Tips for Involving Parents of Preschoolers in Sunday School

by Gayle Lintz

Preschool Sunday School teachers understand that they are laying a valuable foundation of faith in young lives. But, truthfully, many preschoolers lose interest in church as they grow into youth and young adulthood. They begin to fall into the pattern of non-attendance that is set by the most important people in their lives: their parents.

So, what can you do to involve parents of preschoolers in church and Sunday School activities?

To adults on the "outside," the church sometimes seems like a club, with rules and regulations that nobody else knows or understands. Some parents, before they can think of attending a church event, must know they will be accepted. Having even one friend at church (that's you!) can help relieve the anxiety parents may feel.

Here are a few suggestions for getting the parents of preschoolers more involved in Sunday School and church.

Establish personal relationships through home visits

Frankly, a home visit will amaze most parents. Some will be gracious and invite you in; others will be suspicious. For a first visit, consider chatting briefly at the front door. Tell the parents how happy you are their child has visited your Sunday School. Describe an activity the child enjoyed.

Take a magazine, like HomeLife or ParentLife for the parents. Bring the child a book or game.

Communicate that you are looking forward to seeing the child again. Mention an activity you will provide on Sunday. Take your cues from the parents. Do they seem interested in your church? Give them information about Adult Sunday School classes and the worship service(s). If the parents seem defensive or uninterested, wait until another time; you don't want them to think their child is only welcome at church if they also come. If no one is at home, leave the magazine and write a message, identifying yourself and your church.

    Follow up on contacts with parents

    When the child has visited several times, make another effort to let the parents know how important their child is to you.

    Phone parents and chat briefly. Mention again your delight in their child and thank them for letting him attend.

    Send a card. If you take photographs of children in your Sunday School department, send a photograph through the mail like a postcard. Your message might say, "We enjoy Jackson so much at church. We thought you might like to see what we do here."

      Follow up on contacts with children

      Make children feel special, which lets their parents know you care about their child. Most young children do not get many phone calls.

      Telephone the child during the week to ask about her day and let her know you are thinking about her. Most preschoolers do not get much mail, either.

      A note on a colorful postcard can be a precious reminder of your affection. Describe an activity you are planning for Sunday, to help the child anticipate the wonderful time he will have at church - and let parents know he is expected.

        Work with adult Sunday School departments

        Enlist parents of other children in your department. Does the child play frequently with a particular child of Sunday School members? Work with that family to arrange a play date. Meet at a neutral place. You might ask both parents to bring their children and meet at the zoo for a picnic (or at a playground or children's museum, or other child-friendly space). The first meeting, you might offer to pay entrance fees.

        Does the child attend a school or child-care facility with other church children? Make church parents aware of this family. They could sit with them at parent meetings or make a point to greet them and chat a moment as they are taking or picking up their children each day. Help parents who do attend meet other adults.

          Take advantage of church-sponsored family events

          Does your church have a Parents Shopping Night with child care provided so parents can do holiday shopping? Some churches have events where children can come and make gifts for family members. Offer to pick up the child and take her to and from church.

          Does your church sponsor a churchwide holiday event? Invite the family and offer to meet at a particular place in the building. Better yet, bring them with you.

          Some parents are more willing to attend low-stress events at church. Consider planning a springtime picnic at a park near the church. Or, bring the child to VBS and encourage the parents to attend Family Night. Before an event, try to find adults with similar interests to the family you are inviting. Arrange for them to meet.

            Work with the teachers of siblings

            Be sincere. People who avoid church usually do so for a reason. They may have had a negative experience. They will be sensitive to hypocrisy. Avoid "feast-or-famine" outreach. Coordinate contacts, so parents are not overwhelmed one week and ignored for three.

            Suggest an event for preschoolers and children that includes all siblings in the family. A family skate night, a spring kite-flying party, a summertime pool party, or a movie party are possibilities.

              Examine your motives

              Never communicate that you are interested in the family because you want them to become church members. Let them know you like them and want to be friends with them, unconditionally.

              Pray regularly for the family and for guidance to meet their needs.

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