the church is ideally positioned and equipped to be the village around a family
Like no other, the church has the capacity and mandate to connect and care for parents
and caregivers so that they, in turn, can provide responsive care for their