Providing a Welcoming Environment
While having the latest technology, trendiest furniture, and Disney-like wall decor may make great first impressions on the kids who come to your program, the most lasting impressions are made by loving leaders in environments that are welcoming, inviting, inclusive, and safe for all.
For resources geared to developing loving leaders, see the Calling, Encouraging, and Equipping Leaders tab. For resources on creating a faith-nurturing community where all children are welcome, see below.
Just as there is no way to know for sure who will arrive at your door, there’s no way to anticipate how they will arrive. Children may enter with varying emotions (happy, anxious, sad, eager, and more), from diverse environments (secure, chaotic, loving, unfamiliar, and more), with different levels of familiarity with God’s story, and with unique challenges. One thing that’s the same: all children should be welcomed warmly, and they should leave with the assurance that they belong to God and to God’s family.
- Get great ideas from seasoned teachers in this post on Building Community
- In addition to welcoming a visiting child by offering a big smile, learning his or her name, and arranging for another child to “buddy up” with them, consider blessing them with a Welcome Bag.
- Use this registration form to find out how each child in your ministry learns best.
- Children’s ministry leader Jolanda Howe uses these Getting-to-Know-You-Games with her group at the start of a school year.
- Helping Children Celebrate Diversity, a free resource from Faith Alive's Dwell children's ministry curriculum, gives helpful advice for making your children’s ministry a place where children experience the unbiased, unreserved love of Jesus and each other.
- Research shows that children are racially biased. The post Here's How to Raise Race-Conscious Children as well as this post from the Embrace Race site contain helpful information for children’s ministry leaders and parents.
- What’s in a name? Your identity. Taking the time to learn the names of your children (and their family members) is another way to love them. Mispronouncing Students' Names: A Slight That Can Cut Deep is a helpful read.
- Reaching Out to Children of Unchurched Parents is a document with helpful tips for connecting with families whose children attend your children’s ministry program.
"Think about how important it is to create a beautiful space for adults to worship, and the great care we take of that space. We should pay no less attention to the space for worshiping with children—after all, it is a place where their faith is acknowledged and formed" (Olivia Stewart and Pat Barton, “Beauty in Children's Worship Spaces," Reformed Worship 120).
How might the way you set up and decorate the space where your childrens’ “faith is acknowledged and formed” invite learners to live into and out of God’s story? Here are some ideas:
- Beauty in Children's Worship Spaces includes ideas from a leader who transformed a church hallway into a worshipful space for children.
- Use Story Symbols to decorate your walls, provide a visual introduction to each Bible story, and create a timeline of God’s big story.
- Chair Wars describes ways to combat distractions in a room.
A Community of Belonging
It’s one thing to welcome everyone; it’s another to create a community of belonging in which each person is valued and able to participate fully according to their gifts and abilities. These tools will help:
- Use the Parent/Family Member Survey and Welcome Page to prepare a welcoming place for children in your group who have disabilities. Both documents are available as a free download from AllBelong.org (formerly the CLC Network)
- God’s family includes people with disabilities. Including Children with Special Needs in the Life of the Church offers information on identifying the needs of parents and families, classroom setup and management, and ideas for adapting curriculum and activities.
- Welcoming Children of All Abilities, a free resource written by Barbara Newman for Faith Alive's Dwell children's ministry curriculum, contains tips for providing a warm, welcoming, affirming environment for learners with disabilities.
- Check out AllBelong.org's tips for including persons with disabilities in your Christmas program, at Lent and Easter, and during vacation Bible school.
- God’s family includes persons with learning challenges. The books Autism and Your Church and Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities are indispensable resources for every church. (See also the ideas and resources included in the Calling, Encouraging, and Equipping Leaders section of this toolkit.)
When you work in children’s ministry, you are in a position of authority and power. Because children are vulnerable, and because statistics show that abuse is just as prevalent inside the church as outside, it is up to you to do everything you can to provide a safe environment at all times.
Safe Church Ministry offers excellent resources that can help equip congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response.
While details of church policies may vary, the basics your child safety policy should address include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Screening. Require background checks and character references for all children’s ministry staff and volunteers regardless of age or length of membership.
- Staffing requirements. For example, there should always be two leaders in the room. This both discourages abuse and protects leaders from false allegations.
- Touch. Be specific about what kinds of touch are appropriate and inappropriate. For example, side hugs may be allowed but full-body hugs are not. Any body part that would be covered by a swimsuit is off limits.
- Discipline. Be specific about what kind of classroom discipline is appropriate and inappropriate. For example, time-outs are OK; spanking is never allowed.
- Personal assistance. Be very specific about safe procedures for accompanying a small child to the bathroom, changing diapers, etc.
- Transportation. Outline who is allowed to transport children and how. For example, children must never be transported without parental approval. There should be at least two unrelated adults in the vehicle, and all children must wear seatbelts.
- Reporting abuse. Be absolutely clear about what staff and volunteers are required to do if they become aware of an abusive situation or if a child discloses abuse. Find out who is a “mandated reporter” in your state or province.
- Training. Require yearly Safe Church training for all volunteers, including teens. Make sure they know and understand your church’s policies and agree to carry them out.
You’ll find more information and sample child safety policies at crcna.org/SafeChurch.
If you're looking for abuse-awareness curriculum, Safe Church Ministry recommends Circle of Grace, a safe environment program for children and youth. It features a few easy-to-follow lessons for each grade level and can fit into any existing church school curriculum.