The first-time family has no clue where to go once they enter the church parking lot.
New child registration takes forever, and no one seems to know what to do with the information that’s received.
Mom and Dad have no idea where to drop their child off or what the process is to check their child in to class.
There is no clear system for connecting with parents in “big church” if something happens in their child’s class.
Chaos is a good description of pick-up time in your children’s ministry classes.
Once a family leaves your ministry, there is no further engagement with them until they show up again—IF they show up again—next week.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Unfortunately, situations like this unfold across the country every single week. And it leaves families feeling unwelcome and unsafe in our churches.
Of course, we all want visiting families, as well as regular attenders, to feel safe and welcome in our ministries. When people feel welcome and safe, they’re far more likely to engage while they’re there and return the next time. When they don’t feel welcome and safe, good luck engaging and keeping them in your ministry.
So what’s the solution? How do we help families feel welcome and safe from parking lot to pick up?
First, we have to realize that it’s not going to happen by itself. We’ve got to be intentional about executing a plan to help families feel welcome and safe. It’s simple, but not easy, and it needs to be part of what we do in leading our ministry.
Second, we need to implement some common sense (which is often neglected) tactics to alleviate those things that commonly cause people (especially parents) feel UNwelcome and UNsafe. Here are a few ways to make sure they are welcomed well.
Welcoming new families begins in the parking lot, before they ever walk through the doors. Clear and simple signage is critical. Many first-time visitors would rather not ask where things are, so a good test of signage is whether someone can find all the kids’ areas without talking with anyone. Clear directions to your 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 passageways leading to the children’s ministry areas
- within the children’s ministry areas.
Basically, parents need to be able to find your children’s ministry from wherever they find themselves on your campus.
Talk about simple! Smiles are easy and free. But too often people in our ministries are not smiling. Smiles go a long, long way to make families feel comfortable. The look on our faces can communicate that we want them to be there—or not! Smiling should be a ministry-wide value. Again, however, we’ve got to be intentional about communicating its importance to our team and training them to be “smilers.” (That’s a fun training, by the way!)
Some people would rather have a flier to find the information they need (me) when they arrive in your ministry area, while others would rather engage in a conversation with someone to get answers (my wife). People are different and will engage differently with your ministry. But everyone (especially visitors) needs information about what’s going on. So provide relevant information, and provide it in multiple ways.
- Create attractive (colorful and professionally designed) printed pieces that tell people what’s going on and where to go.
- Provide ministry guides and train them to greet (with a smile!), inform, and guide people to the right places in your ministry.
- Develop looping information videos that can be strategically placed in your ministry area to inform and guide people. (They are less expensive and easier to produce than you might think!)
4. Simple Systems
- How welcoming and easy is your check-in/out systems?
- How is your communication system within your ministry?
- Is your “new child/family” registration system intuitive, simple, and quick?
- What happens when a parent needs to be contacted during service? Is there a standard process and does your team know what that process is?
Asking questions like this can help identify where simple systems need to be created and implemented. Systems need to be simple, flexible, adaptable, and accomplish what you set out to achieve.
A great way to test your systems is to do the “secret shopper” test. I once invited my sister to test our children’s ministry. Her family was perfect because they had five kids ages 2 through 10 (so they were put into multiple classes). Her oldest is a high-functioning autistic boy, and three of them are adopted (one from China and two from Uganda). I asked her to offer feedback on everything about our children’s ministry (especially our systems) from parking lot to pick-up. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening exercise. While we were doing many things well, we also identified several areas that we needed to fix.
Once in place, simple systems not only help your team do ministry better, but they go a long way to help families feel welcome and safe.
5. Stay connected
Helping families feel welcome and safe actually extends beyond pick-up. Regular connection and follow-up is critical for both visiting families and regular attenders. Initiating regular connection and good follow-up communicates concern and value: concern that their experience was positive, and value in events that are important to them, their opinion, thoughts, and input.
So how do we stay connected?
- Act quickly. Make sure connection happens soon after the event—the week after a new family visits, soon after that big event (either your event at church or their event at home, like birthdays), or right away after an incident at church.
- Be informational. Provide whatever additional information needs to be communicated. The communication should include sharing the vision and values of your ministry and the church.
- Make more than one contact. Connect with kids as well as parents, and multiple contacts should be made over time.
Here’s just one example of how to follow up. Create a set of post cards for kids and parents. You might have a postcard for birthdays, visitors, or just to say thanks and stay connected. Make sure they are graphically aligned with the theme of your ministry and created professionally. Create a system to get those postcards out at the right time (birthdays, anniversaries). The messages don’t all have to be custom (print the same birthday message for everyone), but make sure there’s a personal element to each card (sign every one personally). You’ll be amazed at how both children and parents respond to this simple form of connection!
Making families feel welcome and safe in your ministry is one of the most important tasks of the ministry leader. Prioritize it. Be intentional. And see a change in how people engage. It’s worth every bit of attention it receives!