So many chapters in this manual relate to the world of the child at home. If we hope to relate to parents, need to discover the background and context of the children’s lives, or minister effectively to children of divorce we will not start to be effective until we start penetrating the environment that the child spends so much of their time. Little has been written concerning the subject of visitation, but with a few guidelines and the willingness to invest time into visiting children, ministry will be revolutionised.
1. REASONS FOR VISITING
In case there are those who are not convinced of the need to visit, consider the following reasons or benefits for visiting children in their homes:
A. INSIGHT GAINED
Junior youth workers gain valuable insights about children when they spend time where the children live. We learn a lot just by observing their home situation, the pictures on their walls and the kind of toys and activities that amuse them. Meeting siblings and parents will expand you understanding of the individual.
B. INTEREST COMMUNICATED
Children will sense that you are really concerned about them as an individual when you arrive at their home, not to spend time with their older sisters, brothers or parents, but with them.
C. FAMILY CONTACT
The goal of ministry to children includes the desire to integrate children fully into their families and to reach out to the family members and bring them to Christ. Home visitation opens doors of contact that will enable invitations to services, open opportunities of witness and show that the church is concerned about the whole family and not just children.
D. ATTENDANCE PROMOTED
A by-product of home visitation will be an increase in attendance at the youth group. Children who sense that the leader is truly concerned about them will be faithful in attendance, and probably more willing to invite friends along as well.
There are many more reasons that could be advanced, such as the example set by Jesus who visited people in their homes, a desire to maintain a Christian presence in the homes of our society, etc. But we must not stand and enjoy the benefits of visiting - we must get out there and start visiting. Here are some of the “how to’s” of visitation.
2. PREPARING FOR VISITATION
As leaders we must set an example of visiting children. This will give those who work with us in ministry to children the needed stimulus and practical help with what seems to be a frightening task. We cannot expect someone to start visiting all alone, but should rather provide others with an opportunity for going with someone more experienced, perhaps ourselves. We need to talk about our own nervousness and fears about meeting family members of our children so that those who work with us will feel more at ease. Begin to share a vision with junior youth workers for visiting maybe one home a week or month. Set up pairs who will go together and even set up the appointments with them for the visit, if necessary. Keep a track on the visitation and be sure to meet with the couple afterwards and evaluate their visit, to deal with any difficulties that they experienced. Make visitation a vital part of the functional part of your ministry to the children and ensure that you are not the only one doing all the visiting. Even teen helpers can be used greatly by God in ministry into the homes of the children. Visiting skills can be taught to a small group who will probably enjoy the activity after some exposure.
3. PLANNING THE VISIT
Do not simply arrive at the doorstep and say, “Hi! I’ve come to visit.” It is usually best to determine when would be an appropriate time to visit, so that you do not clash with a meal or study time. People appreciate being notified in advance that someone is coming to visit. State the reason why you wish to visit and ask if it would be convenient. This gives them a chance to decline or suggest an alternative time. If a child expressed a hesitation about you coming to visit, it may be because of a home situation that they wish to keep hidden, or something that they are embarrassed about. If this occurs then suggest meeting them at a neutral place, like a shopping centre, a fast food outlet or a park, in fact any place that will provide a setting where you can talk is ideal.
4. GUIDELINES FOR THE VISIT
The following practical guidelines are presented for effective visitation:
(1) Visit in Pairs
Jesus established a pattern when he sent his disciples out in two’s to reach people. The pair should agree beforehand on who will do the most talking, or at least take the lead. The other should be in prayer for the family without being so quiet that they come across as “not quite normal” to the parents.
(2) Choose The Time Carefully
Together with the child agree on a time that will be convenient. Be careful of setting a time that will interfere with a family meal time or other practicalities such as bath time. Make sure that the child is comfortable with the time agreed on.
(3) Pray Before You Go
Your visit will bring the light of Christ into a home that may not be godly, so be sure to surround the visit in prayer for guidance and victory over the forces of darkness.
(4) Smile And Introduce Yourself
First impressions are lasting ones, so be sure to smile and introduce yourself clearly when the door is opened.
(5) Check That The Time Is Convenient
Just to be certain, ask whether the timing of the visit is alright. What may have been fine to the child may not be so with the parents. If the timing is not convenient, offer to come back at a later opportunity.
