The Welcome Mat
It’s Sunday morning! Time to join the church family for another day of worship, learning, serving, and connecting together. If you’re anything like me, you follow a routine from the time you wake up until church is over, especially if you’ve been in your position for a good length of time. I walk in the door with coffee in hand ready to prepare for the morning. I check my mailbox and greet staff and volunteers on the way to my office. I scan through email to check for any last-minute “I can’t be there today!” notes so I can work on filling those holes. Then it’s time to make the rounds through classrooms to make sure everything’s set, get our check-in stations ready to go, and check in with my volunteers as they arrive. I know the location of every classroom, bathroom, and drinking fountain. I’m well-versed in events and ministries of the church for all ages, and if there’s information I don’t have, I know how to find it. From the time Sunday begins until I head home for the day, everything is familiar and comfortable to me.
Picture Sunday morning in another home, and the scene is quite different. This family is getting ready to attend our church for the very first time. They might be new in town, returning to church after having walked away years ago, or just beginning their faith journey never having been to church before. This family may have been invited by a friend or they might not know a single person attending our church. The emotions in this home are many…hopefully anticipation but likely on top of uncertainty, hesitancy, and perhaps downright panic. An adult visiting a church for the first time is one thing but quite another experience when bringing kids along. From the time this family heads out the door to the time they leave after service, so many things are brand new. There’s not a routine or knowing all of the wheres, whats, and hows. They leave the house and likely return home with questions. The number of questions following this family out our doors is up to us.
The environment we create, resources we provide, and the investment we make into our volunteer teams all impact the experience of new families. We need to ask ourselves, “Will their first Sunday morning experience with us invite them to return?”. To answer this question, we have to develop the ability to look at every part of Sunday morning at our churches as if we haven’t seen it before.
1.) The Welcome Mat
Creating a welcoming environment includes not only our physical space but digital as well. New families often check us out online first. We don’t always have a say on the layout of our church’s website, but we can certainly share our ideas and reasons behind them. The two most important things are the ease with which people can navigate the website and the information provided. Having to click through a maze of tabs and dropdown menus can be frustrating. Having to figure out our church lingo is another frustration point. Be sure acronyms or names for ministries are defined and explained. It doesn’t have to be an entire paragraph; a simple line under what we call things is helpful. Annoyance with us before stepping foot on campus isn’t the welcome mat we want.
Once a family arrives at church, what do they find? Children’s and student ministries aren’t typically located near the main entrance of the building. Clear and visible signs pointing people toward information they need is so important. Personal greeting and assistance in finding what they are looking for is welcoming, and having a sign to point them in the right direction is much easier than a set of verbal instructions to first go down the hall, turn at the drinking fountain, up these stairs, around the corner to find the right door. For some, it’s intimidating to ask for help, so providing direction signs gives them a path to follow if they don’t want to look lost. Take a walk from the main door to your ministry area and ask yourself if someone who hadn’t been to your church before would be able to find what they need.
2.) Questions, Questions, Questions
When a new family brings their kids to church, they will come with questions – some they already know and some they don’t but are important for us to answer. If you have children of your own, ask yourself what you would want to know right away before leaving your kids with a stranger. If you don’t have children, get input from parents you know.
Verbally addressing every possible question parents might have on a busy Sunday morning is like turning a firehose on them. They won’t be able to keep up and may feel more anxious about dropping off their kids than they already do. But that’s what some of us tend to do. We’re excited they’ve come and want to connect with them and their children so we launch into turbo mode while still trying to greet other parents and kids as they come in.
So how do we communicate these things in a less hurried, thoughtfully slowed-down manner? Determine the most important things to share verbally on a first visit, like safety and security measures, to let them know they can trust us while their kids are in our care.
To avoid overloading parents with more verbal information than they can retain, create a new family handout covering the most common questions parents want answered. Include anything you also communicate in person as well. Keep this as concise as possible. Flooding people with too many details can be just as overwhelming and confusing as not providing enough. Include ways to contact you and encourage families to get in touch with any further questions or concerns. Consider adding basic information about main services, adult classes and programs your church offers along with ways they can find out more. Sometimes families focus so much on things for their kids, they don’t always think about finding out what’s available for themselves.
3.) Enlist Volunteer Help
Ministry leaders cannot be in all places all the time. We aren’t able to connect with every new family who walks in the door on a given Sunday morning. We need the help of our volunteers in welcoming new families. It’s one thing for us to guide them through where kids go, how they’re kept safe, what they’re doing in class; it’s another for the people who will be leading in that room to make the connection.
Training volunteers in caring for new families is multifaceted. Explaining the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ brings volunteers into the mission and vision behind welcoming new families. We all have a hard time doing things we’re told to do without knowing why we’re doing it and how we do it. Laying out the purpose first before providing the tools and explaining how to use them is vital. Think about what happens when you hand a tool to someone who’s never used it before. They might not use it at all because they don’t know how or come up with their own way to use the tool with less-than-ideal results.
Share why the way we interact with new families is so important. First impressions matter. Being intentional about what we do in this area makes an impact, and we want it to be positive. After the why, walk volunteers through the steps you’ve identified as key in a first time visit from the door to the classroom and back home again. Then give them the tools to use and explain how to use them. Some of the tools are really basic and familiar, like greeting with a smile and making eye contact with both parents and kids. Being reminded of the importance of these simple things gives us all a chance for self-evaluation. Provide volunteers with the information they need to answer questions. Just because we know this information inside out and backward, not all of our volunteers do. As representatives of the Lord, the church, and the ministry; this investment is key.
Doing these things to help new families have a positive experience when they come isn’t a formula that guarantees their return. In fact, even if they enjoy their first-time visit, they may decide not to come back to our particular church because it’s not the right fit for them. That’s okay. When we welcome new families well, we’re representing the body of Christ that’s not limited to our church. If the family chooses not to make our church their home, we are still part of encouraging them to continue looking to find the place where the Lord wants them to be.
Amy Diller began her career as an elementary teacher before moving into her current role of Co-Director of Children’s Ministry at Colonial Woods Missionary Church in Port Huron, MI. She is a life-long Michigander, wife to Jason, and mom to two college-aged daughters. Amy loves the smell of a new box of crayons, the feel of a book in her hands, and experiencing God’s Word through the eyes of kids. You can contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on what to do when families *come* to church, check out:
Connect with your parents in less than five minutes!
Download & send these digital resources to your parents.
A PRAYER GUIDE FOR YOUR FAMILIES & 2 PARENT VIDEOS.