Welcoming New Families: An Interview with Danny Franks

As I began my new position as Pastor of Connection at the Journey--Tower Grove in January, I began looking for resources on how to do my new role. Jared encouraged me to check out a blog by Danny Franks. Danny had just opened an invitation to participate in a unique training opportunity called Confab. I signed up, and in February I had the opportunity to meet Danny and his amazing team. Over the next several months, 11 other people and I read books together and learned how to create a more welcoming experience at our churches. Danny is a great teacher and more importantly a godly man. So, I asked Danny if he would be willing to answer a few questions for the readers of Gospel Centered Family. Here's what we talked about:

Jeff: Tell me a little about your family. 

Danny: I'm just a few months shy of celebrating my 25 year anniversary with my high school sweetheart. Merriem is without a doubt my better half... the perfect complement in life, parenting, ministry, you name it. We have four kids: Jacob is 21 and Austin is 20... both are in leadership at a local Chick-fil-A. Jase is 15 and a high school sophomore. Haven is six and about to start second grade, which--to hear her tell it--is a Really Big Deal. 

Jeff: Would you mind describing your role and the context of your church?

Danny: I started at the Summit in 2003 with a one-sentence job description: I was to close the back door in a rapidly growing church. My first task was to develop our membership class and structure a few opportunities to plug in. Through the years I've held different roles from small groups guy to campus pastor, but my favorite (and current) role is that of guest services: I oversee those systems at all of our campuses and for any events. 

Jeff: Why do you have a passion for people connecting? 

Danny: When I was interviewing for my job - and questioning with whether this was even a role for me - I remember hearing the story of a fringe attendee who had taken her own life. I didn't know the full story, but couldn't shake the feeling that it might not have happened had she felt known and loved. That's what I want: for the church to be a place where people believe we knew they were coming, we had a plan for when they showed up, and we can't wait for them to return. I want to pave the road to Jesus with so many kind words and actions, that people won't be able to resist asking how they can be a part of it.  

Jeff: What is one of the most common mistakes churches make when seeking to help guests feel welcome?

Danny: I think it comes down to simply not being aware. It's not that we don't recognize that we have guests, it's more often that we assume someone else is taking care of them. As inorganic as it sounds, we must systematize hospitality so that there are no more assumptions of care. We have to form a team, a strategy, and a follow up plan to move people from first-time to second-time guests. 

If there's a close second, it's that we lose the guest mentality. We forget to view our parking lot, our signage, our building, our language, and our traditions through the eyes of guests. What confuses them? Frightens them? Causes anxiety? Makes them curious? Angry? Aggravated? If we can simply remember how we feel in a new situation - whether it's at a job, in a restaurant, in a new neighborhood, or at the mall - we can apply that to about 95% of church situations and make our guests' experience better.

Jeff: Elaborate on that. How can we cultivate greater awareness of guests in our churches? 

Danny: It goes back to thinking from the mindset of a guest, looking at the situation through their eyes, and simply remembering that the ultimate goal is not to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31), but to "welcome others as Christ has welcomed you" (Romans 15:7). When we approach the guest experience from that perspective, it changes everything. 

It also helps us to not only form systematic approaches, but to have the impetus to live organic lives of hospitality. It allows us to lavish kindness and grace on people who are not like us, because we remember that we too were once outsiders. It gives us the chance to not just talk about the gospel with our words, but to demonstrate the gospel with our lives.

Jeff: How can churches help new families and kids feel welcome to a church? 

Danny: I'm convinced that if parents believe that their kids are safe, having fun, and (for parents who are already Christ followers) being exposed to the gospel, that is 90% of the battle. 

  • Safe: communicate your security procedures. Offer new parents a tour of your facility. Talk to them about drop off and pick up procedures, volunteer-to-kid ratios, etc.
  • Fun: is your kids' space colorful? Energetic? Are the leaders engaging? One of my favorite anecdotes from Disney history is that when the park in Anaheim was being constructed, Walt made his Imagineers strap on knee pads and "walk" the park from the perspective of a three year old. The effect - among others - was that windowsills were lowered so that kids could get in on the fun. Is your facility set up for kids or their parents?
  • Gospel: communicate the air war and ground war to parents. Air war is your overall strategy - the benchmarks that you will be hitting over the course of their child's life. Ground war is the takeaways that kids get each week: what is the one gospel truth you're instilling? 

Jeff: What are three books you would recommend for a church leader wanting to explore how to be more intentional in welcoming guests?

Danny: First Impressions by Mark WaltzBe Our Guest by Theodore Kinni,  and The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli

Jeff: What other ways would you recommend to help indiviudals and churches grow in helping people feel welcome? 

Danny: Get out of your church. I think we overlook opportunities to learn from other organizations and companies that are doing guest services well (and poorly!). The next time you're in a fast food restaurant, the mall, or a vacation destination, take note of what made you feel included and what made you feel left out, and practice (or avoid!) those things accordingly.

