Helping families know what to expect
You can help families feel welcome and comfortable at your church by preparing them what to expect.
Whether they are here for an infant baptism or dedication, just visiting or looking for a new spiritual home, you can welcome them well by preparing them beforehand about what to expect. The following might help you think about what that would look like in your church.
You may like to use this video which shares what church is about and different elements of a church service and how to engage with them.
Put yourself in their shoes
Try to think through (or ask someone) what it would be like to come to your church if you’d never been before and equip them with the information they need. Have this information easily searchable on your website as well as in some information that you email or give to families who you know will be visiting. A great way to check is to ask someone who doesn’t come to your church and see if they can find all this information on your website. Information might include:
- Parking – Where can they park? Are there disabled spaces? Is it easy to manage with several small people in tow?
- Toilets – make sure these are well signed including disabled toilets and baby changing facilities. If you have potties and toilet seats available it might be worth mentioning that too.
- Timings – what time should they arrive? Are there refreshments before or after the service? When will it finish?
- Children – if you have children’s groups explain what they are and how they work. If you are happy for children to choose whether to stay in the service or come out, make that clear. Are they allowed to bring toys, devices with them? Do you provide activity bags or toys for children in the service? Is it okay for them to make noise? What are their options if their child is upset or needs a change of scene?
- Baby facilities – some more things to think through and signpost to are thought through in more detail here.
- Any questions? – provide an email address / telephone number and name of someone they can get in touch with beforehand with any questions.
- The service – it will also help them to know the rough shape of the service. Include information about how long it is, the different elements of the service and how they will know when to stand up and sit down. One way of doing this is by providing a visual timetable.
You can create a simple one by adding a picture and some text for each element of the service, laminating the sheets and then blu-tacking them in order each week. You could take a picture and share via social media or on a projector as well. Visual timetables can be particularly helpful for children who are new to church or who have additional needs.
Let them know what will happen in the service
This is helpful for all services, but is particularly important for families coming to baptism or dedication services. They will need to know at what point in the service the baptism will be, how they will know when to come up, where they should sit and what they will be expected to do. The Church of England website has excellent information on what to expect. If this fits with your tradition you could direct people here or adapt it so that it is specific to your church. Keep in mind that even if you’ve shared this, not everyone will have seen or remember it, so if you are leading the service drip feed this information as you go along and where possible have visual reminders (either on screens or in a service sheet or app).
On the day, it can be really helpful if you have one or two people at the door who clearly look like they are there to help out with any questions (lanyards, badges or T-shirts can help). If you know there are families coming with children, having one of your children’s leaders hanging around by the entrance to chat about options for kids is really helpful too.
Armed with this information, they will know what to expect but what is really helpful is to go a step further and give them options of how to engage with the service as you go along, even if they have had no previous experience of faith or church.
Here are some examples of how a service leader might introduce these ideas:
Worship: ‘One of the things we do here in church is to worship God. Worship is really just a word for how we communicate our love and thanks and wonder to God. You can worship in all sorts of ways, but we’re going to worship now by singing. Many people will stand and sing the words on the screen, so you can join in with this or remain seated if you feel more comfortable. If you don’t know the words it can be hard to follow along, feel free to just think about the words.’ Depending on your church’s practices, you might want to explain that the children might want to dance at the front, or join in using instruments, etc.
Confession: ‘During our services, we just like to pause to give us time to take stock of our week. We often come to church aware of things that have troubled us or times we might have not quite got things right. One of the wonderful promises in the Bible is that God loves to forgive, so this is a time when we can ask for forgiveness and a fresh start if that’s something we need to do.’
Offering: ‘Part of the way we worship God is to give back to him a little bit of what he has given us, so we pass round a basket/have a plate at the back/envelopes on your seats for people to give financially. The money will be used to (whatever applies here). There’s no obligation to give so just pass the basket on to the next person (or whatever applies here).
Communion: Most/all/some Sundays we celebrate communion when we gather together. It’s a way of remembering how much Jesus loved us when he died on the cross for us. So in a minute, we will be sharing bread and wine as part of the service. Anyone who loves Jesus is welcome to join us (or whatever your custom is). If you don’t want to receive communion, you can come up for a blessing instead (or whatever your custom is). The bread is/isn’t gluten free and the wine is/isn’t alcoholic. If you don’t want communion or a blessing, you can stay in your seat. Children (some churches have an age limit so mention this here) are welcome too.
And lastly, remember that this may be one of the few occasions that this family or their family and friends attend church. Pray for them before they even step through your doors and give them a positive experience of feeling welcomed and comfortable.
What would you add? We’d love to hear ideas and inspiration from where you are to help others. Get in touch and we can add it to this post.