First Impressions Are Everything {Unfortunately}

Environments / The Basics //

it’s fall. the back-to-school, volunteers-returning, new-ministry-season time of year. and, all around me, those 4 magic words are buzzing: FIRST IMPRESSIONS ARE EVERYTHING.

as we look to a new season, and consider how we’ll make great first impressions, a few thoughts:

when a new parent visits our children’s ministry classrooms, they make a whole lot of judgements based on their very first impressions. of course, this is not entirely fair. our ministries are deep, and rich, and filled with great volunteers and curriculum, toys and snacks, and well-thought-through values. the problem is that sometimes a bad first impression doesn’t give us the opportunity to bring parents deep into the ministry in order to showcase all the great stuff we’ve got going on.

so — make a great first impression. don’t waste time waiting for parents to dig deep into the ministry. highlight your ministry values from the very beginning by creating a fantastic first experience.

start in the nursery. create a clean, safe, age-appropriate classroom with a strict cleaning routine. the nursery should sparkle and shine and smell of pine sol at all times. and, be sure to show off all that cleanliness right from the start. place a sign near the entrance that mentions how the room was cleaned {how often, and by whom}. similar to those mall playground signs that say the play area is cleaned twice a day. umm, yeah. i love those signs because those playgrounds feel dirrrrrttty. i’ve not actually ever seen anyone cleaning the playground, but the signs remind me that the area is clean, and that someone is regularly thinking about the cleanliness.

also, nursery cleanliness is all in the details. move that random diaper sitting on the counter into a cabinet. pick up the tiny-tiny wrapper laying in the hallway. use storage bins with lids and find ones that aren’t clear and don’t have see-through windows. when you can see the clutter, you can feel the clutter. of course, keep to a regular cleaning routine, but also pay attention to the small details that might give the appearance of unclean rooms.

direct parents’ eyes. check-in/drop off time is usually one of the very first opportunities to make a great first impression. so, use it to highlight your best values! set up the check-in station or drop off area so that a parent’s eyes are directed at exactly what you want them to see. {there’s no rule that says check-in has to happen in the hallway.} if you’re super proud of the kids’ bible story art wall — set up the drop off area so that it’s directly across from the art wall. if you offer an amazing small group time — then, set up the classroom so that parents drop off their children in their small groups. you’ll highlight your values of community and intentional relationships by giving parents a glimpse of the special small group time their children experience each week.

and, if you aren’t sure about the first impressions you’re creating, ask a key volunteer to walk into each classroom on a sunday morning taking notes about what she sees. once, i observed an elementary classroom and noticed that the first thing a parent saw was the volunteer snack table in the back of the room. and, lying all around the snack table were the volunteers’ coats. no good. the rest of the room was filled with great toys, and interactive video, and a prayer station. but, when i first walked up to check in a child, my eyes went straight back to the messy volunteer table.

highlight your best assets. which are not snacks and coats on the floor.

get rid of extra stuff. we’re all short on storage space so it can be hard to neatly store the massive amount of supplies we need for sunday mornings. but, during a parent’s first visit, you definitely don’t want to highlight the storage issue. work hard to put away extra chairs, tables, computers, bins, curriculum boxes, paper, and toys before children arrive. hide supplies in bins and place them under covered tables. put as much away as you can in closed cabinets. ask the facility manager to help you by taking away extra chairs, tables, and maintenance equipment.

trust me on this. if a parent sees 3 tables stacked in the corner of the room, it’s likely he’ll make the assumption that the room hasn’t been fully designed for his child. which, of course, it totally was. but, the tables distracted him. easy fix. put away anything extra that doesn’t highlight your values.

first impressions are everything {unfortunately}. seize the opportunity! show off your intentional, excellent values by highlighting the best parts of your ministry. i guarantee parents will have fresh, sparkling, excited, trusting eyes as they walk into the classrooms.

what would you add? how do you create a great first impression for parents? 





About the Author

Amy Dolan is founder, leader and blogger for Lemon Lime Kids, a children’s ministry consulting company that seeks to encourage churches to consider a fresh approach to leading and teaching children. Amy started the company in 2005, as a way to empower and encourage fellow children’s ministry leaders, and since that first day has had the opportunity to work with leaders & organizations committed to the spiritual growth of children. Amy believes that the church fully empowered, combined with the commitment of the family, and the compassion of the community has the power to inspire children’s faith for a lifetime. In addition to her consulting work with Lemon Lime Kids, Amy leads the strategic curriculum development for Phil Vischer’s new curriculum What’s in the Bible? (, and serves as Director of LOCAL, a Chicago-area children’s ministry collaborative ( Amy is the former Executive Director for Children’s Ministry at the Willow Creek Association, a former Children’s Ministry Director at The Chapel in Libertyville, IL and a Curriculum Writer for Promiseland at Willow Creek in South Barrington. Amy is proud to be married to her husband Kelly, and loves living in Chicago. Amy blogs at and tweets at @adolan.