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Welcome to church!

This session is the start of a series of blogs looking at some basics of children’s ministry.

In many ways the start of the session is a critical time. This is when children are made to feel welcomed or unsettled, where parents leave reassured or concerned. While you cannot control every factor, you can create an environment that will help make it as easy as possible for children to settle with you.


We will be looking at 7 things you can consider for when your children arrive.


Room cleanliness

We know your room was used last night for a wedding reception/Bible study/impromptu creche. The cleaners may have left the room spotless on Friday (if you are fortunate enough to have a cleaner for your building) but by the time you arrive is it still clean? This is one reason it is good to arrive early to check the space that you have is clean and litter free.

Room layout

On a similar note, the layout of the room says a lot about the session. Do you have tables like a classroom or chairs laid out like an auditorium. Or is the whole space free and available for children to run wild in. Or are there different zones in the room for different activities. All this gives an indication of the kind of session that the children can expect (it’s amazing how quickly a new parent can get a feel for your group just by looking at the area).


It's worth thinking about what signs you have up around the room. Are there the books of the Bible, a map of Israel, or pictures from Bible stories. Timelines, Bible graphics, memory verses or creations from previous lessons. The space really matters. It says volumes to the children about the purpose of the space and the value that you give to them.


It may be that your church does not have the privilege of owning a space (or your space is used for so many other groups that you can’t make a permanent scale model of the temple). However don’t look at what you can’t do, instead look at what you can do. You can bring some pop up banners into your hired space that add colour, zone out the room or contain information that will be relevant to many weeks of teaching. These are cheap, portable and quick to set up/pack down.


At the door

Next think about what is taking place at the door. What do you need to register children in safely? How quickly can you welcome people in?  Is there a different process for new comers that for your regulars? Who is available and how do they greet people? It’s amazing what a difference a smile makes. Some people will be a natural at coming down to the child’s level to welcome them whilst also reassuring parents. For others you may need to work at it to be intentionally welcoming (this was definitely me in the early days of kids ministry where the tasks to be done were more at the front of my mind than the people).


Whatever you do you need to have someone at the doorway, ready to welcome and be readily available to speak with parents (when should we collect them, Johnny has not been feeling to well this week so call me if you need me, please don’t let them have any biscuits, etc.)


Sound levels

The atmposphere your children walk into matters. If you ahve just been fighting as a team, the children will pick up on the tension in the air. If you have been worshipping, they will sense the presence of God in the room. They may not be able to put into words what they are experiencing, but they will be able to identify whether the room is a place of peace and God's presence or of strife and religion.

On a practical level, the noise levels are often the first thing that children notice when they walk into a room. If the room is deadly quiet it feels dead, if the noise is loud it makes some children go wild and others want to run away. If music is blaring so people find it hard to hear each other everyone will gradually get louder and louder until it is hard for the children to settle ready for the lesson. So think about what background noise you have – I like to have some quiet music on to fill the dead space but not obstruct conversations and interactions at this time. Which leads us nicely on to our next point.


What are your children walking into

Very often we can see this opening time as the time before we begin. I want to encourage you to see this time as a key part of the programme that sets the tone for the rest of the session. I have seen many programmes where children wander in to a space with no real structure or activity waiting for them. The result is some children running around wildly while others sit feeling overwhelmed. In other settings I have seen children ushered in straight away to sit in seats and wait while the others arrive. While this is preferrable to walking into nothing, we can do much better.

Plan an activity for children to engage with when they first arrive. Depending on the dynamics and age of the group will depend on the activity. For some groups a simple game that everyone can join in with is a great way to involve them. I love playing a game called traffic lights – children stand in a queue in front of you and you call out red, orange or green. When you say red they must jump to the left of you, for orange they jump in front of you and green they jump to the right. If they go the wrong way or take too long to move they must move to the back of the line.  This keeps all the children involved so you don’t have those who are out sitting to one side bored and dejected and disinterested.


Simple craft activities are another great way to engage children. They are also a great way for the team to engage the children in conversations (see our next point). If you have a large enough group you can have a choice of activities for them to do on arrival – though if you are going to do this make sure you have someone to help the children choose an activity so they are not left wandering aimlessly around unsure of what the choices are.


We have also used a number of conversation starters to discuss with children in small groups (see below for more details).


Use of team

As a child I went to two different Sunday schools. In one, my core memory is of sitting on a windowsill colouring a Bible story picture. No leader spoke to me the whole session and I kept myself to myself. In the other, my core memory is of sitting around a table with a lovely old lady (I say old, she was probably the same age as I am now) as she spoke with us, listened to us and the taught us. I can’t remember much of what she taught, but I remember she cared for us.


I don’t want any children in our groups to feel like nobody is interested in them. The start of a session is a great time to make sure that every child feels welcomed and has someone speak to them. The larger your group is the more intentional you will have to be to make sure no children slip through unnoticed. By strategically spreading your team around various activities and briefing them that their role is to help every child know that they are special and that we are glad that they are there we can start as we mean to continue.


How to say hello

Finally, how do we say hello. This may seem like a strange point, but if we are going to have meaningful interactions with the children at the start of the session it bears some discussion. For adults the standard greeting would be, ‘Hello, how are you, how was your week?’ For some children this is also a great conversation starter. For others they do not yet have the confidence, maturity or social awareness to engage with this. It can lead to children freezing, or giving one word replies.


Firstly, let the children know that you are pleased to see them. It can be easy to comment on their clothing, or their hair (you look lovely today) and for a shy child on first meeting this can be a great way to get talking. ‘Ooh I love your top, I have one the same colour, it’s beautiful). But I encourage you to look for something deeper. The value of our children is more than the clothes they chose to put on that morning or the way their parents did their hair (though a child in a suit is definitely cute).


We want them to find their worth and value in who God made them to be so that they can grow to be confident in Him in every situation. ‘I love your smile.’ ‘It always brings me joy to see you because you are so kind.’


Some children will arrive bursting to share their news with you, others will arrive needing time to warm up – this is the delight of working with a bunch of individual children who are each made in God’s image and are unique. For most children, inviting them to be part of a conversation with some open-ended questions is a great way for them to feel included but not put on the spot.


This may be a time for each child to share some news from their week. Or it may involve some discussion openers (Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?) This allows children to share what they want to and gives you a bit more of an insight into who they are (and them an insight into who you are too).

In conclusion 

If you are looking for more ideas, we have over 100 welcome activity ideas in our book, Give Me 5, that will work for a wide age range of children and young people.


Whatever you do as your children arrive, I encourage you to do it thoughtfully and carefully as this time does matter and the care you show the children can have a greater impact than anything else you do that day.


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