First impressions are everything; this isn’t something new or mind blowing that I’m sharing with you. A lot of modern day churches have already stumbled upon the data that typical first-time guests have formed most of their opinions about your church in their first several minutes of interaction. At both the last church I worked at and the many churches I’ve visited, I have noticed churches making great strides to welcome and engage new people. Churches put up signs for new guests to turn on their blinkers upon arrival. They place volunteers in the parking lot, so they can wave at people as they drive in. They humbly ask for your information and provide gifts if you do so.

In my opinion, these are good things. I would even venture to say that this is progress for so many churches to be thinking about their service design with a guest in mind. However, as a parent of young children, I would venture to say that a lot of churches could “up” their first impression “game” for families. Regardless, of the emphasis put on welcoming new guests, I have personally wandered around many check-in stations and felt like they were not prepared for young families who needed to check-in their kids.

i feel your pain

In all transparency, the registration areas were always a weakness of my own ministry. I completely knew what do do, but it seemed that I could never keep everything in order long enough to actually create an enchanting or “Disney-like” experience. As the leader, trying to prioritize what’s important for the weekend experience, having enough volunteers to simply manage small groups always seemed to trump a need for check-in volunteers.

However, the first-time guest who doesn’t experience anything except the check-in experience might disagree. Dropping your kids off at a new location can be nerve racking, and an excellent experience can make a world of difference. Even just standing in a line with an anxiety ridden toddler can make someone new swear off church for a while. So, I implore you to consider rethinking these five things that make your check-in process terrible.

five things that make your kidmin checkin process terrible

#1 unfriendly people at the check-in desk

I used to have an amazingly faithful check-in volunteer who was not very friendly (New Jersey people in general, can be a little tough), but this person specifically, while great in so many ways came off as really unapproachable. As a leader, those types of situations can be hard to reconcile because the volunteer wanted to be there. It feels harsh if you have to move a volunteer because they aren’t a good fit, but you have to keep the bigger goals for your ministry at the forefront of your mind.

As you continue to find and recruit volunteers for this position, remember that “First Impressions” volunteers should be extremely friendly people. It would, of course, be great if they were administratively gifted too, but if they can make people feel welcome and at home everyone will be happier. People anticipate that friendly people will be in the House of the Lord, so make sure you not only meet guest’s expectations but surpass them.

#2 no one at the check-in desk

As a first-time guest when you encounter someone who is unfriendly or seemingly unhelpful it can be really frustrating, but nothing is more frustrating than trying to navigate a check-in system on your own. A parent attending for the first time should be able to be focused on their family and the transition of their kids to their appropriate environments. If they have to try to enter their own information into your system, or worse, figure out how to navigate your campus without assistance, then we have failed.

In my own personal ministry experience, there was very much an “us vs. them” mentality for check-in greeters for kid’s ministry, the greeters, and the first-time hosts for “big church”. This should not be the case. Every single person who is in a “First Impressions” ministry should be at least lightly trained to fill in the gap wherever necessary. If two people are holding the doors of your main building and a mom walks in with full hands asking where to go, someone should leave with her and escort her the entire way.

It’s not a terrible idea to have your “First Impressions” team up-to-date on all positions to help close the gaps of a guests’ experience. It’s SO much more important for a guest to have a seamless experience, then for someone to stay at their “post”.

Regardless, of how you manage and divvy up your job roles, not only should there be a check-in person at every station during check-in time, but everyone from every ministry should be looking out for a guest to help them have the best possible church experience.

#3 unreliable computer systems

I’m about to “preach”, so if you don’t think you’ll like that, just go ahead and scroll to point four. Here goes, if you have money for “awesome” lights, if you believe that creating a worship experience that will “change” people’s lives is important, if your church spends money on basically anything except your kid’s check-in system, then you have failed. Because if a parent has to stand in line for 10 minutes while the volunteers hand write tags because the computers are down again, this means one of two things.

a. they are outright missing your “awesome” worship experience OR

b. by the time they get inside, they will be so agitated they will not be able to enjoy it or worship, which is why they came to church.

Technology issues are the worst. So, buy the best equipment on the front end, so you can have an amazing experience for years to come. By years, I mean five or less because that’s how fast technology changes and if you expect it to last longer, maybe you should keep your iPhone for five years and see how well it fares.

First touches set the tone for the day. First impressions set the tone forever; this is an area that needs to be equipped and working on a regular basis. If you are not sure what kind of system to use or what kind of equipment to buy, then give us a call, and we will unbiasedly help you.

#4 over-complication of your process

Your process should be simple. I know that someone who is checking-in for the “first-time” will give you their information, and it’s imperative to you as a ministry leader who needs data to get those pertinent details. Regardless, it should be simple, short, painless and easy. If you’re not sure what that looks like take a few children with you to another church and see how complicated it is with them hanging on you while you fill out a card, then you’ll have a better idea.

At the least, there should only be ONE card per family to fill out. You should not plan to enter all their information into your computer while they stand there. They should be able to quickly get tags with their children’s names on them, and they should feel safe about dropping off their child. If it’s more complicated than that, keep paring down.

#5 long lines

I really do not like when I’ve been guilty of certain points myself, but I have definitely been guilty of the long line. Long lines often mean that you don’t have either point #1, enough volunteers or point #3, reliable technology. Reliable technology is key; you need to have easy-to-use computers, iPads or devices, and you need have several of them.

In my opinion, I do not prefer for families to have to check themselves in, I prefer for a volunteer to assist each family for a personal touch. However, for core families in your church, you could consider having a fast pass or self-check-in style line to help alleviate a backup. It also helps to have a separate station for first-time guests who will have to fill out information and “hold up the line”.

If you have extremely clear signage and fast technology, this will help with lines and room congestion, even without a lot of volunteers. However, volunteers are the backbone of our ministries. Having a lot of volunteers on hand to anticipate the needs of guests cannot be replaced by any type of self-help station. For help with revamping your own check-in process, system or team give us a call. We would love to assist you today.

There are a lot of problems that are really complicated to solve. However creating a check-in environment that works quickly and efficiently isn’t one. Make sure your equipment and check-in software are up to date and high quality. Recruit a few friendly volunteers and share with them how this area of ministry is critical for new families, and how they can possibly change a guest’s entire experience.

Make sure your process and paperwork are simple. Start there and you will already be making strides of progress. If you want to go above and beyond that by creating a fantastic welcoming environment, with high fives, balloons, costumes and wonder along the way, well then we’d love to see some pictures, because that’s just plain awesome!

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Stacia Stall

Stacia Stall

Chief Creative Officer

Stacia has over a decade of ministry experience, with the majority of that time leading next generation change. She has experience leading almost one hundred volunteers, and developing curriculum for kids and students. Stacia has a B.S. in Church Ministries and Biblical Studies, as well as experience educating in an elementary public school environment. She is also immensely creative and accomplished in teaching children about the wonder of God.