Children’s Check-in Matters to your Ministry (Yes, Yours!)
Whether you are children’s ministry leader or not, if you work in a church that serves people with kids, then your church’s child check-in process has a tangible impact on your ministry. A well-developed children’s check-in process is critical to just about every ministry at your church, whether it’s Bible study, community groups, preschool classes, outreach, hospitality, or worship services. Beyond the function of taking attendance, this process provides the first interactions with church leaders and sets the tone for the day. Bad check-in experience can leave parents feeling stressed or worried about their kid, while a good process leaves parents feeling comfortable and assured that they can focus on why they came to church. Let’s talk about some reasons why your check-in process is worth a closer look and some tips to help take your process from good to great.
Child check-in is one of the first things new families do when they attend your church. There is a lot of research that says a person decides in the first seven minutes whether or not they will return to a church they are visiting. That’s about the time it takes to park the car, find the nursery, and maybe get a coffee or use the restroom. Children’s check-in might be the first or only time a guest interacts with people from your church before they sit down for the actual worship service. These first impressions matter, big time. Parents are deciding in this moment to leave their children with people they don’t know. It is critical to connect and convey security and “trustability” in these moments. Parents need to be assured that their kids will be in a safe and friendly environment where things are under control. A good check-in process helps you gather the information you need to care for the kids, and follow up later with the family. A great process makes this easy and quick so the parents can grab a cup of coffee and still get to the service on time. It can build that needed trust and help mom and dad relax and prepare to worship. On the other hand, a process that’s lacking in efficiency can lead to concerns.
This note from a friend who recently visited a church without a good child check-in system conveys the concern and the heart of parents perfectly:
“Most importantly to parents, we want our kids to be safe – spiritually, emotionally, and physically; safe in all respects. And we want that to happen in a secure environment so that we are free to worship and socialize without fear for their wellbeing. We also need the process that ensures the safety to be both easy and sophisticated. So, unless you are a church plant of fifty congregants, and the five-member children’s area is ten steps from where the adults gather, I will not leave my kid with you if you don’t have an electronic check-in system. This is a deal- breaker, no matter how much I love about the rest of your church.”
Any good check-in process will track attendance. But don’t stop there – a great check-in process will allow you to run reports on that attendance data to aid in making ministry decisions. Data trends can help you fine-tune your operational logistics, and help you make decisions – view the data for teacher/child rations for each service time to decide which service could use an extra volunteer. Pull reports from several summer in a row to estimate how many new families you can expect the Sunday after VBS. Which regular attenders haven’t shown up in a few weeks? Did they switch services? Or should someone from the church reach out and see if everything is okay? Using data to see trends over time and translating that into personal connection is truly using technology to advance your ministry.
I wish we lived in a world where I didn’t have to worry about taking my shoes off at the airport or who was picking up kids from Sunday School, but we don’t. Even if you run a children’s program with less than 10 kids in it, the reality is that security has to be a top priority. Check-in plays a vital role in ensuring the safety of the kids in your care.
A good check-in system will pair the adult and the child with a unique code, printed on the child name tag and the parent pick-up tag. A great check-in system will text the parent the code so they don’t lose it (can I get an amen?). Even if you don’t do electronic check-in, you can buy nametags like this that come printed with codes. If you do use electronic check-in, you should have some of these pre-printed nametag forms around as a backup. This code allows the parent to decide who is able to pick up their child by deciding who has that pick-up sticker. By matching up the stickers of kids and grown-ups, you give parents peace of mind that their kids are protected.
When it comes to security, consistency is key. It is so important to follow the same check-in process for both regulars and visitors. Don’t let the regulars at church slip through the cracks, just because you know them personally. Consistent enforcement is key for a successfully secure environment, so you need to regularly remind your volunteers of the importance as well. Don’t single out new people for security and don’t make assumptions about anyone. Period.
A good check-in process will keep you from overlooking safety details such as allergies or special situations. A great check-in process will make this happen automatically without anyone having to remember. Is Dillon allergic to dairy? Does Addison only get picked up by her grandma? These important details can be stored on file and printed on name tags each time they check in to keep your volunteers in the loop and ease the burden on parents to explain each time.
Finally, check-in helps facilitate good communication between parents and the children’s team. For instance, it’s helpful for teachers to know if a child is staying for one service or two, and it’s always a good idea to be able to reach a parent if there is a question or concern. A good check-in system will let you discreetly alert a parent in service that they are needed in the nursery with a pager or a code on the screen. A great check-in system will let you text a parent directly with the specifics so they aren’t worried as they head toward the children’s wing.
A great check-in system will also allow for easy, targeted communication outside of service times. Using the contact information stored in your child check-in system, you could quickly send an email to parents about what next week’s Bible story will be so they can read it together ahead of time. For a more targeted example, you could choose to send an email only to parents whose children attended during a certain service time or a specific class/age. For example, if there was a potential exposure to the chicken pox for children who attended the 10:30am third grade class, you could let only the affected parents know. Targeted communication to parents and classes builds trust and relationship, a win-win!
Training and Leadership
Any process can be made or broken by the people involved. Select the leaders for your check-in team with prayer and discernment. These leaders are so often the face of the church, the first person parents talk to when they enter the building. Train them on check-in processes and software, security practices, hospitality, and compassion. Even better, have them shadow an experienced staff member one Sunday before doing it on their own. While these leaders aren’t teaching Bible study, they play a vital ministry role. They have the opportunity to set the tone and pave the way for every other leader and ministry to be impactful.
Leverage Technology for Ministry
One way to take the next step in your process is to leverage technology. Do you have a form to fill out? Save parents time by offering that form online. Accept a photo of the pick-up sticker so dad doesn’t have to keep track of the paper one. Take full advantage of the features available through your church management software. One trend we see is to enable check-in from cell phones in the church parking lot for regular attenders. The stickers will be ready and waiting when the family walks in the door.
Going from Good to Great
As you look at your check-in process, think about how you can take yours from good to great. Look at it from the perspective of harried parents who are trying to get to church on time, and first-time guests who are looking for reassurances of security and trust. How can you make this process smooth and seamless each week?
If you need help selecting or evaluating a children’s check-in service, Enable can help! We’ve helped dozens of our clients and churches with this and would love to your church, too! Email us at [email protected] or give us a call at 866-397-2358 to have a conversation with us. We’d love to serve you.