Pack it in, pack it out. That's a familiar directive for those
who hike into a National Forest's backcountry -- and for nomad
church workers who adapt each week to a changing and mobile church
setting. Even churches that have their own campus often deal with
the "shared space" experience as more churches rent their
facilities to outside users such as preschools and charter
Like a long backcountry hike, a portable children's ministry can
be physically exhausting at times, and the walk out may seem a lot
longer than the walk in. But the journey can be filled with
exciting, uncharted territory that builds patience, creativity, and
people on a trail that can be transformed into a privilege rather
than a burden.
Don't Leave These Behind
Do you remember those long drives in the backseat of a car as a
child? A sibling on either side of you and personal space the size
of a postage stamp eventually resulted in an inevitable elbow in
the side, a loud wail, and a reprimand for the guilty from the
hierarchy in the front seat. So it goes with the shared space
between weekday occupants and the church that invades on the
Keep these three key things in mind to avoid the fallout of Monday
Respect -- A church that rents a public
facility, such as a school, for weekend use needs to be respectful
of the school's property as well as the classroom teachers'
individual property. Respecting the space you're using will prevent
an attitude of bitterness that can develop between the space's
regular user and your portable church. Having an attitude of
respect for another's property also demonstrates to people in your
church how they should treat a facility should your church
eventually build its own church campus.
Resist -- No one likes to have his personal
belongings tampered with. The temptation to open a teacher's drawer
to borrow a pen or to use a television and VCR just one time is
crossing the line. Instill in your volunteers resistance to use
other's property when you train them -- and remind them often.
Practicing resistance will prevent backlash from your rented
Responsibility -- Even when practicing respect
and resistance, damage can occur. Don't try to hide or place blame
on others, take responsibility. Let the facility manager know about
what damage occurred, apologize, and offer to replace or repair the
item. Develop a Facility Report Card to leave in each room you use.
As you check each room upon arrival, note anything out of the
ordinary such as a change of floor plan. When tearing down at the
end of the day, write the time you checked the room and that the
room was put back in the order as it was found. This prevents any
blame to the church for something that may've been moved or damaged
after your departure.
Plan Your Move
Before you even take a step in the facility on Sunday, think
through these things.
Scheduling -- As an entire church, set up your
facility-needs staff before you meet with the representatives of
the facility you're renting from. Discuss your church budget for
rental use and include extra costs that may be involved for the
facility such as custodial fees, kitchen use, or sound and light
technicians. Set up a tour of the facility to see what rooms are
available and what will best match your needs for children's
ministries. Ask if any storage space is available on-site to help
ease what you transport each week. Plan for extra events when you
may need the facility such as weekday clubs, choir rehearsals, or
vacation Bible school. If you're renting a school facility, once
you've determined which rooms you'll be using, set up a time to
meet with individual teachers to discuss their concerns about the
church using the facility. Share your plans for the room and what
you're doing to address their concerns. Check in with teachers
throughout the year, or ask them to call you directly if they
experience a problem.
Programming -- Choose curriculum that's best
suited for the facilities you have available to you, keeping in
mind that there will be a number of activities that you'll have to
tweak or change because you're facilitating the program in a
temporary space. Don't let space constraints discourage you.
Instead, find ways to work with the area. Moving desks to the side
can create a great open space, or a school hallway can be a good
place for an active game. Provide your volunteers with extra
activity ideas in case the curriculum doesn't suit your space
restraints. A positive attitude from leadership when tension builds
over temporary space constraints will trickle down to your
volunteer team when times are tough.
Pack It In
Have you ever been on a long hike only to realize you forgot a
water bottle? Planning ahead is critical when using temporary space
for children's programming. Use these tips for planning your
weekend journey and creating an environment that's friendly for
kids, parents, and volunteers.
Set-Up -- Have a team of volunteers help with
set-up each week -- this is a great way to involve people in
children's ministries who are new or not interested in working
directly with children. Arrange rooms with children's safety in
Desks are tempting to climb on for little ones so move them to
the side and have them face the wall. Use carpet pieces or
tablecloths to create play spaces. Purchase electrical outlet
covers for toddler and preschool areas (and remember to remove them
before leaving). Baby gates work well on classroom doors to keep
little ones from escaping. Use easily storable decorations such as
posters or decorated bedsheets to brighten a classroom. Bulletin
boards are also a convenient way to add a personal touch to a room
and can easily be stored during the week.