For more formal training, my team offers Weekenders (behind the scenes look at our guest services training and weekend experience), One-Day Workshops (targeted, practical training on guest services and volunteer culture), and Confab (a small coaching network for ministry practitioners). Find out more at dfranks.com/speaking.  

I'm grateful for Danny's willingness to answer my questions about connecting new families. What questions do you have? Leave your questions in the comments below.

Family Friday Links 6.16.17

Family

Greg Baird at Children's Ministry Leader Blog wrote a post about 4 Ways To Help Parents Want To Engage With Your Children’s Ministry. Greg writes, "Cast a clear and compelling vision. In other words, there needs to be a good reason to engage. Most parents are selective about what they invest their time in. If they view your Children’s Ministry more like childcare, forget about engaging them." Do you have a vision for your ministry? Is it compelling? 

Christianity Today shared a post by Alvin Reid about Reaching the Next Generation. Reid says that the Next Generation is starving for community. He states, "One of the primary reasons those in the next generation stay in church after their teens is because they develop meaningful relationships and develop a sense of community. They are twice as likely to be engaged in church if they have a close friendship with an adult in the church. And they are two and a half times as likely to be engaged if they have a mentor." Are you developing lasting relationships? 

If you haven't made a summer reading list Kristen Ivy at The Orange Leaders Blog wrote about the 17 Inspiring Books About Working With Kids and Teens. You should check it out and maybe add a couple for your summer reading list. Post in the comments some of your favorite books about working with kids or teens. 

As I am studying more about helping people connect with the church Carey Nieuwhof writes on How to Lose a Guest in the First 10 Minutes or Less. Carey writes, "Before they hear the first note of music, before they hear the first word of a sermon or before anyone stands up and says “welcome” in the service, most first-time guests have already made a conscious or subconscious decision about whether they’re coming back." Are you being intentional on creating a welcoming culture at your church? 

Four Essentials For Children's Ministry in Your Church Plant

He was a respected and closely followed movement leader. His influence was broad. His teaching was sound and biblical, but it was also relevant—not to mention controversial. As a result, his schedule was full. Crowds overflowed the venues where he spoke.

This movement leader had a team. The small entourage traveled with him wherever he went, and he poured his life into them. He discipled them with hopes that they would one day be church-planters and leaders just like him. But they weren’t as respectable as him. The team liked to complain and argue. They complained about how the movement wasn’t expanding fast enough. They complained about how they would do things differently if they were in charge. They played the comparison game—arguing about who would be the most successful when they finally got the chance to go out on their own.

Matthew tells us that these disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). How would you handle such a dysfunctional group of trainee church planters? Jesus responded to their self-indulgent question with a counter-cultural answer—children’s ministry.

1. Pray. Be a Kid and Ask.

Jesus responded to his disciples’ self-indulgent question with a counter-cultural answer—children’s ministry.

Children’s ministry is one of the biggest challenges that a new church faces. There is so much to think about—location, curriculum, check-in, security, and recruiting/training a quality team. It’s hard to know where to begin. I’ve talked with church planters who have a clear vision preaching and worship, but children’s ministry somehow brings them to their knees. Jesus tells us that this is where we should have been all along.

Jesus called over a child and put him before his disciples. Then he said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). Why must we be like kids to enter God’s kingdom? Why is childlike humility required for kingdom leadership? Jesus wants us to be childlike, because kids don’t pretend to have it all together. They poop and they cry and the get into things. Jesus wants his team of future church planters to see that they are just as needy.

Fletcher Lang serves with kids and families at City on a Hill, a young church in the Brookline area of Boston, MA. I spoke with him about establishing a new children’s ministry. He told me that step one is prayer. “Pray, pray, pray,” he said.  We can’t do effective children’s ministry in a new church plant (or effective ministry of any kind) unless God shows up, but we can expect him to show up when we humble ourselves, admit our need, and ask. A baby cries out for milk before she even knows how to walk. A good parent answers the cry and meets the child’s need. In Matthew 6:11, Jesus reminds us, “How much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

2. Welcome Kids!

As the wife of our lead pastor, Mandy Montgomery helped establish the children’s ministry at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY, when our church was getting started twelve years ago. She also helped research and write the chapter on children’s ministry in Ed Stetzer’s book, Planting Missional Churches, (Broadman & Holman, 2006). I asked her what she’d tell a church planter about children’s ministry if she were working on that chapter again today. She said, “[Create a] playful looking environment—parents want it to look like a place their kids will want to be!”

The most important way to welcome kids is to do so personally—with excellent hospitality.

