Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week Andrae Jones from One Community Church in Plano, Texas, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to talk about creating a “wow” experience for first-time guests to your ministry.
LET’S GET IN TO THE EPISODE
Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk about the big ideas of kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week, Andrae Jones from One Community Church in Plano, Texas, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to talk about creating a “wow” experience for first-time guests to your ministry.
We get started with a big 1980s Whassssup! from Kellen. That’s how you know this is gonna be a great episode. And what’s up today is first time guests in your children’s ministry. How do you welcome them and follow up with them?
Gina and Kellen share recent first-time visiting experiences. Kellen stayed at a hotel that placed a diffuser in a hutch that made his hallway smell incredible. He felt comforted and relaxed before even reaching his room.
Mike references the hotel that greets you by name and offers you a warm cookie. Mike’s Words of Wisdom: Never, ever say no to a warm cookie.
Gina visited a very small restaurant in Nashville with limited seating. The hosts navigated it so warmly and smoothly she never felt claustrophobic or inconvenienced. She felt important, even though she knew she was simply another diner.
First time experiences are vital! That’s why we’ve invited Andrae Jones, Children’s Director at One Community Church in Plano, Texas, to share his incredible first time visitor process.
Some things to know about Andrae
- He’s a military brat.
Kellen points out that he, himself, is just a brat.
- He loves movies.
Favorite movies: Andrae calls Jurassic Park AND Star Wars. Mike claims The Matrix. Gina goes for A New Hope. And Kellen chooses ET.
- Andrae’s kids are 12 and 10.
Which means he’s an Uber driver without the tips.
1. Why is a first-time guest’s experience so important?
Andrae: If you win the kid, you win the family.
If you want to connect, you have to do it instantly. Parents are entrusting you with their precious cargo. It’s on us to ensure we do everything we can to make sure their experience is great from beginning to end.
2. Where does the “beginning” start?
Andrae: It used to be when they walked in the door, but now it starts on your web site. I want a kid to peer over their parent’s shoulder and say, “I want to go there.” They see kids who look like them and a fun environment.
On site, your parking team should engage new visitors. Sometimes volunteers at Andrae’s church will wear a Mickey Mouse hand. Do something fun and unexpected.
Children’s ministry should partner with the larger guest services team. Designate first time guest parking; signs can instruct them to put on their flashers to let the parking team know.
You want to prevent visitors from walking over half the building before they figure out where they are going! Communicate and delegate well.
The moment our volunteers see someone new, they greet them and walk them to our kids area. We take the guessing out of it.
It’s easy to focus on the adults and paper work, while the kid is standing there lost. Designate volunteers to focus on the kid.
Your best tools—
Exploding fist bumps
Gina: When we engage a kid, it says to parents, “my kid has a place to belong here.”
Kellen recently had a first-time family at his church. While the mom was dealing with check in details, the two kids were staring blankly at nothing. Kellen quickly engaged them.
He’s 6’7”. This involves taking a knee.
Move away from the mentality that each team is its own silo. Everyone is part of the kids team. Volunteers on the parking and greeting teams see the kids first; they’re on the frontlines of kids ministry.
Mike shares about a guest service lady at their church who always stands at an entrance and seeks out kids to high five. It stands out.
Mike’s Disclaimer: Not me. I’m an introvert. I try to avoid all physical contact.
3. Talk about first-time visitor gifts. Are they worth the budget dollars? What works well?
Andrae: In our experience, these are a big win for families. It eases them in. Give a gift to kid and one to the parent.
Kid gifts – Devotional, toys, fruit snacks/candy
Parent – Bag with information on the ministry and next steps; Phase card for their child’s age
You can do something like a yellow backpack for new kids. This makes them stand out and is a great reminder for staff and volunteers to make special effort to connect.
Mike points out that Disney does this with a first-time guest or birthday button; you get the special touch. Whether it’s button, sticker, or something else, find a way to make it clear that someone is a first-time guest.
You can also do something like place a greeter at the kids’ environment door handing out candy. Regular attenders and new kids can go to them, rather than being singled out.
It’s pointed out that some parents don’t want their kids to have candy. Is this a mortal sin?
4. How much information do you collect from first-time guests?
How do you get the basic information you need – but avoid being that annoying salesman at the store who won’t leave guests alone after an initial check in?