Signage -- Helping people find where they need
to go is critical, especially when you meet in a temporary
Remember, there may be competitive signs from weekday users so
find a way to distinguish your signs with a logo or specific colors
each week. Have a map available for people who hang signs so they
know exactly where you want them placed each week. Place signs at
every possible entrance and use directional arrows. A fun way to
help lead people to your area is to place footprints on the ground
for them to follow. Use clear directional signs for your check-in
and checkout procedures. If possible, create a children's
ministries table that's located in a consistent place each week for
families that have questions and to give a presence in a facility
that may not otherwise be child-friendly.
Supplies -- This is the area that requires the
most planning with a portable church. You need to plan for the
weekly essentials as well as lesson-specific supplies each week.
You also need to ensure that everything is easily storable. Place
weekly essentials such as scissors, crayons, and pens in plastic
school box containers. For each classroom, pack these items in
larger plastic tubs that are equipped with other essentials such as
paper, CD or tape players, and easy manipulatives like Play-Doh.
Depending on your circumstances, tubs may need to be carted to and
fro each week -- determine if you'll be transporting these or if
volunteers will take them home each week. Use luggage carriers,
wheeled carts, and dollies to disperse your tubs to individual
rooms. To keep the clutter down, have volunteers request what their
specific lesson needs are each week via email, a note, or a phone
Nursery and toddler areas are supply-heavy areas since they
require more toys. Choose wisely what kind of toys you want to have
available each week. Small and sturdy or collapsible items are
best. Have a tote that contains diaper-changing items such as pads,
wipes, diapers, antibacterial hand sanitizer, and bleach water.
Supply your children's ministries table with informational
brochures, registration information, and a portable first-aid kit.
You may also want to equip someone to be a runner each week in case
there are last-minute supplies that require a run to the store or
Pack It Out
Whether it's a long hike or a long road trip, the road home can
seem to drag on forever. So it goes when packing up your children's
program after a morning of vigorous activity and fellowship.
Recruit and equip a tear-down team to help ease the burden and
ensure that nothing is left behind as you walk out the door.
Depending on your rental agreement, you may have as little to do
as packing up your equipment and supplies, or as much to do as
mopping floors and taking out garbage. Even if you have a custodial
team that does housekeeping after you leave, tear down with the
attitude of leaving it looking better than when you arrived. Make
sure items that were in the room when you arrived are back to their
original positions. Clean up any mess made by artwork or food.
Don't store any food items at a rented facility, many of them have
"critter" problems that you don't want to contribute to.
Leave a Facility Report Card in each room and do a final
walk-through before you exit. On occasion, surprise the individuals
who use the room during the week with an encouraging note or a
small gift in appreciation for their patience and cooperation each
week. Leave with the confidence that you'll put a smile on the face
of those who enter the building on Monday morning.
When you take a backcountry trail, success is when you leave no
evidence that you were there. And though a church should do its
best to leave no physical evidence of its weekend presence at a
rented facility, success is when we leave a glimpse of Christ to
those who bless us with the use of their facility.
The Valleys and Peaks
Conducting children's ministry in a portable setting comes with
its own set of valleys and peaks -- challenges and opportunities.
How you approach them will determine your success, as well as your
peace of mind.
• Many rented facilities aren't conducive to small children --
or any children.
• There's a high liability when dealing with other people's
resources and facility.
• Volunteers experience difficulty in "ownership" of the program
since they have to move everything each week.
• It's a lot of work -- not only physically, but mentally as
• Unique volunteer opportunities are available for set-up and
tear-down crews -- it's a wonderful way to introduce people to your
• A public facility creates a unique outreach opportunity --
especially to the unchurched family that may feel more comfortable
coming to a place such as a school rather than a traditional church
• A spirit of creativity, patience, and appreciation develops among
staff and volunteers.
• It provides a fantastic opportunity to share Christ's love
through your example to the weekday staff of the facility.
Carmen Kamrath is the web editor for childrensministry.com
and associate editor of Children's Ministry Magazine. Please keep
in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to