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A Whole New World

Reagan Hillier

The entrance to your ministry area defines who you are and sets the tone for visiting guests. Make your entry area an extension of your ministry with these tips...

"A whole new world,
That's where we'll be.
A thrilling chase
A wondrous place,
For you and me."

"Whole New World" from Disney's Aladdin


In children's ministry, we can experience what this song is about, but we don't need a genie or a magic carpet to have "a whole new world"; that's what Jesus promises us when we follow him. It's what you create for children when they come to your church.

Wouldn't you like to make your kids' spiritual journey "a thrilling chase"? Wouldn't you like to make your ministry efforts "a wondrous place" for kids? One of the best places to start is in the entryway to your ministry area in your building.

You're probably familiar with the phrase, "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression." This same principle applies to your children's ministry. What do guests and kids think when they enter your facility? Are they underwhelmed or overwhelmed? Do they get excited -- or do they look for the nearest exit?

The most visible investment you can make is in your entry area where every parent and child must pass before class or church begins. Your entrance defines who you are and sets the tone for guests' visit. This is your first opportunity to envelop them with your ministry and Jesus' embrace. There are several ways to make your entry area an extension of your ministry -- from the simple to the sublime.

Themed Desk

Most churches now use some type of official registration system -- whether with sophisticated computer systems or simple badges and name tags. Regardless, in almost every church all parents need to stop somewhere to register their kids for their respective classrooms.

Your registration process is the perfect opportunity for kids to begin their wondrous experience in the presence of God -- no need to wait until they get to the classroom. If you have a beach-themed worship room, your check-in area could be a surfside Tiki Hut where "lifeguards" hand out passes to the beach. If you have an urban city theme, your desk could be the post office where kids receive "mail" from their classrooms.

You can add a themed entry desk any time­ -- whether you're building, remodeling, or updating. Order a completely new desk ready to go or get murals to fit around your current setup. This can definitely be done affordably with some inspiration and creativity.

The Thrilling Chase

One of the growing trends in facilities across the country is the popularity of slides to transport kids to the children's ministry area. Instead of just walking down a hallway to their classroom after they're registered, kids excitedly mount a slide that carries them to their designated area. What a wonderful, kid-friendly way to start a church experience. Kids' first impression is that church is a fun, welcoming place.

I've seen tube slides, spiral slides, speed slides, wave slides, triple slides, and more. Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton, North Carolina, will have a slide that kids enter inside the second floor, spiral around on the outside of the building, then re-enter to be deposited on the first floor!

First Baptist Church in Nacog­doches, Texas, is taking the concept another step further with their 23-foot-long speed slide in their new building. Children's pastor Tracy McCown says, "Our slide is in the atrium and it will be open before and after all church activities. The kids will use it as an exit so their last memory will be something fun. In addition, since it will be open prior to Sunday school, we are encouraging families to get there early in time for the kids to slide."

Again, a slide can be incorporated in a current facility or planned for new construction. It's best to consult with a respected manufacturer that can custom-design a slide to fit your facility and budget, while also factoring in the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards for safety.

Sign of the Times

Kids love an identifier that makes things familiar. Think about how many times your own kids will watch the same movie over and over and over. Or how quickly they spot the McDonald's sign and tell you how much they "need" a Happy Meal right now!

By providing lots of signage, you can make your kids feel welcome at their second home -- your church. Grace Community Church in Houston, Texas, is installing a large, lighted, overhead sign above the hallway entrance to their new children's wing. In addition, their "XtremeKidz" logo is featured prominently throughout the building.

Children's pastor Susie Dennard says, "Our logo sets the tone for the entire ministry. It speaks volumes to kids and parents alike as they enter our children's ministry area. This place is for kids, and we understand what kids like!"

Worth a Thousand Words

Murals are another excellent way to theme your entrance area. This can be done very affordably with wallpaper, hand-painted murals, or custom-designed panels. Or you can do this extravagantly with 3-D sculpted pieces or 2-D relief images attached. Either way, murals can convert a sterile, white-walled room into a grand, themed experience and a new showplace for your ministry.

