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Spaced Out

Deb Vos

Shared Spaces

Is your children's ministry sharing space with a preschool, day care, office, school, or theater? Portable churches abound. Benefits such as location, ample parking, low rental rates, and neutral meeting places all appeal to churches. The challenges of the portable church are many and unique, though. How do you respect someone else's property while making it feel like "your" space when you're using it? Use these guidelines to maintain temporary spaces while creating a kid-friendly environment that makes a crucial good first impression on potential members.

• Invest in the right equipment. Cabinets and shelves that fold, lock, and are on wheels are perfect for easy access to your supplies and are easily secured and transported. Tack strips or grip strips (available at craft, teachers supply, and hardware stores) display children's art and are unobtrusive when emptied. Companies such as Church On Wheels (www.churchon wheels.com) and The Portable Church (www.portablechurch.com) sell wheeled shelves for bins, and they'll custom-create the cabinets to fit your specific needs and equipment. Once you've organized your equipment and cabinets, take a photograph, laminate it, and attach it to the equipment. Volunteers can then see where everything belongs and refer to the photo when packing supplies. Our church had talented carpenters, so we were able to make our own cabinets. They added lockable wheels so the cabinets stayed put. We got really creative and used them as walls and partitions between classes that met in a long hallway. We carpeted our partition cabinets to absorb sound.

• Provide a focal "wall." One church's youth area doubled as the children's space, so they added a metal track to the ceiling and hung two visually appealing curtains. That way, depending on the group of kids, a simple pull of the curtain could set the tone for either youth or children's ministry.

• Bring in safety equipment if it's not provided. Display directional signs so your children's area is easy to locate. Post your emergency protocol. And even though it means more stuff to haul in, take out, and pack up, don't skimp on providing age appropriate toys or equipment. Label all supplies by age group. This will ensure that toddlers don't end up with a box of Magnetix building toys, Lego blocks, or other choking hazards that were mistakenly put in their area. Provide first aid kits for each class and area. Supply a tub or bin with cleaning and disinfecting sprays, wipes, and other supplies. Arrange access to custodial supplies in case of emergencies such as vomit and spills.

• Do a kid-friendly facelift. You can easily dress up a rented space so it's appealing to children. Bring colorful tablecloths, hang appealing decorations and posters, or plug in fan-powered inflatables -- things that can be packed flat. If your facility has ceiling tiles, consider purchasing transparent ceiling tile hooks (available at office and teachers supply stores) that you can leave in place from week to week. Hang colorful flags and decorations from these hooks each week.

• Inspect for safety. If you're meeting in public facilities, pack a healthy supply of outlet covers and child locks. Do a safety check in your areas before each meeting or event. Look for sharp edges, broken items, electrical cords, and other hazards. Use furniture that's age-appropriate. Move unsafe furniture or equipment out of kids' path. When our toddlers were meeting in the social studies classroom of a middle school, we moved the student-size desks against the wall to create space for our toddler supplies. To our toddlers, though, the desks represented irresistible climbing equipment. So we found ways to keep the desks out of sight. Hang curtains across areas you want kids to leave alone. Use child safety gates, plastic or mesh fencing, or interconnecting play yards to create safe boundaries.

• Rugs create comfy spaces. Rugs add warmth, reduce noise, and create cozy multipurpose areas. They come in convenient sizes and add a splash of color. Best of all, they're portable -- just roll 'em up and pack 'em away.

Complex Space Conundrums

Do you have space or organizing dilemmas you just can't solve? Where can you go for ideas or to find solutions to complicated space problems?

• Open your mind. To spur outside-the-box thinking, visit kid-friendly restaurants and play areas. Connect with other children's ministries to see what they're doing. Chances are, they're trying to solve some of the same space issues. Put your creative heads together -- it's energizing and productive.

• Ask God what to do. Pray about it. One of the more challenging space issues we dealt with while renting a school was having our preschool class meet in a gym lobby -- near exit doors and a circle drive. We had more than 30 preschoolers in close proximity to exits and vehicle traffic, with foot traffic of people coming in and out of the gym doors between services on top of that. It was daunting, to say the least. But the school wouldn't open any other areas for this age group. So I prayed. And I give credit to God for waking me up in the middle of the night with the idea of hanging a 54-foot curtain on PVC pipe which could easily be disconnected for portability. We sectioned off the space we needed and kept the children safe. We used that curtain for a year until the school hired a new principal. I prayed and then went to talk to the new principal. And he opened another hallway for our preschoolers. Ask God to help you think creatively when it comes to your most frustrating space challenges.

Deb Vos is a coordinator of curriculum and teaching at Crossroads Community Church in Schererville, Indiana.

Space Management Resources

Visit these Web sites to find solutions for all your space challenges.

www.cinemeetings.com-Ideas, resources, and help for churches meeting in theaters

www.ChurchOnWheels.com-Products for port­able churches

www.portablechurch.com-Products for port­able churches

www.kaplanco.com-School and children's ministry equipment

www.adirondack.com-Reasonably priced school and church furniture

www.merchinv.com-Ceiling, shelf, and display solutions

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