This was something I should have focused on when I first became a kids pastor, but it wasn’t until I experienced an unwelcoming environment myself, as a parent, that I realized the power of greeting parents and welcoming kids into our environments.
My little four year old is the child that cries every morning when dropped off at daycare. Over the years we have experienced teachers who have the “gift of welcoming” and those who do not. Here is how I feel as a parent when Emma and I are welcomed into class as opposed to when we are not:
A Strong Welcome: For starters . . . Emma calms down and stops crying. Emma may not be ready to leave me to join the class, but the teacher becomes the bridge for that to happen because he/she has acknowledged Emma and created a sense of warmth. In that moment Emma is willing to disengage with daddy and lock in with her teacher. As for me, the parent, I feel like my child is in good hands, I feel a sense of joy that my daughter is emotionally stable, and I leave Emma with a positive experience under my belt and I’m ready to take on the day.
A Weak Welcome: Since we are not being approached and welcomed, Emma feels no excitement about leaving me and joining the class. She becomes upset and then the “waterworks” begin. Her reaction alienates her from the other children, and honestly I feel alienated in that moment as well. I’m embarrassed because we are disrupting the class, and since no teacher is approaching us I have no guidance and I’m unsure about what to do next. To top it off, seeing Emma upset breaks my heart so now I’m a bit emotional. I leave Emma sometimes a little frustrated, and so I now have to shake off that negative experience in order to adopt a more positive attitude.
This is not to bash my little girl’s daycare because it’s an incredible place with awesome teachers. As a matter of fact I would say that all the teachers at my child’s daycare are EPIC and I personally feel like her school is the best in our city, if not the state of Tennessee. It boils down to some teachers having the gift of welcoming and some who do not. And I truly believe that you can still be a great teacher but not have the gift of welcoming.
Here’s my point, when it comes to our Kids Ministry . . . whether you have “the gift” or not, whether you’re busy with a group of kids or not, whether you are in a good or grumpy mood, talkative or quiet . . . you must push past all of that and be a super strong welcomer! One of the worst things a kids min staff person or volunteer can do at Grace on a Sunday is to ignore a parent and child as they walk into an environment and not a single leader says hello and helps facilitate the transition for a child to leave mom and dad and join the group.
At Grace we struggle with this same problem . . . heck, I even struggle with this. But as a ministry our ultimate “win” is to value and love parents and kids like family. For us to even begin to do this well it starts with a strong welcome. The welcoming of a child into a small group setting is probably the first meaningful interaction they’ll experience at church. That moment will set the tone for both parent and child for that service.
I understand that this is easier said then done . . . especially with how busy Sundays in Kids Ministry can be, but you’ll make something happen if you truly value it. We need to learn to value the welcoming experience for parents and kids so that each of us, in our own unique styles, can make sure that we’re being intentional about approaching EVERY parent and child with a smile and with warmth. When we fight to make this happen we become the bridge for kids to disengage with mom and dad and enter our environments ready to connect, worship, and learn . . . and we create a moment of sensitivity that most parents need in order to drop off their kids ready and prepared to worship their Savior with other believers in the adult’s worship service.
It’s hard to do sometimes . . . at times we do not “feel” welcoming . . . but if we learn to value the power of a welcoming environment we’ll make it happen! It’s one of the most important things we need to do well in Kids Ministry.