We all want visiting families to feel welcome in our churches and ministries. But that’s not just going to happen all by itself – it’ll take some effort on our behalf.
Here are a few ways to make sure they are welcomed well:
Welcoming new families begins before they even walk through the doors. Signage, beginning in the parking lot, is critical. You could get some custom signs made here – https://www.supercheapsigns.com/. Many first time visitors would rather
not ask where things were, so a good test of signage is whether someone could find all the kids areas without talking with anyone. Clear directions to children’s ministry should be available not only from the parking lot, but also in these areas:
- the main church lobby
- other non-children’s ministry primary areas (such as main “fellowship” areas, adult class areas, etc.)
- any passage ways leading to the children’s ministry areas
- within the children’s ministry areas
Smiles go a long, long way to making families feel comfortable. The look on your face can communicate that you want them to be there – or you don’t. Smiling should be a ministry wide value that you train your team to do.
When I go somewhere new – whether it’s a church or somewhere else – I want to have something that I can pick up and read before I speak with someone. Most introverts would. So have easily accessible flyers or brochures available – children’s ministry entryways, main church lobby or any other informational/ greeting type areas. Having them made into color copies makes it feel more special and professional too.
My wife, in contrast to me, would rather engage in a conversation when we arrive somewhere new. So, in addition to the written information pieces, make sure there are friendly greeters who are well informed about children’s ministry. Make sure they smile and are proactive in making themselves available to families. And, as I said, make sure they are well-informed. There’s nothing more frustrating when you are visiting a church than to talk with someone who should know simple information, but doesn’t. In most of the churches where I was children’s pastor, I needed to be proactive in training the “main church” ushers and greeters. Make sure they know where to send families and, better yet, make sure they have tools (ie. flyers, brochures and/or facility maps) that they can give to new families.
4. Simple Systems
I once invited my sister to be an “incognito inspector“ of my children’s ministry. Her family was perfect because they had 5 kids aged 2 to 10 (so they were put into multiple classes). Her oldest is a high-functioning autistic boy, and 3 of them are adopted (1 from China & 2 from Uganda). One of the most significant pieces of feedback she gave was that our check in systems weren’t very easy or quick. We quickly made changes which were more welcoming to new families (and existing family groups!).
How welcoming are your check in/out systems? How is your communication system so new families understand they can easily be contacted during the service if something is amiss with their kids? What about the initial “registration” process for new kids – is it simply and quick? Is there a “basic” registration for new families, with a more detailed version when they decide to commit as regular attenders/members? Asking these and similar questions – and following through with simple systems – can help create a more welcoming process for new families.
5. Follow up
How do you follow up with visiting families? In my opinion, following up with guest families should be:
- Quick – make sure it happens the week after they attend
- Informational – make sure it shares the vision for your children’s ministry, and make sure they have clear avenues to get their questions answered
- Welcoming but not pushy – let them know you loved having them, but don’t make assumptions about their future engagement
- More than one contact – kids should be welcomed as well as parents, and multiple contacts should be made over time
Example: What I found worked great was to have a post card created for the kids (preschool & elementary age) which graphically aligned with the visual theme of our children’s ministry. It had a kid-friendly welcome message and an area for a personal note from me. Each Monday I would write a short, personal note to the child (mentioning the kids by name), and invite them to return soon – with their card – to get their special gift (we had small stuffed animals made with our logos on them – get them here) . The card had a “PS” note to parents, and included my personal phone # (direct line at church or cell phone) and email. For families with nursery, create a card directly to parents.
Many, many kids brought the cards back to get their stuffed animal – and I tried to always greet the kids personally to give it to them – and, of course, the parents appreciated the focus on the kids, but felt they were being welcomed also. If families don’t show up the next week, make phone calls as a second step in the follow up process.
How have you made visiting families feel welcome?
(please share in comments below)