Creating a Welcoming Environment for New Families


In our post-Easter journey we have fresh memories of new faces, drawn to the church through the magnet of Holy Week. I just met a new young couple in our community. They sought me out because they want to pursue membership and needed additional information. Before the service was over they’d stepped into our gathering space and found me there, so we talked. Their three-year old daughter, excited that church was almost over, began chattering and burning off a little bit of energy. One congregation member still engaged in the service turned around and audibly “shushed” this young girl. I was embarrassed and apologized on behalf of the parish staff for the way their daughter was treated. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they walked out the doors of the church and never came back.

Although this was not the first time I’ve experienced off-putting behavior in our community, my eyes were opened to the plight of parents. Many just do not feel welcome in church. They may take turns attending service so someone stays home with the rambunctious toddler or the crying infant. Some families hold off coming until their child is in school, and then they have to help their child get acclimated to “appropriate church behavior.”

But I long for our church to be a place of welcome and acceptance for all who enter our doors, regardless of age. When we gather for service, the focus is not on my personal prayer time with God—rather, it’s about our communal worship. If we want to see young families in church, we need to help them feel welcome. My pastor tells the congregation each week: “if you’re home is here, welcome home.” If we truly mean that, we need to help young families feel at home in our community.

So, what can we do?

First, a welcoming mindset must permeate our community—a mindset that is intentionally thankful for the presence of young children. We all know that children are not the future of our church; they’re important contributors already. In all our communications (bulletins, social media posts, announcements) we need to welcome young children and their parents to our activities and service. We want parents to know that their children, regardless of age, are welcome in our community and that the community knows to welcome them.

Here are a few other practical considerations as we strive to make our congregations welcoming to families with young children:

  • Take a look around your church and consider where parents can put strollers and baby carriers. In my community, many families walk or bike to church, especially during nice weather, but we lack storage areas in our worship space. That means our gathering space has been transformed into a de facto “stroller parking” zone during our 10 a.m. service. Strollers and bikes are out of the way, yet accessible if a family needs them.
  • Prepare small activity bags for families to pick up when they enter the church and return following the service. These bags could include a child’s order of service, faith-based coloring pages/activities, crayons, church or faith-related board books, small faith-based toys. Hang the bags in a prominent location in your gathering space and let parents know they are there for them to use.
  • Make sure parents know they can get up and stand in the back with a child at any time.Encourage them to let their children walk in the back of the worship space or the gathering space, as long as they are accompanied by an adult. When we hear a crying child, our pastor often smiles and reminds the congregation that a crying child is a blessing. It’s powerful when this message is communicated in the moment.
  • Encourage your pastor to intentionally include family-friendly and child-friendly illustrations and explanations in the sermon time. This can be as simple as a short take-away for children and families embedded in the sermon each week.
  • Reserve a space for families with young children in the front pews. Children may be more attentive if they can see what is going on in the sanctuary. Let parents know that their children will not be a distraction if they sit in the front, or if they need to get up with them during the service.
  • If your community has Kids’ Church or formation for children during the “adult service,” consider that some families may want to keep their children with them in the main service. Do your hospitality ministers and congregants welcome them into the main service? Or are parents informed that their children are expected to be elsewhere? When you let families know the options available for young children, present them as options, not mandates.
  • Work with your hospitality ministers to ensure they know how to help parents with young children if they have questions or needs. Is there a space where mothers can nurse an infant? How about changing tables in the bathrooms? What provisions are in place for families if a child might have an accident while being potty-trained? Trained, helpful people in these situations can truly influence whether or not a family feels welcome in your community.

These ideas may seem simple, but they can make a big difference for young families. Something as simple as a smile, a greeting, and a thank-you from a member of the congregation can lessen the stress lparents feel about bringing their children to church. Remember how Jesus welcomed young children—He does it without reservation, and we can follow His lead.

Psalm 100:1-2 reminds us: “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful song.” Young children live out this truth as a witness to all of us—their voices help us rejoice in the Lord.

If you would like help as you explore what it means to infuse your church ecosystem with family-friendly welcoming ideas, reach out to connect with a Vibrant Faith Ministry Leadership Coach. Just CLICK HERE for more information. Coaching is an intentional process that moves you forward into the future you long for.  

Rosina Hendrickson is a member of Vibrant Faith’s Coaching Team. She’s the Training and Events Coordinator for Liturgy Training Publications and the Coordinator of Family Faith Formation at St. Thomas the Apostle, both in Chicago, Illinois. She also facilitates STEP courses through the University of Notre Dame, a platform for online adult formation.


Get Updates About Coaching Services

Thank you for Registering