Attractional environments aren’t always easy to pull off when a church is first starting out, but the planter can help paint a picture of what the ministry will one day be. Mandy told me, “People need to know that two pack-n-plays in a hallway are not the end vision but merely a stepping stone to what it will eventually become. There always will be skeptics but the church planter can be the vision caster!” One great way to cast vision is by celebrating children in church gatherings. Fletcher Lang told me, “We do this through having regular parent/child dedications and by making it a big deal when we have kids born in our church.” Big celebrations demonstrate to new families that kids are valued, and they encourage families to trust that their kids will be taken care of as the church grows.

The most important way to welcome kids is to do so personally—with excellent hospitality. Fletcher went on, “The biggest key to this is getting a few sticky families who are passionate about the mission and vision. These people can be evangelists for your church whenever new families visit. They can build relationships with parents who visit and encourage them to stick around.”

Over the past several years at Sojourn, I’ve discovered that our hospitality culture is most effective when key leaders model hospitality. When the pastors who lead our counseling and mercy ministries volunteered to serve in children’s ministry on Easter Sunday, it showed our team how much we value what they do on a weekly basis. Jesus tells us that leaders in his kingdom demonstrate their greatness when they “stoop low” to welcome kids. Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me” (Matthew 18:5).

3. Protect Them.

Jesus doesn’t just instruct his disciples to welcome children. He gives them a strong warning about the dangers of being a stumbling block: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes” (Matthew 18:6-7).

Imagine how difficult it must be for a child to trust church leaders if he has been abused or harmed in a church setting.

By “stumbling block,” Jesus is speaks about anything that is an impediment to faith. We know that it is difficult for a person to trust God as their Father if their earthly father has abused them. Imagine how difficult it must be for a child to trust church leaders if he has been abused or harmed in a church setting.

I cannot stress enough how important safety and security is when you are first starting out. Consider these safety and security essentials for its new plants and campuses that I’ve adapted from Seacoast Church in South Carolina:

  • Run complete background checks on all children’s ministry volunteers in addition to completed applications, completed training on guidelines, and volunteer interviews.
  • Provide clearly marked registration areas where registration information is collected and a nametag and accompanying ID number can be assigned to each child for pick up. Volunteers must never release a child to a parent or family member without the proper ID tag or other appropriate identification.
  • All volunteers should have some sort of identification. This may be as simple as nametags or it may include a smock or t-shirt with the church’s logo.
  • Post and train volunteers on emergency policies, evacuation plans, diapering procedures, room schedules, and classroom-cleaning procedures. Toys, cribs, and other things that little hands and mouths touch should be washed or sanitized after each use. 
  • Post and follow appropriate volunteer/child ratios. Volunteers must never be alone with a child.
  • Never give children food that has not been approved by parents. Allergies can be deadly.

4. Value Kids as a Ministry Priority.

Our society’s approach to kids is often driven by a consumer mindset: “Having kids will fill a void in my life.” “I don’t want to have children, because they’re such a financial burden.” “I pour so much into my kids. I can’t wait until they get old enough to give something back.” Statements like these judge the value of children based upon how much can be gained from them.

Even in ministry, we can sometimes see children merely as a means to an end.

“If you want to reach parents, you need to reach their children.” “Ministering to kids is a necessary evil. After all, if the children do not like the church, the parents may not come back.”

In a new church plant, kids must be more than part of a strategy for reaching parents. They must be part of the mission.

Jesus sees it differently. Little ones are valuable to him. He doesn’t want even one of them to perish: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven… What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father, who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Matthew 18:10, 12-14).

In a new church plant, kids must be more than part of a strategy for reaching parents. They must be part of the mission. I spoke to Trent Chambers, who is planting Sojourn Church in Woodstock, GA. Trent shared his passion for children’s ministry volunteers who will be effective at clearly communicating the gospel to kids and encouraging parents to do the same at home. I’m thankful for Trent, because his values reflect Jesus’ priorities.

Jesus is leading a church-planting movement (Matthew 16:18), and children’s ministry is a big part of it. If we’re going to follow his lead, we must welcome kids, protect them, and value them as a ministry priority. We do all of this in humble dependence on our Savior who has promised to go with us on mission (Matthew 28:18-20).

This post initially appeared at sojournnetwork.com. Download a free Sojourn Network that summarizes this article here.

Family Friday Links 10.23.15

Here's what we've been reading over the past few weeks. (Yes, for those who noticed, I missed last week. Sorry about that.)

Greg Baird had a great post on fatherhood. He says, "An awesome Dad protects his kids physically, emotionally, mentally & spiritually." He goes on list 8 other qualities of being an awesome dad, go check them out.

Our friend, Sam Luce, had a post on how to make kids feel welcome at church. It a short and simple list that all volunteers (and leaders) should check out.

Kenny Conley wrote a post to for those who find themselves in tough ministry positions. He says as an encouragement, "Hang in there and push into the pain/discomfort. Perhaps you still have more to offer and perhaps God wants to develop you through a challenging situation." His list of questions to consider before moving on are worth your time.

What have you been reading online that we've been missing? Leave us a link in the comment section, and one of us will check it out.