If you are the average church, you have new children visit your church on a regular basis. Perhaps a friend invited them. Maybe they came to an event like a Fall Festival. Or it could be they came because someone invited their parents to attend. Sometimes their family just moved to the area and they come to check out your church.
That being said, children's ministries that grow, not only have first-time guests, but they also see a good percentage of those first-time guests return and get plugged in.
So what is it that draws a kid back to a church? What is it that causes some churches to grow because they see first-time guests become regular attendees?
As I work with churches across the nation and internationally, I have identified, what I believe, are the key factors for drawing kids back to church. Let's talk about it.
Great first experience. I believe this is where it begins. If the child walks out of his or her classroom or worship environment and is asked the famous question "Did you have fun today?" and the response is - "It was boring," then if the child is the decision maker about this, (and the child usually is) the family will likely not be back.
If you want kids to come back to your ministry, then it needs to be a fun, exciting place. A place where kids can laugh. A place where kids can move around. A place were kids can talk. A place where kids can jump up and down while praising Jesus. A place where the decor is decorated with kid-friendly colors. A place where the lesson is engaging, relevant and meaningful.
If you expect kids to return, it is crucial that you get this right. If a child has a bad first experience, the family will probably not be back. It won't matter how many times you call, send a letter or text.
So start with looking at the experience you are offering children. If guests are not returning, work on their first experience.
Personal connection. The bells and whistles are important. But it also takes having the right people in place. The child needs to hear their name spoken. The child needs to be asked questions like "Where do you go to school?" and "What's your favorite movie?" and "What do you like to do for fun?" and "Do you have a pet?" and "When is your birthday?"
When a child feels loved and cared for they will come back to experience more of it.
For this to happen, you need to have kids in small groups. Whether it's in a traditional Sunday School classroom or in a large group/small group format, emphasize to your volunteers the importance of helping guests establish a personal connection to them and to other children in the room.
Personal follow-up. Once you've provided a great first experience for a guest, the next step is to make a personal follow-up contact. What does this look like? Showing up on their doorstep? Calling the parents on the phone? Sending the parents a text message? Sending the kid a follow up letter?
You have to determine what works best for your ministry. It might be one of these follow up methods or a combination of two. Whatever you decide, just make sure it fits the culture where you live. Just showing up at someone's door might not work in a city, but might work in a rural setting in the south.
Personally, what I have seen work the best is a follow up postcard. Make it handwritten and make it personal. Put something in the note that is unique to that guest. An example would be a guest that just moved to your community and came to try out your church. The note could mention that you are glad they came to your community and that the move from (former location) went well. If the guests say they like playing soccer, you can mention that in the note.
It's a big deal for a child to get a note in the mail. For us, as adults, we get mail (junk mail) nearly every day and toss it. But for a child to get a note makes their day.
Incentive to come back. One thing that I have personally seen work well is an incentive to return. At one church I served at, we decided to put a coupon on the follow-up postcard that we sent. The coupon said "Bring this back with you on your next visit and you get a free t-shirt." When we did this, we saw the number of guests who returned go up significantly. And the t-shirt had our ministry logo on it, which was a good way to advertise our ministry as kids wore them to school, sports practices and other times when they were out in their community.
One of the most strategic things you can do is close the back door. Your ministry will grow as you are able to draw kids back to your church and get them connected.
Your turn. What are your thoughts, ideas and insight into seeing kids return? Is there anything else you are doing to bring kids back? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.