Church daycare ministry yields valuable lessons

June 19, 2024

“God is not unjust. He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”   —Hebrews 6:10

The Rev. Esther Morales (above, center), a Greater New Jersey Conference pastor for 10 years, has led the United Methodist Church of Linden, NJ, since 2020. An educator of special needs children for 40 years, she is passionate about serving the community through outreach programs such as ESL classes, grief support groups and art. She is also a poet and has authored an inspirational book on grief.

Morales blesses the Linden community by administering the Building Blocks Day Care Center housed at her church. Not long ago, the church was in danger of being closed due to a financial situation that was not sustainable. And the daycare center was not yielding needed profits. But it was the COVID pandemic that forced it to close in March 2020.

When almost everything was paralyzed due to pandemic shutdowns, Morales was appointed to reorganize and reopen both the church and the daycare center. Though an experienced educator, she never had the experience of leading a daycare program. But now it was time for her to embark on this challenging journey.

Her knowledge and experiences in education certainly helped. But she had to learn quickly about staff leadership, strategic planning and other difficult facets of daycare center management. Doing much research has helped, as well as support from others who had been down this road before.

At the beginning, the pandemic seemed to control everything. It was hard to find people who wanted to work with children in a daycare. It was also hard to identify families who wanted to send their children to a place in which they could be exposed to COVID.

Morales’ research helped her identify sources of grant funding. And she had two excellent coaches, both daycare center directors, who supported her throughout the journey: Joanna Pearrich at Saint Paul United Methodist Church in Newark, and the Rev. Elizabeth Pérez Gonzalez at First United Methodist Church of Union City. Their advice and support were invaluable to her, as both have successfully led daycare programs that served church communities.

Lessons learned in a wisdom journey

Here is some of what the Esther Morales learned in her wisdom-journey to lead the Building Blocks Day Care Center at Linden UMC:

One of the obstacles that some clergy and laity people face when taking risks is fear. Some might hesitate to participate in activities that require the use of their name as the sole person responsible for a project or when a signature is required to get a grant.

First lesson: Be humble and ask for support from those who have been successful.

Second lesson: To seek funding through grants, do the following:

  1. Before applying for a grant, begin to dream about the project and trust in the Lord. If the grant is not approved, it has been a learning experience.
  2. Do not allow fear to stop the blessing. Taking risks is always necessary if we want to experience changes, growth, and success.
  3. Read any grant application carefully before completing and signing it.
  4. Share the grant application in its different stages with church council members, and ask them to read and discuss the application before voting to approve or not approve the process to apply for the grant.
  5. If the grant is approved, carefully keep available all the information about the way you spend the money. File it by the grant title, the year and the funding source.

Grants can be a vital source of income for educational programs; but it’s important to be familiar with the process and potential roadblocks. It’s because of pandemic-related grants and other income sources that Building Blocks Daycare has successfully operated during the last four years.

We reopened our services on August 31, 2020. We have experienced challenges, of course, but it has been gratifying for us to see growth. Having re-opened with just one child in attendance, we now have full enrollment and a waiting list, and we are in the process of expanding our services by adding new classrooms.

We have also begun a partnership with Linden Public Schools, who will be using two of our classrooms starting in September 2024. This partnership brings even more hope to the daycare because it will generate a higher income per child. Additionally, we are a part of the Grow NJ Kids program, in which we receive technical assistance from professionals help to improve the quality of our services. The process is demanding, but eventually it will generate financial benefits for the daycare. Yes, miracles happen!

Our congregation is small but highly diverse. From 25 to 35 people meet every Sunday to worship our faithful God of provision. Small congregations frequently struggle with finances, and if there is a possibility of establishing a daycare, we highly recommend this ministry. While it does require long hours of work and commitment, time and effort are always required for success, no matter the endeavor.

Indeed, today’s sacrifices are a passport to tomorrow’s stability in all aspects. There are endless benefits of having a church-led daycare known in the community as a service provided by the church. It’s not just a source of church financial support. A daycare is a ministry! It is a unique way to reach the community and set off a chain of miracles.

Uniting efforts to develop ministries

The third lesson learned is that a church with a daycare unites efforts to develop ministries. It is an excellent setting to practice justice with families and children by serving them with dignity, compassion, empathy, and love.

Currently, about 20 of our families receive financial support from a government agency to pay the daycare cost. Since they feel the pastor is someone they can trust, these families are usually very open about sharing their other needs as well. The diverse ways in which the church offers pastoral care, financial support, health advice and parenting education are unlimited. Again, this is ministry.

Additionally, service tends to come full circle. The church serves the staff, and the staff serves the church. In the summer of 2022, we held our first Vacation Bible School, and it was the daycare teachers who served as volunteers. Children from the daycare families attended, and in the closing service they witnessed how children, parents and other relatives, as well as the daycare staff, celebrated the culmination of an amazing project. Eight of the teachers also supported the Sunday Bible School teachers and the pastor.

Another phenomenal activity the church established with our daycare staff was the Diversity Festival. More than ten countries were represented among members from the congregation and the daycare staff. It is a blessing to have a daycare whose staff can collaborate with the church, and it’s fundamental for small congregations to cooperate with other congregations and community organizations.

Finally, the fourth learned lesson is to keep a balance between having a ministry and doing business. The truth is that a daycare is a business that requires organization, dedication, discipline, research, education, compassion and passion.

Dynamics of daycare world have changed

The dynamics of the daycare world have changed since Building Blocks Daycare re-opened in 2020. Perhaps there are not as many grants as there were during the unforgettable pandemic season. But there are still strategies to advertise and to make a church daycare be known as the best choice for families in the community.

A daycare can offer many services, such as a school for parents, health education for families and recreational activities, among others. The vast opportunities to strengthen families spiritually, physically, socially and emotionally are truly inspiring.

If you have some space in your church that you think can be used to establish a daycare center, it is time to act. Contact the New Jersey Department of Children and Families Office of Licensing (877-667-9845) and ask them for a courtesy visit to determine what steps must be taken to operate a daycare or what modifications must be made to meet the requirements. These requirements could vary according to the building structure, age and conditions.

Ministry does not look the same way anymore. The church must reach the community through tangible actions that speak about God’s love for humanity. We at the United Methodist Church of Linden have experienced God’s grace, and we know that God’s grace is for all.

Miracles continue to happen every day, but we must open our hearts and minds to new possibilities for ministry. Faith, enthusiasm, dedication, a dreamer’s spirit and commitment to God’s kingdom are all one needs.

The Esther Morales can be reached at