Imagine your first morning in church. For some of us, our first experience is too early for memories as we started in the nursery. And for others, it was during a pivotal moment in our upbringing. Whatever the moment, your positive response probably rested on the welcome you received. Whether we want to admit it or not, a welcoming children’s ministry has the potential to make or break someone’s experience. A warm environment can break down barriers, intersect difficult home lives, and allow the kids to hear Jesus (maybe for the first time). It is so easy to overlook the welcoming part of the morning for the priority of curriculum preparation, volunteer engagement and even making sure all of the lights are on. But creating a welcoming environment is vital to a great day. Follow some of these tips to ensure new kids, and all, walk in feeling welcomed from the beginning to the end.
- Identify them as new. Do not make anyone guess with new students. The idea of walking into a new space can be overwhelming for kids who may be new to church or the kid’s ministry. Create “first visit” stickers or add a special sticker to their security sticker badge. From the moment they sign in, encourage your guest services volunteers to be extra enthusiastic about their choice to participate in kids ministry that day. Finding a fun way to identify the new kids will help them feel special and alert other volunteers to be extra attentive to these new friends. Train and inform all volunteers to be on the lookout for this special identification and instruct them to go the extra mile to ensure they feel welcomed.
- Extra mile welcomes. Make sure to introduce the new kid to the whole group in small groups. If they seem nervous about being singled out, the teacher can take the opportunity to get to know them without announcing it to the entire group. Instruct the teachers to find out what grade, school, or fun activity the new friend likes to participate in and initiate conversations with them to break down the anxiety of being in a new place. At a minimum, remembering names is a great first step. Remember, the goal is not to single anyone out but make them feel welcome. Anything the small group leaders can do to make every student, especially new students, feel valued and important will go a long way.
- Moment from the stage. If you have a large group moment in your kids' ministry, highlight all the new friends. Make a special slide with fun music as you introduce the “new friends” to the group. You can also give them some type of “swag” or item with the kids' ministry logo so they can proudly take it home or wear it at school. This will remind their family and friends where they attended and all the fun they had. It can be as simple as a bracelet or a cup. You can also get creative and go above and beyond with a goodie bag full of your kids' logo items, a worship cd, and a letter from the kids' ministry staff. Invite the new friends to the stage for a greeting and give them their special swag item without pressuring them. You can give them a high five, have the group applaud, or say a catchphrase to show your excitement for their attendance. If they are not interested in coming on stage or getting in front of everyone, give them the item so they can still leave with some type of gift. Most churches will give new adult visitors a welcome gift, and the same sentiment can greatly affect the new friends that attend kids' ministry.
- Pair them with a friend. A great next step for those identified as new is to pair them with a potential new friend. In a large group setting, look for a consistent attendee in the same grade or school. Try not to go too many grades apart where they can lose their commonality. Ask the regular attender if the new friend can join them and learn about kids’ ministry through their example. In a small group setting, look for a consistent attendee and add a chair or seat next to their potential friend. In the same way, ask the consistent attender if the new friend can learn about small group through their example. Always be on the lookout for those with the same interests (dance, soccer, etc.) and introduce kids to each other. Standing in the gap for new friends by introducing them to others is a great way to make them feel welcome.
- Make a plan to follow up. Following up is a must! The welcome atmosphere does not have to stop after the event is over! A great way to continue making new kids feel welcome is by sending them something after the event. It can be simple, like a letter to the parents thanking them for attending, remembering the child’s name, and inviting them to whatever is coming up. You can also send bag tags for preschoolers, magnets with the ministry logo, and upcoming event calendars. Make sure to have updated contact information so parents can respond with any questions. When the new kid comes back for a second or third time, remember their names and show your excitement for their attendance.
If you put yourself in the position of a first-time guest, a kid who may never have stepped foot inside a church before or might not know all the stories, you can easily see all the angst they may feel. You can take intentional and active steps to break down those walls and barriers. Kids desire to feel like they belong, and as kids’ ministry leaders, we can tear down barriers to make their experience one of a kind. Whatever your budget may be, you can find fun and exciting ways to make every new attendee feel welcome and a part of what God is doing in your ministry. Remember to start with a plan to make them feel identified as a newcomer from the moment they enter the area. Then as you instruct and train volunteers, they can help introduce the new kid to a potential new friend, lead a stage or small group welcome, and assist in giving out your swag items. Always follow up, so the kids and the entire family can know how important their attendance was and invite them to continue joining in on all that God is doing.
The new kids might not remember every word you taught, but they will remember how loved and welcomed they felt. That feeling will keep them coming back for a second or third visit. Bring the welcoming atmosphere to top priority in the coming weeks and see all God will do!