Do you have a bland hallway or classroom that needs a splash of color? One popular concept is to theme your entrance area and hallway like a cityscape or Main Street theme. Classrooms become storefronts with kids entering the grocery store, post office, hardware store, and more instead of just their classroom. The murals allow the kids to enter a unique realm created just for them. It's a fun, creative world where they're comfortable and excited to be. Whatever type of theme you desire, consult with an artist who can help deliver your dream and get creative with you.

Play Features

One of the most creative play attrac­tions I've ever seen is at Christ Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Their modular play structure (built and installed by KoalaPlay Group and designed by Wacky World Studios; www.wackyworld.tv) shows Bible stories literally jumping off the pages of books. Kids see the familiar stories of Noah's ark, baby Moses, and more coming to life around them as they play. Along with the other features in the new family life center, Pastor L.H. Hardwick Jr. says he "believes that these new facilities will provide us with priceless opportunities to further connect with one another and the community around us."

Their amazing play area definitely provides a "wow" factor and shows parents and kids the church's passion for sharing the message while having a good time doing it. Learning about God is an adventure, and there's lots of equipment that enhances the journey.

Bethesda Community Church in Fort Worth, Texas, will install a large play feature next summer with interactive ballplay in their new children's building. This feature attraction will be located next to the new entrance and along a huge wall of windows.

Children's pastor Mike Ballard says, "The whole reason for having it is to bring families to church. It is an entrance to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

The kids won't be able to wait to get inside the building. What a wonderful thing to say about going to church: "I can't wait to get there."

Sensory Experiences

My family was recently blessed to visit Walt Disney World for the first time. My most vivid memory from the trip was the relatively new attraction "Mickey's PhilharMagic." If you haven't experienced it yet, it's dazzling because the show taps into four of the five human senses. Instead of sitting in a theater and watching a movie (using only sight and sound), this new attraction adds touch (water, vibration, and wind) and smell (scent of apple pie) to the visual and auditory spectacle.

Why not do the same with your entry area and make it a complete sensory experience to really engage kids? If you have a rainforest themed area, add periodic lightning flashes or animal noises (similar to the Rain­forest Café). Or if you have a trop­ical theme, cut up fresh pineapple at the entry desk so everyone smells the wonderful aroma of fresh fruit when entering. Again, get creative. Brainstorm with your team about what you can do to add something unique to your kids' experience.

Higher Purpose

As you can see, there are many options available for you to transform your entrance area into a functionally fantastic ministry tool. The good news is that transforming your entryway can be accomplished very affordably in an existing or new facility. Some will take the unique creative talents of outside consultants who can sit down with you to custom design a complete, fully integrated concept. Many others will only require creative inspiration and artists from within their church. Creative entryways can be created one step at a time as budget allows. However your entryway is accomplished, it'll make an impression.

Even though a dynamic entry area is just a small part of your ministry's scope and efforts, it has far-reaching impact. It sets the tone for the children's experience. It feeds kids' imagination and gives you a better opportunity to feed their souls. Make every effort, from start to finish, to make your children's ministry "a whole new world."

Mobile Entryways

What if your area is mobile or in a temporary facility? Try these on-the-move ideas.

  • Desk on Wheels -- Use a themed desk that rolls on wheels for easy storage when not in use. Custom furniture makers and theme designers can incorporate this feature. Or have a carpenter create a platform on wheels and attach your desk to it.
  • Themed Foam Features -- Several small play items can quickly turn a room into a toddlers' play paradise. Foam features are lightweight, durable, and easy to move and transport. For cool foam features, check out Backyard Adventures of Iowa (www.baplaysets.com; 877-546-7529).
  • 2-D Murals -- There are many ways to make self-supporting elements such as a palm tree or cartoon character to stand in the entry areas. These are quickly set up, will liven up the area, and don't take much space for storage.

Reagan Hillier works with churches across the country and lives in Keller, Texas. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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