The Church & the
First Thousand Days

Churches playing their part in encouraging fathers to be more engaged in the lives of their young children.

We know that when fathers are involved during the First Thousand Days (FTD) of their children’s lives, there’s an increase in mother’s mental health and well-being, and the bonds formed between dad and baby lead to a higher academic achievement, increased confidence and healthy conceptions of masculinity.

But real and pervasive barriers are in place that hinder or restrict father’s involvement, some of which are long-held beliefs and expectations of men’s role in parenting. *It is estimated that for every 8 hours of unpaid care work done by a woman in South Africa, only one hour is done by a man.

With an estimated 43000 churches in South Africa, in which there are millions of fathers, father-figures and fathers-to be, the church has a unique opportunity to speak into and encourage the positive role a father plays in his child’s life.

Take your next steps in understanding the role of dads and explore how to support them in their role…

Step 1: Raise your awareness

Fathers play an important role in the wellbeing of baby and mother. In the First Thousand Days of a child’s life, the father’s engagement is so important. Explore more about the role that fathers play in the FTD of life to provide a good, strong start to their child’s life – and what the state of fatherhood is in South Africa.

Step 2: Listen to the parents in your community

What are dads experiencing in your context? The state of fatherhood in South Africa does not exist in a vacuum. Real and pervasive factors are at play that hinder the participation, presence and engagement of fathers and father-figures. Your church and context are unique and understanding these are crucial to effectively encourage dads.

Step 3: As a church, take steps to encourage fathers

Consider how many children live without their father, or father figure. Consider, too, that Christ-followers believe in a good Heavenly Father, who models love for us. There is so much that the local church can do to encourage the role of men as dads.

Intentions alone will not bring about change. We encourage you to take active steps to encourage fathers. We suggest using the model below as a way of ensuring a whole-of-church approach that will see deep and long-lasting change.

Speak Up

As churches, leaders and individuals we can speak into the role dads play in their child’s lives in the FTD. Knowing your context, speak up to challenge cultural practices or stereotypes that are barriers for men to step forward and participate. Affirm good practices and beliefs. Here are some organisations that build awareness and help create a narrative for churches to speak into this area:

Fathers Matter seek to:

  • Build awareness and create a national conversation about why fathers matter in the lives of children.
  • Create a supportive environment and share resources for organisations and churches to use to promote positive fatherhood.

Watch this video about why Father’s matter

Surround Families 

As the church we can come around families, especially new dads and mentor them to be good fathers. We can arrange a baby shower for dads, bring meals to new families, speak to and pray for new fathers, encourage dads to responsively care for their baby and not just mom – dads are not simply ATMs – they have a more fundamental role in the life of their child. The big idea here is to find ways to draw dads into the church community during the early stages of fatherhood.


Praying for and with fathers is a powerful blessing. In key moments of parenting, taking time to pray with dads sends a powerful message. You can create spaces for men to send through prayer requests regarding their fathering journey, or perhaps ask an older dad to go pray with dad during important times in the fathering journey.

Create Welcoming Spaces

There are many nonverbal messages that are sent to fathers in a church context. Consider putting baby changing mats in the men’s bathroom. If there is a space in your church where young children can be taken during the service, explore calling that space something that includes dads (e.g. don’t call it the mom’s room, how about “parent’s room”). Look out for how congregants are talking about or treating dads who are taking care of their children in the meetings. Is the congregation creating a welcoming space for men who want to play that kind of role?

Collaborate and Refer

You don’t have to do it all. Explore other organisations in your community that can be part of supporting and encouraging dads. This could be a course, a government service, or an informal group for fathers to meet together. These services or programmes might be directly aimed at dad, or perhaps informing dad so that he can better support mom well during this time.

Equip and Prepare

Many times dads don’t know what they don’t know, and don’t know what to expect when becoming a dad. Churches can actively prepare men for this new stage of life. This can be informal mentoring, helping dad know who he can turn to for advice. It can also be a formal programme. We recommend Fathers Matter Connect Groups. This set of resources will inform and guide you in starting groups for fathers in your context. They also have a WhatsApp line and regular newsletters packed with great information.

Sikunye’s hope is that churches take active steps in their context to see men more actively involved in the lives of their young children. Together, we can see a new generation of children growing up with more of the care that they need
to thrive and reach their potential.