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Church on the Move

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 schools.

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 weekend.
Keep these three key things in mind to avoid the fallout of Monday morning reprimands.

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 facility managers.

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 mind.

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 facility.

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 call.

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 church office.

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.

Challenges

• 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 well.

Opportunities

• Unique volunteer opportunities are available for set-up and tear-down crews -- it's a wonderful way to introduce people to your ministry.
• 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 building.
• 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 change.

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