Andrae: We use Fellowship One software and make sure we get allergy info (goes on the child’s nametag) and parents’ contact information. We do ask for address and email; some bypass it, but we don’t force the issue.
We send a postcard to every new kid Monday, as well as an email follow up.
The bare minimum: Parent’s name, child’s name, any allergy information, and your contact information.
Gina: Make sure you’ve got all the required information to get them checked in and be able to contact the parent. Follow up information can be encouraged but optional.
Kellen: We get kid’s name, age, and must have parent’s phone number for safety. Anything after that is optional.
Kellen sometimes hunts down parents after a service is out to get an address, but does it in a friendly way.
Gina will contact with text or phone call and say, “We have something for your child (often handwritten card) – can you give us your mailing address?” Sometimes parents don’t feel comfortable handing out information, but when they know that it’s something for their child, they are much more open to it.
5. Do you have a specific first-time guest “lane”?
Andrae: We have an entire first-time guest area that’s visible and obvious.
Yes, he had to do some serious maneuvering to get it!
It even includes a Phase information kiosk.
Gina: We have a challenge to make our first-time guest area visible. In one of our campuses, you have to get halfway through lobby before you see anything kid related. Our best solution is to build a strong partnership with the greeting team. They recognize first-time visitors and immediately escort families back.
If you don’t have visibility, use human signage and leverage volunteers to care for first-time visitors.
Kellen jumps in to say, “I think that’s great, but—”
Gina cautions him to get his “but” out of her way.
Because we take linguistics seriously on the OKP.
Kellen points out that visibility should always be a part of the conversation. Kellen’s church meets at a high school campus—
Outdoor style, because California. Where the weather is always perfect.
We know, Kellen, we know.
—They place two giant banners outside: one for the church and one for kids ministry. They moved kids’ check-in to this banner in front before families go in. It’s a long walk to the classrooms then, but arrival and check-in is a one-stop shop.
Confused parents can be fussy parents.
Gina: If they show up on time, they’re late.
Andrae: You can even use simple things like balloons and stickers on the ground to help raise visibility.
Mike: Make it obvious. Parking. Greeting team. Do what you can with what you have to make [the first-time guest experience] intentional and special.
6. Let’s talk about first-time guest follow up.
Andrae: We connect with families as fast as we can while the experience is still fresh. Our goal is that, within 48 hours, we connect with that family by phone to see how they are doing. We’re not trying to sell anything. Is there anything we can do better?
It shouldn’t feel like a robo call.
Then we send an email that starts a 4-week follow-up process.
Kellen: Why 48 hours?
Andrae: Someone was willing to give you their information; it’s our responsibility to be willing to do something with it – while it’s still fresh in their mind. If I call Sunday or Monday, they are still connected. If I call Friday, everything has happened since then.
Mike: Is that church as a whole, or just kids?
Andrae: It’s 48 hours for kids and students. We want to make that connection.
Mike: Even if they didn’t have a great experience, we can start making adjustments on the fly as we see patterns.
Andrae: It also speaks to next steps. We have Bible study Wednesdays, so if I connect Monday, I can say, “We would love to see you Wednesday. We have childcare.”
Gina: Do you make calls or delegate?
Andrae: It’s a combination.
Guest service owns the process, but Andrae makes sure to do some of the calls, especially if something was great or went wrong.
They keep notes in Fellowship One and use Google Sheets as well.
Pro Tip: Google Sheets is free. Christians love free!
Mike: Do you do anything for kids?
Andrae: Guest Services volunteers write a handwritten note to every kid, right there. We try to get the person who checked them in to do it, and then put it in the mail Monday.
Mike: In the digital age, a piece of parchment in the mail is a huge thing. Very personal.
Andrae read about someone who does a little video message and sends it to each kid.
Mike: That’s next level!
It doesn’t matter your budget. It’s your intentionality of thinking of your first-time guests before they enter your building and then what you do afterward.
Set aside a short time this week on your own or with you team to consider how a first-time guest experiences your ministry. Consider:
- Web site
- Parking lot
- Main entrance
- Kids ministry check in
- First-time visitor gifts
- Follow up
Then pick ONE new thing to do for first-time families, even if it’s just picking up the phone on Monday to call someone who came for the first time on Sunday!