“Where are your shoes?!”
“We’re going to be late—just get in the car!”
“Are any of my friends going to be there?”
“I don’t want to go!”
“I’m hungry. Will there be food there?”
These are just a sample of the “conversations” that a new family, or honestly any family, may have on the way to church. Family meltdowns may frequently occur from the door of the house to the door of your church. This can definitely be true for a new family who is not in the rhythm of waking up early, getting ready, and coming to church on a Sunday morning. It is good for the church to recognize that these new families may be coming in “hot” i.e., frazzled, frustrated, and possibly fearful about the whole experience. Where should they be going? What should they be doing? Who are they going to see when they get there?
As the church, how can we avoid adding to new families’ burdens and worries as they visit our churches? How can we instead seek to offer a taste of Christ’s promise in Matthew 11:28 to give rest to all who are “weary and heavy laden”?
It can start at the front door. A visiting family may have two understandable fears as they enter the church lobby: not knowing anyone and not knowing what to do. That means welcoming a visiting family is a whole-church effort. Church staff and volunteers should be trained to greet new families, teach them about what happens in Children’s Ministry on Sunday mornings, guide new families through the check-in process, and even lead them to their classrooms. A question to consider on Sunday morning: What are ways the staff and volunteers can calm the fears and lower the barriers of entry for visiting families as they come into our churches?
At some point the family may move from the church lobby to the classroom. Often, we have found, people need to have a sense that they belong before they come to believe in the gospel. We can accomplish this through welcoming children and families at the classroom door, letting them know the schedule, and connecting the child to other children in the room. Sometimes, in the uneasiness of a new space and place, we just need one other person to connect with to feel like we belong. This can be impactful for the parents to connect with the visiting families as well as they meet other parents in similar ages and stages, schools, occupations, neighborhoods or even hobbies. This has an incredible impact of anchoring new people into a new place. Another way to offer a sense of belonging is to remember names. This can often be dismissed by leaders saying, “Oh, I am just not good with names.” That may be true, but in ministry, it is so important to remember people’s names that you need to try to learn how! There are countless stories of families feeling cared for and known because a church remembered their names.
Lastly, we can connect with visiting families by the way communicate in the classroom. As leaders, we should be aware that any visiting child may not be familiar with the vocabulary of the Bible, the church, and the gospel. It is helpful to define those “church words,” help visiting children understand what you are doing, and find those verses in the Bible you are discussing. This may seem obvious, but using an actual Bible while you are teaching, not just verses on a sheet or screen, communicates that God’s Word is true, real, and good. We have a volunteer at our church who starts every children’s Sunday School lesson with this question, “What is this? It’s the Bible. It’s God’s Word,” so that children can see and remember what they are reading.
It is helpful to hypothetically ask yourself, or even ask a new family who has been plugged into your church, “What was your experience of our church as a visiting family?” This may help you evaluate and consider further practices for your church for welcoming and connecting the next visiting families.
We come from different churches and communities, so how you approach these discussions concerning visiting families may be different for your context. But we all want to join in God’s mission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) even if it begins by welcoming a family who has just stormed a meltdown in the car.