I travel a lot for my ministry and get to visit a variety of congregations. As an adult visitor, I have noticed most churches usually have at least one or two people who are great at making a visitor feel welcome. When our daughter was a child though, I don’t recall her getting much attention as a visitor. Which is very interesting, because one of the top factors in choosing a church home is their ministry to children and teens.
You may not have much influence over what your church or program does with visitors, but you have almost total control over how visiting children or teens are treated when they are in your class. What if anything do you do for visitors? How do you make them feel a part of your classroom “family”? What does the way they are treated make them think about who God is and how He feels about them? Or Christians? It may be unfair, but any experience a child has while in your room can influence how they feel not just about you, but about Christians and even God.
So what are some things you can do to make sure kids or teens visiting your class feel welcome? They are probably quite a few things, but here are some of my favorites:
- Greet them warmly the second they enter your room. Often visitors slink in unnoticed and are never greeted at all. Make sure the first thing they experience is someone looking them in the eyes, smiling and saying how glad everyone is that they are in your class.
- Find out their names, if they live in your area and one or two interesting things about them. It seems strange, but often visitors are greeted with no effort made to learn their names. Make it’s because we assume they won’t be back anyway, but hearing your name makes people feel loved and accepted – even from strangers.
- Respect their personalities, but introduce them to other students. This is so important. If a child appears to be quiet and reserved, the very last thing they want is to be help up in front of the entire class and have the focus on them for several minutes. Extroverts on the other hand, will probably love the extra attention. For the shy child, quietly introduce him or her to one or two students close to where the visitor is seated. Much more than that and it can make an already uncomfortable situation seem overwhelming.
- Train your “regular” students on how to treat visitors. Every student in your class should know to automatically introduce themselves to anyone they don’t know and ask them to sit near them (or introduce to a child to sit beside if they are at the age where boys and girls sit separately – by choice!). Have them ready to explain anything in your class that someone who has never been to any church before might not understand or know how to do. Encourage them to offer to help visitors find bathrooms and other important landmarks in your building. Teach them to invite the visitor to return for another class or some other church function in the near future. Remind them how to ask questions to make the visitor feel like they belong.
- Do everything you can to make the visitor feel like a “regular”. Don’t say things like, “I know you won’t be there because you are a visitor” or “You don’t know this because you are a visitor.” They may be true statements, but continually reminding someone they are a visitor, makes them feel as if that status of “outsider” can never be changed.
Taking the time and effort to make visitors feel welcome to your class will also make them more likely to want to return in the future. You have some eternity changing things to share with them, so make it easy for them to return and learn more.