Virtually every church nursery worker has faced the dilemma at some point: Baby's been wailing for a disturbingly long time, yet Mommy is in the sanctuary, rightfully caught up in the worship service and enjoying her brief break from motherly duties. Getting her attention would mean causing a major distraction, yet a simple word of advice from her on what to do would likely settle down Baby in a heartbeat. What to do?
Regardless of a church's size, style or structure, communication between its main worship service and the nursery is both critical and challenging. Short of sending up colored flares when a teething baby won't stop crying, or rushing up on stage and screaming to the congregation that little Susie bumped her head into Big Duke, the 25-pound toddler with Hulk Hogan muscles, the main goal is to somehow get the attention of parents and be subtle at the same time.
In the past few years, church paging technology and check-in systems have advanced beyond simple sign-up sheets, two-way radios handed out to each couple and LED signs hanging in the sanctuary that flash an obtrusive red number. Instead, more churches are turning to ministry-specific software for checking in and, for two-way peace of mind, long-range pagers. These previously low-tech tools have advanced to become invaluable for their ruggedness, ease of use and ability to accomplish a lofty goal: They work in almost any kind of church service and in churches of all sizes.
Each pager has a slightly different purpose—with some using a slightly different technology—and offers a few extra perks that might match your worship service style better than others. For example, one system might be known for its durability, which is ideal for larger churches where pagers get sent off with parents for the entire morning and end up who knows where (i.e., dumped into a water fountain, chewed on by a second-grader). Other systems are intended for smaller churches and might not have the far-reaching range, but they are still a better way to communicate with parents than flashing LEDs—and cost less.
Though the technology, industry and selection continue to grow each year, here are our current top picks among the tech tools now vital for every church nursery.
Long Range Systems Star Pager
The Star Pager is a rugged handheld receiver distinguishable by its four messaging LEDs. Each unit can be programmed so that the lights flash to notify the parents of specific issues. For example, you could tell parents that light one means come right away, while light two means they're needed, but it's a non-emergency and can come at their leisure. Each pager has the option of vibrating or beeping, which is more effective than those that relay only messages. Star Pagers last for 72 hours on one charge and use a NiMH battery that lasts for five years of constant charging for your church services. They also come with a sturdy plastic belt-clip holder, which means parents are less likely to lose their pagers since they'll likely clip it onto something. And just in case a parent drops it, the Star Pager is made shock-resistant.
The Long Range Systems transmitter uses UHF (in model T7400) to transmit the signal up to a mile. Larger churches—especially those with multiple nurseries—may want to upgrade to the T7450 Trinity, which connects to a church's phone system and covers a radius that would likely pass campus parking lots. With the Trinity, any of the nursery volunteers or staff members can use a phone to page a parishioner even if they are not near the transmitter. In addition, the transmitter isn't "locked down" like some paging systems, meaning you can reprogram the pagers with a different number in case you want more flexibility in your numbering system.
HME Wireless QuietCall
The HME Wireless QuietCall system is equipped to use four different kinds of pagers. We tested the lightweight CrystalCall with Paddle Pager receivers, which use a "paddle" holder that can be customized with the name of your church or another message, such as service times.
Although the CrystalCall pagers are not as rugged as the Long Range Systems Star Pager and don't have multiple lights for notifying parents (there's just one light that emits from the unit), the transmitter provides some added flexibility. For example, you can automatically send a page to all the units at the conclusion of a worship service or after the service is long over and you need to collect missing pagers. The QuietCall transmitter has a built-in clock and lighted display, and it uses a unique UHF signal so that it won't interfere with other wireless systems in your church (such as Wi-Fi). It's also extremely easy to use.
One of the main benefits to the HME Wireless systems—most commonly found in restaurants to let people know when their table is ready—is that it transmits up to two miles. That means, even in a large church, you can notify parents all around the facility. The transmitter also supports up to 9,999 pagers (for the most mega of megachurches) and has an add-on feature called PhoneInterconnect that allows you to connect the transmitter to the church phone system so staff personnel can enter pager numbers from a phone. The CrystalCall pagers' white color and customizable paddle design will likely please parents who prefer a "nursery" look to some of the more "techie"-looking pagers we tested. And one last impressive feature: If you take a pager out of range of the system, it will start flashing repeatedly.
Seeker Communication ParentSeeker
Unlike other companies that make pager systems for all markets, Seeker Communication is focused squarely on serving the church with its ParentSeeker system. Though the actual pager unit is less rugged than the Long Range Systems Star Pager and doesn't have the nursery look of the HME Wireless QuietCall system, it still carries a similar UHF range of one to two miles. ParentSeeker's edge over the competition comes in its ability to display a message on the pager, such as "baby hungry," so parents know exactly why they are being paged. You can also type in any 13-character text message to the parent's pager, or you can send a vibration-only alert.
Other features on the transmitter are not as extensive as either the Star Pager or QuietCall options. Because the ParentSeeker's LED display is used for text messages, the actual lighted message might not be as noticeable as a flashing red light or even an LED sign located in the sanctuary. There is, however, a way to send an "all pager" message when the service ends and to automatically turn off all pagers. Another slight difference for ParentSeeker pagers is that they use replaceable batteries instead of NiHM batteries. This is a perk for those wanting more control over battery life (a NiHM battery will eventually stop taking a charge), but it also means more battery replacements. Similar to a phone in looks, the pagers are also user-friendly due to fewer buttons.
Most paging systems are designed to help you contact parents. Lambs List tackles another common need among children's ministries: tracking down parents (and their children).
At a basic level, the system is designed to speed up check-ins for parents. Using the Web-based software, workers can give first-timers a badge with a unique security code, while regulars can receive a reusable nametag or pickup card. Both serve as a security system for parents, who can pick up their child only if they have the matching identification code or card.
Yet Lambs List's greatest attribute may be its functionality as a ministry tool for entire families. The system allows you to track exactly who is using a nursery or children's program, follow up with children based on their check-in history, plan your room assignments and space requirements based on real data, and see overall attendance.
An invaluable tool for children's ministries of all sizes, Lambs List can help you keep in touch with families as you build relationships that go beyond a simple printed label or handout pager.
Sometimes information is the key to a good ministry. And in children's ministry, technology can be instrumental in helping you gather information about a child and track that information over a period of time. To that degree, Parent Pager is one of the best check-in tools for gathering and tracking such information.
The system is similar to Lambs List in that parents receive a label to use when they come back to pick up their child. However, Parent Pager also helps ministry workers track information about the child, such as any medical conditions, whether a diaper was changed or the child was taken to the bathroom, and other details that a parent may want to know.
You can also include a reminder on a Bible lesson or notify parents of a special event using the printed labels. Unlike most paging systems, the Parent Pager supports a digital camera so you can take a picture of the child and use it for all visits.
John Brandon is a full-time writer, confirmed technogeek, doting husband and father of four. He is based outside of Minneapolis.