This conversation got me thinking about the holiday season and kids ministry. At our church we see a lot of distant relatives, grandparents, and even close family friends who are in town to visit.
I love the reality of knowing that many of these people are hearing the gospel, especially knowing that maybe they don't have a regular church home. Ministry opportunities are so abundant this time of year, and people are more receptive.
With all of this in mind, I think it's important to remember that the sea of new faces can also create a bit of camouflage for those with less than pure intentions. Making sure that we are maintaining a safe atmosphere for our ministry families is a very important thing during this time of year.
Here are a few reminders as we enter into this season, they are beneficial as we have special events and nights where we see an influx of visitors. These tips will help to create an atmosphere both of safety and hospitality as we minister to new families.
1. Stand firm on Check-in / Check-out procedures.
- Visitors will notice if you are asking only them for parents tags or verification during pickup. This can feel like a singled out situation, for reasons of safety and hospitality, make sure everyone has the same process.
2. Know your custody situations.
- A few years back during the holiday season, I had an estranged parent pick up a child he was not allowed to be in custody of. As a leader, my heart sank as I stood with the mother and police trying to find this child (she was located the next day, and was safely returned). This instance could have been prevented had I known the situation. Encourage parents to communicate this information, and make sure your teachers know who these children are.
3. Parents in the room.
- In this season, aunt so and so may come with her two small children and be there for one Sunday. We often see parents want to let their child attend with a cousin, but want to stay. If this is something you allow, and we do, we ask parents to wear a green lanyard. To them it simply says "visitor", to us it says "I have not been background checked and can not be left without supervision". This creates a situation for kids to have parents alongside them when they are learning to attend on their own without compromising the safety of the classroom.
4. Have an extra person for visitors
- During this time of year, having a person dedicated to greeting your visitors will provide a great setting for a welcoming environment, as well as create a little bit of a "gatekeeper" mentality. I once visited a church where I wanted to see the kids rooms. I walked up and down the halls, looking in, and at one point even walked into the infant nursery and nosed around. I noticed people watching me, but nobody every said a word. Personally, I felt it was both unsafe and inhospitable. I would not have left my baby knowing anyone could enter the room. Make sure your staff addresses volunteers, if an adult comes to the room and isn't there to drop off or pick up, openly asking "can I help you?" is how we train our leaders to handle the situation. Unless you are a cleared teacher, or identified parent, you may not wander through our children area without a chaperone.
The goal is to provide an atmosphere of such hospitality that it is impossible to be a stranger. You have been welcomed, greeted, checked in, and encouraged to attend worship. This friendly atmosphere provides safety in disguise, all the while ministering to families. Hopefully you find some great reminders, and I hope you have a very merry Christmas!