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Communicating Clearly with Guest Parents: It's a Good Thing!

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

Can you hear it? Mandy’s Mom is talking. She says to Mandy’s Dad as they look at the church website about childcare for 2-year-old Mandy, “Can you understand how this works? I can’t make any sense of it.”

I have said it myself contemplating a visit to church with the possibility of my granddaughter attending.

So, what is a parent to do when they have opened the church website on Saturday night hoping to learn what to expect for Mandy, only to find the information inadequate? Brave the unknown with Mandy in tow and hope that it all works out? Check another church website and see if children’s Sunday morning programming is any clearer? Or fold-up the laptop and wait for another inclination to try a church visit somewhere else on another Sunday?

Given my experience with church communication addressing childcare online, I am quite sure that lots and lots of churches are missing out on potential guests simply due to inadequate messaging about childcare.

And the church website is just part of the problem. Adding to the confusion are other church communication channels such as signage, bulletin, handouts, follow-up materials, policy and procedures, etc.

Here’s what I have found in some of my guest experiences:

1. Childcare information is simply lacking. Substantive and key pieces of information needed by parents are missing, e.g., there may be no information for Mandy’s age-group mentioned in the description of childcare services: services provided for preschoolers through 6th grade is fully detailed but there is silence about what is available for a 2-year-old.

2. The information provided to parents about childcare is inconsistent. The message is different on the website, the bulletin, the handouts, the signage, and the spoken word, etc. How is it that a parent is supposed to know what to expect when in 4 different places there are 4 different messages about what is happening for a 2-year-old during the Sunday morning experience? Mandy’s parents are confused.

3. The pertinent childcare information is scattered about. If a parent is to learn what is available for their children, they are made to dig it out of multiple web pages or links or handouts or announcements, etc. One page might tell about Nursery; another will address older children; another will offer times and locations; still another will describe registration and curriculum, etc. The good news? The information is available. The bad news? Like gold in the mountains, it is not easy to find and stretches the parent’s resolve to discover it before they give up.

4. The childcare information is wrong. It is simply not accurate. It used to be accurate prior to the change in service times 6 months ago, but the relevant childcare information wasn’t updated with that change. If Mandy’s parents follow the current information today only to find out, “Oops, we changed that months ago; it’s not that way anymore,” the results are problematic not only for the parent but also for the child.

None of that happens at your church, right? But, it happens in lots of other churches, almost routinely.

There are several causes:

1) Churches lose track of their communication channels for childcare. For example, they don’t account for the little pamphlet that was printed 3 years ago and it continues to be part of the Guest Appreciation take-home gift every Sunday (despite having all the outdated info). SOLUTION: inventory everything that you are saying to parents about childcare so that as changes are made in the programming, the changes can be incorporated into the communication channels (website, social media, bulletin, guest follow-up, bulletin boards and monitors, handouts, policy and procedures, etc.)

2) Church websites are too frequently written with view to an in-house audience, i.e., they are written as if they are being read by their own church membership only, failing to consider that the general public is also reading the content. Because church insiders know what they need to know, content is often written in an abbreviated manner, with less information, less explanation, less detail; in short, the outsider (with no insider advantages) is provided less than he needs to know. SOLUTION: review the content of your web communications and other publications from the perspective of an outsider that has no insider information. Better still, have someone on the outside, review it for you from a guest perspective and addressing all age groups. And then, write content in a friendly and fully informative fashion so the guest does not have to guess --- i.e., read between the lines and weave the pieces together --- what will happen with their child when they get to church.

3) Churches don’t account for how a virtual (online) guest reviews the church website. The virtual guest is not likely to spend an extensive amount of time and view multiples of pages before he “bounces” off the site. Consequently, information spread here and there over the site is not likely to be found. SOLUTION: consolidate your guest information in one highly visible location (above the fold on the home page) and incorporate all childcare related information for the Sunday experience in one simple link.

The short answer is give parents what they need to know without making them having to figure it out on their own, With careful attention to all your guest-parent communications, you can assist your virtual guests over the Saturday night hump, “should we go or not,” and provide actual guests more favorable first impressions when they visit on Sunday morning.

What guest-parent communication snafus have you encountered? Working together, we can make it better for all. Share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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