On a scale of 1 to 10, how highly would you rank your Church or Kids Club when it comes to welcoming new people? How much have you thought about how you welcome not only adults but also children?
Welcoming is the first opportunity to show the open-armed love of God to newcomers, even before they are part of the family. It’s something to continue working at, especially remembering those who are easily overlooked, especially children.
Here are three simple ways to effectively welcome both adults and children into your Sunday services or programs.
New families will need information and they will need it fast!
Churches can have a range of different practices, and even parents who have grown up ‘in church’ can find it overwhelming to work out what happens in a new context. Taking away concerns about practicalities means there is less to hinder newcomers from hearing the gospel and seeing God’s love lived out in his people.
For example, for some parents the question of what their children might be given to eat is of considerable importance because of food allergies. Other times we say: “Children need to be signed in and out of our programs,” but what does that specifically mean? Also, it doesn’t end once the child is settled in the right place, because what happens at the end of the Church service?
For a new parent arriving at Kids Club, a similar range of questions need answers: Are children given afternoon tea? Do parents hang around or just drop off? Who is in charge and are they trustworthy?
Providing the correct information to new families also shouldn’t stop after their first visit, and all parents want to hear how their child is going. Although their child will hopefully be telling them, it is also a great way to show ongoing care and interest for leaders to follow up with the parents; “It was great to have Peter in our group again today. He seems to be making friends with Patrick and Tom and I was really impressed by his willingness to pray for Tom’s sick grandma today.”
Parents also need to hear about the ‘not so good’ stuff; accidents, injuries and behaviour issues need to be reported back by leaders. It’s not great for parents to be hearing about incidents only from their child. Even if no further action is needed and the situation is resolved, leaders taking the time to talk to parents builds trust.
Practical ways to share information
Ideally a person (with welcoming responsibilities or not) can explain things face to face, but this is not always possible. Other options could include:
A newsletter or welcome booklet.
PowerPoints before the service to share introductory information, as well as reminding the whole congregation about how children are cared for and valued, including photos from the children’s programs.
Posters, notices or signs that are placed in key areas to keep parents informed, sending them in the right direction or reminding them of safety practices.
A page on the church website dedicated to children’s programs, or regularly posting on a church Facebook page.
Leaders with special nametags or t-shirts.
Saying hello, smiling and welcoming families on their first week is important, but by making the effort to stay alongside after the service and in following weeks lets them know that you’re excited for them to become part of your church community.
Perhaps you could introduce the children to others the same age or offer to show a new parent the way to the creche, or just going along for the walk instead of pointing them on the right direction. It might mean encouraging your own children, or those in your group, to include a new child in their play. It might mean having a longer conversation about whether parents wish to send their children to a separate program or keep them in the service. Sometimes the kindest thing to say is: ‘Your children are welcome to stay with you in church if you prefer.’ Or the simplest way for someone to feel welcomed week-to-week: remembering their name!
Practical ways to stay alongside
This could be structured or organic, depending on the size and structure of your church. Kids Club or Kids Church teachers could have helpers whose role includes helping new parents and new children feel welcome and comfortable. Some churches have specific Sign-In Coordinators who return to church once children are in their groups and then return at the end to supervise the signing out process. Or, a different parent could be asked to help set up alongside leaders each week with the added expectation of welcoming new families so the leader can focus on teaching the children.
Listen, and keep listening
Families visit churches for a variety of reasons and with a variety of concerns. Some are anxious about their children enjoying the experience or making friends. Others will have specific concerns due to their child’s particular needs, even different concerns for different children within the same family.
For example, in one family the eldest daughter Anna may be very social and out-going but the younger son Thomas still suffers separation anxiety and has an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts. In another family, there may be no visible issues but the whole family is recovering from the loss of their grandmother while being forced to move to a new house, away from a beloved church family. Welcoming the first family may mean double-checking the morning tea table for peanuts and allowing a parent to stay with her son during Kids Church. Caring for the second family will look different. Only by listening can we know what shape love will take.
It’s also important to listen to children! Mum might be worried about avoiding peanuts, but little Thomas may be more worried about whether he’ll get to join the handball game he walked past on the way in. Paying attention to what newcomers share, both the parents and the children is an important way to welcome them with genuine love.
Practical ways to listen
Listening is essential for all healthy relationships, including new ones. Ways to actively listen include:
Ask leaders/helpers/welcomers to keep their own notes about the people they meet so it is easier to remember and pray for them.
Keep attendance records in your Kids Church or Kids Club and have a process for following up on children who have missed more than two or three weeks. This could be sending a card, calling a parent or sending an email.
There are many more ways to be intentionally considering how to love and include newcomers. These simple kindnesses are often overlooked but they can make all the difference to someone seeking a loving church community. So what steps can you take to welcome newcomers well?