So, this past week, I tried to sign up my three year-old for a month of classes at The Little Gym. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a chain of more than 300 locations worldwide that provides a 3 dimensional learning approach to getting little people active, while simultaneously boosting their brain and trying to encourage them to be good humans.

Before I could even sign him up, they said I could trial him in a class and they could fit him in the next week. The night before we got to class, we got a text from Miss Katie.

text from miss katie at the little gym

Then when we arrived at The Little Gym, we saw something hanging right on the door, waiting for us. A welcome sign with my little guy’s name on it. He can’t spell a lot of things, but he can spell his name, and he was thrilled!

the little gym experience

In a world where first touches and personalization are everything, The Little Gym was winning. It didn’t stop there, he was greeted immediately by one of his teachers, and personally walked over to his class. The class consisted of about 15 kids who operated in large group and then broke into smaller groups of 4 kids, each with their own teacher. 

The class is guided by a soundtrack that takes the kids on a journey, where they pretended to fight pirates and go on crazy adventures. The balance beam was actually a tree branch they were navigating over a river, and so on. The class ended with all of the parents being invited to go on a dinosaur journey with their pre-schooler for about 5 minutes, before they did the closing chant and song. Needless to say, my preschooler asked to go back. Then after all that, they gave him a free water bottle. He thought he was a king, he bragged to his brother for an hour upon his return.

As someone who has spent years in KidMin and NextGen ministries and also as the parent to two preschoolers, I couldn’t help but think of churches everywhere and my heart was a little sad. I was sad because this corporation is doing a great job at all the things I work so hard to help Children’s Ministries succeed at. And they might have been doing it better, because they have a budget and paid staff. Not to mention when a parent pays $80 a month for something, they typically show up consistently. 

So, I asked myself, what can I learn from this fantastic experience?

kids and preschoolers appreciate first touches too

Often when we create a first touch it’s for the parent, but little kids appreciate the details too. The Little Gym had an advantage, because they knew we were coming in advance, so while you might not be able to print a first time guest’s name AHEAD OF TIME, there’s no reason you couldn’t have a chalkboard, where as soon as kids walked in, new friends got the special treatment. Additionally, First Impressions Teams at most churches give a gift to new guests when they visit the welcome booth or share their information. Why couldn’t you do the same thing for kids? Data shows kids are a HUGE part of the decision in deciding what church a family will attend, and a kid is much more likely to wear the t-shirt or use the water bottle from the church, than an adult ever would. Maybe your budget doesn’t allow for this all the time, but Easter is only 6 weeks away, and I think it’s at least worth considering for a special event week. 

preschoolers are looking for more than babysitting

There is something so special about the curious mind of a preschooler. They are fun magnets waiting for something silly to go down. While tons of kids go to preschool, a lot stay home and play their iPads and watch tv all week. This means a few things, you have to be more engaging than an interactive game or show for them to want to go to church. You also probably don’t want to just watch a show, because they can do that at home (and not have to change out of their pjs.) Lastly, there is no better age to take them on a journey into the mystery of our great God. Kids want for church to be awesome, so try to surpass their expectations. 

kid’s church is a gift to parents

If your church’s “Kid Experience” is better than The Little Gym, then you’re basically winning, because while churches do encourage people to give their tithes and offerings, all of the fantastical things that happen in your KidMin are free. That is one thing that The Little Gym cannot say, and while all of the staff there seemed to love their job, I bet they don’t want to be there as much as one of your volunteers, because your volunteers love kids so much that they choose to give of their time each week. They have the privilege of loving on kids and inviting them into the best story ever told. If you, as a ministry leader, treat Children’s Ministry like the special gift that is, parents will notice. 

the parent connection is key

Pickup time is crazy. I’ve never been to a church, where pick up time in Children’s Ministry wasn’t at least a little crazy. However, there is some definite room for brainstorming and improvement on the process. I cannot say enough, how much my little one LOVED to have me “pretending” with him for those last 5 minutes. Perhaps in your own KidMin, you can do a “final song” that includes parents, so that small group leaders have a better opportunity to connect with them. Or maybe you do a tiny presentation in your preschool each week, where they recite the bottom-line or memory verse all together, “performance style” for parents. So, that your parents feel connected to what you do.  

I can say from personal experience that your “connection card” or similar item, while important, typically goes in the trash much faster than you’d like to believe, but if you can show or include parents on their kid’s journey that will go much further. No parent is more interested in their children, than a preschool parent. Because that stage requires so much protection, parents are still super tuned in. Lean into that and make it a priority to partner with them and include them from the beginning, so that they begin to expect that as the norm.

I hope the next time you visit The Little Gym, or Disney World or even the Rainforest Cafe it encourages you to…

dream bigger and work harder to engage the hearts of the little ones in your care

I am passionate about helping churches revamp their Kid’s Ministries to provide experiences better than The Little Gym. Consider signing your KidMin Leader up for Church VIP. We will dream alongside them, and help push them to new levels of success.