Make the most of what you've got -- whether it's a
little or a lot -- for an irresistible, kid-centered
In the beginning, God set the standard. He created the sky with
its colors and light. He placed soft sand on the ground for our
wiggly toes. He worked hand in hand with his son, forming striped
zebras, long-necked giraffes, and miles of sunflower fields. He
smiled as he watched people's faces light up with the first smell
of the morning air and the first tickle of the ocean's wave. Then,
with a proud sense of accomplishment, he rested, excited about the
coming days when he'd enjoy his creation with its audience.
Just as God created the earth so he could connect with us, we
create compelling environments where God can connect with kids.
This means kids are enticed to come inside, stay, learn, and come
When God created the world, he didn't look at the empty, dark
place that would be our earth, compare it to heaven, and say, "I
can't do this with what I've got here!" And we can't do that
either! Regardless of your space and money limitations, you can
create the coolest place for kids right in your church.
Design With Flexibility
I've designed compelling spaces on a very modest budget. And to be
honest, if I had the option, I wouldn't spend big bucks for
permanent themes. Don't get me wrong -- there are awesome
ministries blessed with tons of space, super-cool designs, and cash
that've created amazing permanent environments for kids.
But before you drool over those spaces, take a different look at
why those of us without those types of resources are equally
blessed. What wows 3-year-olds won't wow them when they're in the
third grade...and later in the fifth grade. Seeing the same
environment over and over gets old. Kids here in Orlando aren't as
giddy about Walt Disney World as kids in Michigan. Why? Because our
kids have seen it and done it again and again.
When your environment is always the same, its "wow" factor fades
and becomes the norm. But if your environment is more flexible, you
can change your theme and décor as often as you'd like. That way
kids are always excited about what's next.
We created our environment with the flexibility to adjust
individual rooms as needed. Due to a recent surge in our preschool
numbers, the existing preschool areas weren't large enough. So we
needed to rethink our spaces. Since we had a more mobile
environment that we could move from room to room, we avoided having
to tear down expensive décor and then replace it just because we
had a growth spurt.
Create "It Is Good"
Could God have done even more when he created the world? Could he
have added one more animal or two more flowers? Absolutely! Could
he have obsessed afterward, wondering if there should've been one
more moon? Yep. Did he? No. When he finished his creation, God
said, "It is good." He knew where the line between well done and
not good enough ran.
We also need to know that line for our ministry. When I first
joined our church's staff, all our walls were white. The entire
children's area was like a big blank piece of paper screaming for
someone to bring it to life. Unfortunately, I didn't have
permission to paint. So we bought material and hung it from the
ceiling along our walls. That was our version of "it is good"
because it was the absolute best we could do with our
We recently went through a construction overhaul here. Our large
group space for kindergarten through third grade has a long,
chocolate- colored wall and the other walls are the color of cream.
We share spaces with others, so we can't keep anything up
permanently. So our version of "it is good" is a big, brightly
colored bouncy house in front of the chocolate-colored wall. To a
child, there's no brown wall. Is this our first choice? No. But for
now it's our best choice, and that's what God expects -- our
Choose a Focal Point
God created a visual and purposeful focal point for Earth. It
appears in almost every picture a child draws. It creates the
beautiful sprays of colors in our sky. It provides energy and food
for life. It's our sun.
I inherited a great gift from the pastor before me: the bouncy
house. I didn't realize its full potential until the week we didn't
put it up. Kids were distraught over their missing friend. Parents
were disappointed because they couldn't show it to guests.
During tours of our facility, I've heard adults mention our bouncy
house. It's become part of who we are. Our ministry name, FL!P, is
reinforced by the big bouncy house. As kids get older, they get an
inflatable house that's bigger and better. These bouncy houses not
only help our ministry image, but they also help us splash color
into our room. (They also help families be on time because our
bouncy houses are only available before the service.)
Partner With Your Team
God didn't create the world alone. He said, "Let's be imagination
junkies together. Let's make this dark ball a glowing,
rainbow-filled amusement park."
I'm naturally creative and can think big thoughts, but I'm
horrible at moving the idea from my head into being. So I asked God
to place friends around me who could not only make my ideas a
reality, but could also make it better than just my idea alone. And
God has been faithful. We've done some super-cool things here with
lots of paper, hot glue, sweat -- and very little me.
