"Whether or not there are any children in your congregation, there are a few simple things you can do to welcome children who may come to your church."
Erin knew she had finally found the right church when she saw the rocking chair. After Olivia was born, Erin had started to look for a church. She wasn’t exactly sure why church seemed so important, but Erin wanted to do everything for Olivia. It was hard to get there on a Sunday morning; hauling all the baby items alone was daunting, not to mention finding the church and walking into an unfamiliar environment.
The first church was quiet and pretty, but there was no one her age and no children. When baby Olivia began to fuss, it was obvious that infants were not welcome. The second church was better, until Erin looked for a place to change Olivia and ended up using the not-all-that-clean floor in the ladies room. So walking into a church and seeing a rocking chair, right there, just waiting for Erin and Olivia, was amazing.
Creating a Welcoming First Impression
Whether or not there are any children in your congregation, there are a few simple things you can do to welcome children who may come to your church. Whether they come on Sunday morning, for a funeral, or for a wedding, you can make sure that children and their parents know that they are welcome.
1. The Sanctuary: Create a Visible Child-Friendly Space
Children need a bit of room to wiggle. Look at the corners of your sanctuary or narthex/lobby – is there room for a small children's area? A carpeted space helps, as most children prefer sitting on the floor. This also allows smaller children to crawl. Set up a table with crayons, paper, and a few Bible story books (available at the dollar store). A rocking chair or adult-sized chair will help.
2. The Nursery: Make It a Place You Want to Be
First and foremost, make sure the nursery is clean and safe. A fresh coat of paint, a clean rug, a rocking chair with a small table near it, and a changing table are essentials. If you have toys, check to make sure they are not broken or a choking hazard. (If any part of the toy can fit through a toilet paper tube, it is a choking hazard.)
3. Other Spaces: Just the Essentials
If you don’t have a dedicated nursery space, create a make-shift space somewhere else. All you need is a rug, rocking chair, and table. Find a place for a changing table and make it clear to guests where to find it.
4. Group of Caring People
Create a group of people who are willing to be on the lookout for those coming with children. They should be available to help them during worship and should know where to find any needed items. Be sure someone is available each Sunday. If you can, extend this ministry to funerals as well.
Now you’re ready when the next new mom walks in, or when grandchildren come!
One last note: Create a schedule for keeping the child-friendly spaces clean and well stocked. You never know who God might bring to your door.
Linnae Himsl Peterson works with congregations, especially small churches, to craft Christian Formation programs that include people of all ages. Current projects include writing about spirituality for families and meditations designed for Facebook. Linnae attends St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Goffstown, NH. You can find more of her work at her website or follow her on Facebook.
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