How to... Welcome families

We are all children of God, but as adults we also have a responsibility to share his love with the young people in our lives.

Time to focus on the young

Are our churches reaching young people with the good news of Jesus? Falling numbers suggest that the answer might be “No”.

Welcoming everyone

Reaching out to sections of the community who would not usually come to church can be a leap of faith – but that’s what it’s all about, right? St Mary’s Church in Princes Risborough set out to invite families into church, to show them it was their space too. Their ambition was clear – encourage parents and children to think of church as a place for them as much as anyone else.

A new approach

Play Café was born out of a need to provide a space for families and, more importantly, young children to socialise following years of isolation during the pandemic. From there, the hope was that a warm welcome would encourage families to join the Messy Church, have their children baptised in church and perhaps begin their own journey of faith.

Church groups for preschool-aged children are popular. It’s often said that children are the future of our church, but what are we doing to attract them, to make them and their carers feel at home? At St Mary’s, the children’s worker set out to use Play Café as a starting point for encouraging families into church, to meet the community need for a free facility for children, but not in an overtly evangelistic way.

A comfortable space

St Mary’s transformed the space inside the church because it could have been off-putting and uncomfortable for those unfamiliar with church. It became a place that was colourful and fun. It broke down the stereotypes of what goes on behind the door of church. Soft play, rather than a preschool set up, allowed the children to roam freely, moving around different apparatus.

There was also a section for little ones who were not yet mobile, away from those just trying out their new-found walking skills. This meant parents as well as children mingled rather than settling in one space; as their children engaged with one another, so did the grown-ups.

Meeting people’s needs

It’s true to say children born during the Covid-19 pandemic missed out on socialising, even on seeing people. And, of course, their parents missed that contact too. The Play Café created a community, groups of carers and parents who could create new networks. Families loved it. Those who walked through the doors could not believe they were in a church.

They were overwhelmed at the effort that had gone into making the church a welcoming place, somewhere they could really belong. Investing in toys and equipment meant the visitors felt really valued. So often volunteer play groups are left to rely on well-meaning donations of toys past their best. This was different, and the families felt the care that had been taken to choose things their children would love to do.

A place for faith to grow

For some families, Play Café becomes the gateway to learning more about God. Daphne and her daughter Coral have become regular attendees at Messy Church and have joined the all-age Sunday morning service. They felt really loved and, importantly, part of the church family, even though they did not originally come to church on a Sunday.

Bible stories during the session make parents and children curious, raising questions and prompting conversations which may not have otherwise taken place.

Addressing concerns

However, not everyone could see the vision from the outset. There were concerns about the impact on church – where would all the equipment be stored, was this a suitable use of the church building? There was much to discuss. But Play Café having reached more than 150 families since its inception two years ago speaks for itself. As one of the volunteers, Stella, explained:

“I feel passionate that if we do not share Jesus with these families they are going to be the forgotten generation. I am passionate that we love and care for these families. I feel a burden for sharing God’s love and God’s message to families who would otherwise not get to hear about it. By sharing and caring for these families, we’re doing just that.”

Looking to the future

A motion at our recent Diocesan Synod calling for our parishes to increase their engagement with children, young people, families and schools was met with unanimous support. The reality – we are not reaching this section of our community as much as we could – is not a cause for despair. Rather, it’s an inspiration to reset our focus for the sake of tens of thousands of children, young people and families, that they may come to know God’s love and his kingdom.

9 ways to welcome families

Dream big

Whatever the vision is that God is giving you, do not waver. See beyond what you normally see on a Sunday.

Create a good team

It’s important to have clearly defined roles, so everyone knows what is expected and how they contribute.

Partner with others

Bring people with you on your journey. Rather than looking inwards, become part of the community.

Invest in your idea

Aim for excellence in everything you do; it’s important you believe in your vision enough to incur the cost.

Listen to everyone

Give children, young people and families a chance to share their ideas and needs.

Use social media

Find out where the people you want to reach are and join them there; social media is a great way to spread the word.

Set clear objectives

Your intentions for how this activity will meet your vision for God’s love to be known in your community.

Make it free

Asking for donations for entry can help to cover the costs of resources and makes events accessible for everyone.

Give a warm welcome

Both at the door and by making families feel at home with an age-appropriate environment


Find out about our Amplify project, actively listening to the voices of children and young people and partnering with them to transform their concerns, dreams and aspirations into concrete actions.

Page last updated: Tuesday 26th March 2024 10:35 AM
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