by Haley Link
As I walked into my first Sunday school classroom, I felt like I was going to be sick. I didn’t know anyone in the room and I wanted so badly to go home. The rest of the third graders were opening their Bibles and I was sitting there thinking, “What is a Bible?”
They had us all read from Deuteronomy and none of it made sense. I didn’t even know who Jesus was. I felt miserable being out of the loop when it came to the Bible and not having any friends. I was one of the many kids that walk our churches with no knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done for them. Although, I despised going to church when my family started attending. I eventually learned to love going to church and learning about Jesus.
It’s almost laughable how God used my elementary school experiences to impact me as an adult. I am a Director of Children’s Ministry now. I am passionate about making kids feel welcome and loved because of my third grade experiences. As a Children’s Ministry Director, my goal is to train and equip parents to be faith educators. They are with their children far more than I am.
Our congregations are jam packed with lifelong LCMS members and we certainly love that, but we can’t ignore our members that are newer to the LCMS or even the faith for that matter. It goes without saying that each family in our congregations is valuable and important to us and God. It can be challenging to know where to start with our new families. It is important to note that there is a difference between a new Christian and a Christian from another denomination.
So here are some tips for engaging new families into the church:
“Where are we?”
Walking into a church for the first time can be intimidating for our new families. They might not have friends yet and could be confused on what is going on, kind of like third grade me. It is important our church leaders introduce themselves to these families, so they feel more comfortable talking about where they are in their faith journey, but also so they know who to go to when they need help or advice. As children’s ministry is my primary area, I always make a point to introduce myself to the kids in the family. We want the kids to be comfortable as well as the parents.
“I don’t get it.”
A rule of thumb that I use when teaching parents and kids is to never assume that they get it. It could be the most repeated Bible story ever and I will still give a quick synopsis for the whole group. That also means that I explain any “churchy” words to the group as a whole. It is a great teaching moment for all, whether a recap or new information, it’s worth the detour in your lesson.
I am constantly saying to parents, “It’s okay if you don’t know that Bible story, you can learn it with your kids.” We too often expect parents to have all the answers, but it is okay if they don’t. They can learn and grow in their faith at the same pace as their child. As long as parents get why it is important to be in God’s Word and learn about Him, everything is good. God just wants them to be a part of His family and so do we!
A practical application is to have easy to use resources for newer families. These can be children’s Bibles, devotional, or Bible story books. These resources take the pressure of the parents to know everything.
“Can we go to that?”
We want all families to be engaged in the events and programs that our congregation is putting on. New families generally just need an invitation to attend. They might be anxious about going to an event where they don’t know others. So being invitational and inclusive to our new families is the most welcoming thing that our congregations can do.
“Everyone seems to get this, but I still don’t.”
Starting anything new in our lives is full of excitement and fear, it is the same with church. Families that are at new to the faith or LCMS can be overwhelmed and fearful that they are behind in their knowledge of everything going on. These families need our encouragement and enthusiasm. They need to know that we believe in them, but most importantly God is with them in this season of life.
When working with new families, getting them engaged is as easy as putting yourself in their shoes. If you don’t know how to engage them, think what you would want if you were new to the church. These families have so much potential and we need to maximize on that. All our kids need is to be told who Jesus is and how much He loves them, but it doesn’t hurt to also introduce them to a new friend and help them feel comfortable.
Strengthening families is one of the Missouri District’s critical targets. We’ve hosted Tell the Next Generation: A Family Ministry Conference and are dedicate to equipping congregations, church workers and volunteers with resources and ideas to reach families.