Enjoy Little Brilliances
On day one, light and dark were created. God didn't say, "Let
there be earth" and it was. He added little bits day by day. His
work became more complex as he got deeper into his week.
For a long time I had this foolish notion: If I can't do it all, I
won't do it at all. I was humbled when God showed me that something
as simple and small as a few colorful helium balloons can add big
flair to our small spaces.
When we first moved our young elementary kids into their room, we
had a large, blank screen covering most of the main wall. We bought
fuzzy, funky-colored material and used Velcro fasteners to hang it
around the screen for a border. In our preteen area, we bought tons
of blank CDs and hung them from the ceiling with fishing line and
floral hangers. The reflecting light produces a cool effect kids
love. We can't paint on walls, so we use large sheets of paper as
walls. We use overhead projectors to enlarge pictures that we trace
and paint. We hot glue cutouts for a 3-D look, then hang the
There are so many fun things that communicate kid-friendliness.We
use a varietyof objects very differently from their original
purposes. We've used bubble machines to welcome kids as they enter
the room. They love it!(Just make sure you have carpet -- soap on
tileis slippery!) In preschool we use big, colorful carpets on our
floor. We hang shower and bedroom curtains from dowel rods. We've
twistedplastic tablecloths all around the room to formcool designs.
Slinkys hanging from the ceiling keep it interesting!
Multiply Excellence in People
After God rested, he watched. He saw Adam enjoying the lions,
tigers, and bears. He walked with Adam in the cool evening. But
still, something was missing. So God created a special friend for
Recently my husband, some friends, and I went to a local theme
park. Almost every worker we encountered seemed miserable and not
interested in helping us. We loved the roller coasters and the
really fun décor, but we left frustrated and not eager to return.
The environment alone wasn't enough to draw us back.
We can make "wow places" but if there aren't "wow people," it's
still just a place. Make your environment a "wow" place with
kid-friendly people for kids and adult-friendly people for their
parents. Always position someone friendly and outgoing to greet
kids at any door they enter. Situate informed people where adults
will be. Place confident, upbeat kids as buddies for the day with
new kids. Talk about friendliness with your kids as a group.
Connect Kids to God
God enjoyed his creation with his audience. Remember -- in the
cool evening he hung out with Adam and Eve.
It's critical that our spaces are filled more with God's presence
than fun, color, or music. We're all talented enough to throw one
amazing party that'll get kids rocking and wanting to come back,
but that's not why we create cool places. Just as God created the
world to connect us with him, we must create spaces so kids can
connect with God. If we don't, we're just another Chuck E Cheese or
Walt Disney World. We're called to create these spaces so we can
fulfill the Great Commission.
God is a creative being. He thinks outside the box. He makes
amazement out of nothing. God's power and creativity is completely
available to you! God helped Noah build an ark, Nehemiah renovate a
wall, and Solomon erect the temple. Be confident that God will help
you create the coolest place for kids in your community so they'll
be compelled to come back again and again. cm
Franki Barra is the FL!P Kids ministry director at Discovery
Church in Orlando, Florida.
Follow Franki's expert tips to create environments that inspire
your kids, parents, volunteers, and entire church.
• Fill your rooms with fun, kid-friendly music.
• Stay tuned in to kids' current events, trends, and interests
that could become a design element in your ministry.
• Create great programming and encourage prepared teachers. It's
all fluff if you don't have this substance.
• Know your kids and their parents. All cool spaces for kids need
to be parent-approved.
• Neat and tidy spaces, organized processes, and safety are just
as important as the "wow" factor.
• Send your environment home through handouts with fun fonts,
kid-friendly pictures, and colored paper or ink.
• Create an upkeep plan. Spaces can look old and worn quickly.
Dents, dings, and sometimes big old holes can quickly and easily be
repaired if you catch them early.
• Stay current with hip themes so you can use them in your design.
Franki's church is currently doing a series with race cars as the
theme because of the popularity of the Disney/Pixar movie
• Find a great source for affordable, portable murals, such as
Group's Create a Place (www.createaplace.com).