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Spaced Out

Deb Vos

What is it about space? There never seems to be enough! This is true for all sizes of ministries in all sizes of churches. When my husband was in seminary, I taught in a preschool facility that rented space from a church. We worked to transform Sunday school rooms into a day care facility and then back again each week. Back in those days I believed our limited space situation would surely be my most challenging. Little did I know that God was only preparing me for even bigger adventures in confined areas.

When my husband completed seminary, he took a call to plant a new church...and there my adventures really began. Our children's ministry started in an office space, moved to a local school, and by year 11 finally moved into our own new building. As children's ministry director all those years, transitioning through each new growth phase was exhausting and also thrilling. We've been in our new building just over a year now...and already we're sharing space with our youth ministry, of course.

I've learned that there'll always be space issues. They may seem overwhelming when you're growing and running out of storage or when your Sunday school rooms have to double as office facilities, schools, theaters, or other temporary facilities -- each with unique space and organization issues. You can maximize and organize your space -- no matter what your ministry looks like or where you meet. Use these tried-and-true suggestions.

Cramped Quarters

Whether your area is overstuffed, undersized, or impractical, you can take steps to clear it, clean it, and give it the illusion of more space.

• Move large items. Relocating dusty pianos and oversized tables helps you get maximum space out of your existing areas. If you don't use it, remove it. Once you've cleared your area as much as possible, think creatively. Which spaces will work for multiple purposes? Can a media cabinet also house a puppet window? Can a large rug be used for play time and story time?

• Use furniture with a storage function. Benches with open bases are perfect for storing toys or books. Ikea (www.ikea.com) and Target stores sell customizable bookshelves that include open or closed storage. Or for an inexpensive alternative, hang attractive curtains in front of open shelves to give a visually uncluttered look.

• Make spaces appear larger. Mirrors make rooms look bigger. Nature scenes and murals bring the expanse of the great outdoors inside your classroom.

• Purchase portable furniture. Church and school furniture companies such as Adirondack (www.adirondack.com) or Kaplan (www.kaplan co.com) sell fold-up tables on wheels, allowing table-based activities to be moved quickly and easily out of the way so you can access an open activity area. In our Cattail Creek room for second- and third-graders, we use foldable camping chairs as an inexpensive alternative to regular chairs. They blend in with our room's theme, kids love to set them up, and they're easy to pack up. We stack 50 camping chairs on a wheeled platform that takes up only 4 square feet of space. That leaves us with more open space we can use for small groups and other activities.

• Escape. Take advantage of hallways, atriums, courtyards, and other areas. With safety precautions, these empty spaces can work well for small groups, group games, or prayer huddles. Keep group, game, or prayer supplies in buckets or bags with handles so you can easily tote supplies for use elsewhere.

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