Welcoming children and parents
Do you realize what an exceptional responsibility you have, one in which every move you make, and everything you say, can potentially impact a child’s spiritual journey? Making church a welcoming place for children and their parents gives them a strong foundation in knowing they are accepted, secure, and loved. Children who feel welcome and comfortable at church can begin to learn about God and His Son, Jesus Christ. They also discover that people at church love each other and help each other. Most importantly, preschoolers come to understand: This is a happy place to be. My teacher likes me. I belong here. At church, I can learn to be more like Jesus.
Whether a child is just visiting your ministry for the first time or begins to consistently attend, each child and their family needs a warm, reassuring welcome and an occasional “we’re glad you’re here” reminder. The preparation for the welcome begins long before the children even arrive, and preparation is the key word. Since in many of our ministries, we’re never quite sure how many children will show up and how many new faces we’ll see, it’s often difficult to feel prepared. Keep in mind that if God calls us to serve and we are obedient in serving Him, He will “equip you in every good thing to do His will” (Hebrews 13:21). So really all we need is faith and willingness.
It’s a wonderful feeling when new faces join our children’s ministry! Isn’t that what we want—to serve as many children as God brings us? But at the same time, it can also seem a bit overwhelming. Do you ever hear yourself thinking or even saying out loud, “Where will we put all these children? We don’t have enough volunteers now. We need more supplies and we just don’t have the money.” Don’t worry, if God brings us these children, He will certainly help us care for them. Let us not forget that “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). We need to rely upon prayer, preparation and promise—God’s promise to equip us and meet all our needs, even when it comes to the small details of construction paper and glue.
Your first interaction with a new child and his family is a special opportunity to show them that your ministry:
- Acknowledges each child and his family
- Is sincerely glad that the child and family are here
- Wants to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable
- Will follow up with the child and family to reconnect and learn about their experience
- Wants to hear questions, comments and suggestions
- Exhibits the love of Jesus Christ through our words and actions.
In 1 John 3:18, God tells us, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” It is with our actions that we show our love and welcome the children and families in our ministries. The Word of God and the model of Jesus Christ allow us to establish an environment in which God’s love, patience and grace can be channeled through us to the children and their parents.
The first time we meet a new family and those subsequent visits are critical in establishing a partnership between parents and ministry volunteers. There will be parents who easily drop off their children and others who can’t seem to leave. In either case, it’s our responsibility as teachers, to take the lead in welcoming them and their child. While volunteers may sometimes feel intimidated by parents (and for those of us who are new, we may not even feel totally confident about our own skills), we need to remember that parents may be equally intimidated by us, the newness of the church, or leaving their child with new people.
What can we do to be more welcoming to children and their parents? Parents and their children feel most comfortable in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe. One of the simplest yet most difficult ways to welcome others is to eliminate having an attitude of judgment. People want to feel accepted, and didn’t Jesus accept everyone? Just showing up at church can be a bold step for some parents. They may think, “I don’t belong here. I’m not like these other parents. Sometimes I’m not a very good parent.” Is Jesus your Savior? “God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). Our responsibility is to let the children and their parents know we love them unconditionally. And the best thing is that you don’t have to do it all on your own. You have the power of the Holy Spirit.
How can we make welcoming each child and his family easier? If you know a child is coming next week or in the future, here are some preparation tips.
Before the child arrives:
- Assign a special volunteer for the child.
- Introduce the parents to that volunteer, other volunteers and all the staff.
- Send a “what to expect on the first day” note.
- Make a label for the child’s coat hook or cubby if you use those.
- Make a welcome sign with the child’s name and parents’ first names; then, post it prominently.
When the child begins:
- Have extra volunteers, if possible, so you can spend time helping the child and parents separate and adjust.
- Speak to or call the parents to tell them how their child did.
After the child begins:
- Put a picture of the child and parents on the cubby and elsewhere in the room.
- Send a handwritten note asking the parents how things are going and extending an invitation to talk.
- Make sure the parent is on the mailing or email list to receive information about what’s happening in the ministry.
Welcoming churches begin with loving people. Christian love is a conscientious intentional decision to be concerned about the well-being of others, in this case, preschool children, their families and other volunteers. This type of sincere, powerful love is not necessarily about emotion, but choice. Sometimes we may not feel as though we can love others, even children, because of our impatience, intolerance and frustration. Despite our emotions, however, if we choose to love, God will help us express our love. Let’s choose to love and make our churches welcoming places for the children and their parents!