(6) Explain The Reason For The Visit
It is important to state your reason for visiting in a way that will be acceptable to the parents concerned. Do not say, “I’ve come to see why Johnny was not at youth group on Friday night,” as this may antagonise. A parents reaction may be, “What a cheek! It’s up to me whether I send him or not.” A better approach could be, “I’ve brought Johnny a leaflet from the programme he missed on Friday. I do hope that he is not ill? I really missed him on Friday night, he’s always such a pleasure to have around.”
(7) Do Not Assume Parents Names
When you encounter a person who identify themselves as a parent of the child, do not say, “Oh, then you must be Mr Jones?” You will only do this once, as I did, and die from embarrassment when you discover that they are a step or foster parent who has a different surname to the child you are visiting. Rather ask them their name to be safe.
(8) Be Friendly With The Parents
Most parents will be happy to have someone visit their child who shows a real interest in and a concern for the child as an individual, and not just from a spiritual “scalp-hunter’s” point of view. So befriend the parents and treat them with the respect that they deserve.
(9) Start Up A Conversation With The Child
The purpose of your visit is primarily to meet with the child. Be careful of the temptation to spend time with the parents or siblings so that the child is ignored. It is a real temptation to do so because it is easier to talk to someone closer to your own age than a child who is much younger than you. Also be careful of betraying confidences and saying things that will get the child into trouble when you are gone. Beware, as well, about speaking about the child in front of him or her, except when giving praise.
(10) Maintain A Healthy Conversation With The Child
The following are areas that can be explored in conversation with the child:
* Show an interest in their home environment
* Ask how they enjoyed past events or programmes
* Discuss future events and programmes
* Talk about activities and hobbies of interest to them
* Talk about school and sport activities
* Talk about their relationship to Jesus
* Talk about their likes and dislikes
Do not use this as an interrogation check-list, but as a guideline to stimulate discussion with the child. Be relaxed and informal without trying to cover everything in one visit.
(11) Accept Strange Behaviour From The Child
When you show that you are pleased to see the child in their home and show an interest in the things that belong to them, you will probably see the child begin to “show off.” He probably will not know how to react having two worlds collide. You represent the one, ie. the youth group and home another. Show that you understand why the child is behaving strangely so that the parent who is going through agonies of shame over their child’s behaviour will feel at ease.
(12) Leave Something With The Child
Before you end the visit, leave something with the child: a gift from the group, a list of upcoming events, a special pamphlet with lots of happy faces, a bookmark, or other inexpensive item of stationary with a verse on it, etc. This is important as a tangible expression of concern for the child, and will give the child a reminder of your interest.
(13) Do Not Overstay Your Welcome
Do not wait until you are thrown out of the home at midnight. When you arrive, state the time that you intent to stay for. A half an hour to an hour should be sufficient.
(14) Pray About The Visit
When you get home, spend some time praying for any concerns that were expressed, or needs that the family has. Pray for the individuals in the family as well.
5. ENDING THE VISIT
We touched on the need to avoid overstaying a welcome. This often happenes because we do not know how to end a visit. This may be the result of having difficulty in ending a visit or waiting for others to leave so that you can be alone with the child to get to the real purpose of the visit. It will be easier to end a visit if you state in advance you intentions and the time that you plan to take. Do not be afraid to ask parents or siblings if you can spend five minutes alone with the child you are visiting so that you can speak in private. Often parents will hang around out of interest or because it is the polite thing to do. Be clear when you communicate that you are leaving. Do not make an excuse for leaving, simply thank the family for their time and share that you would like to make a return visit sometime, then get up and make physical steps to leave. Be sure to thank the family for their time and for any refreshments that were served, as well as thanking the child of the fun time you were able to spend together. Give the assurance that you are available should the family wish to speak with you concerning any issue. This will ensure an open door of opportunity, and possibly prompt the parents to communicate with you at a later stage concerning the development of their child. Remember, parents are interested in their children and the teaching they receive.
6. EVALUATING THE VISIT
Sit down after a visit and make notes of what you have learnt. Record all visits on some system of follow-up. Use card, or a book, but make sure that you record important information, such as, the names of family members, dates of special events, details of family conditions and background, etc. When you next visit, be sure to revise the recordings of the last visit, so that it is fresh in your mind.
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