Ever sit in someone else’s church and feel like all the glaring
gaps in the children’s ministry are screaming at you? Why don’t
these people see what needs to be fixed here? you wonder. Your
outsider objectivity gives you “eyes to see,” while those of us in
our churches have “home blindness.”
So in the spirit of The Learning Channel’s Trading
Spaces series — where two sets of neighbors swap keys to
transform a room in each other’s home — Children’s Ministry
Magazine created our own Trading Sacred Spaces experience…with a
Rather than diving in to redecorate rooms, we enlisted four
willing children’s ministers who’d allow our reviewers to visit
their churches at random — and with a child in tow. We recruited
our four experienced reviewers from our team of R.E.A.L. Learning
Specialists and Children’s Ministry Magazine Live workshop
We gave these reviewers a detailed evaluation form (on page 100)
to covertly evaluate their selected sacred space in the areas of
first impressions outside, first impressions inside, safety, eye
and heart appeal, educational philosophy, last impressions, and
areas of special interest. Then we asked our reviewers to report
back to us about their experiences. What we found was both
Kids LOVE these Sunday School resources!
First Impressions Outside The Standard:
Indications that people are welcome and wanted.
What Our Reviewers Found: Each church had
specially designated guest parking that was convenient to the
church entrance. These reserved parking spaces communicated that
the churches valued and looked forward to guests, and that they
wanted to give visitors special treatment.
Two churches posted easy-to-read, permanent signs that marked
the main entrance and the children’s ministry area. Signs are vital
because they help visitors get their bearings and find different
areas of the church without constantly having to ask for
At one church without signs, a reviewer said, “It was a little
confusing, but people were willing to direct us.”
First Impressions Inside, The Standard:
Evidence of child- and family-friendliness.
What Our Reviewers Found: Three of our four
reviewers were welcomed by a church greeter within the first minute
they entered the church. This immediate welcome made these
reviewers feel noticed and valued. All the greeters and ushers at
each church were friendly and helpful. Our reviewers reported that
they sought out greeters several times to ask directions and other
questions about the church.
On the other hand, three of our reviewers couldn’t find a
visitor check-in area, and only one reviewer could immediately
locate information about the children’s ministry.
When parents bring their children to a new church, one of the
first things they’ll look for is information about the children’s
ministry. A well-put-together brochure or information sheet makes a
great impression on guests.
One reviewer who was unable to locate this information was
surprised. “I had to ask about information. They took me to the
children’s director, and she found a brochure and gave it to
For two reviewers, locating the churches’ children’s ministry in
the building was a snap. Signs and printed directions clearly
pointed the way.
But the other two couldn’t find the children’s ministries in the
churches and had to ask for directions. For them, wandering around
lost wasn’t very enjoyable. One even reported that when she asked
for directions, a greeter was unable to help her.
Three reviewers reported they had difficulty understanding the
way the children’s ministry worked once they found it. Only one
church’s directions pertaining to the children’s ministry —
including check-in and classroom information — was clear and
understandable. One reviewer wandered with her daughter in the
halls until they found the correct room. “There were signs on each
door indicating the room number, but I never saw a check-in area,”
Two reviewers were happy to report that a classroom teacher or
volunteer immediately greeted them when they entered a classroom
and that the teacher or volunteer introduced their children to
their classmates and encouraged them to join in.
Here’s one of the more eye-opening things we discovered about
visitor-friendliness. Our reviewers reported that once they left
the children’s ministry area to attend worship, only two reviewers
received any acknowledgment from congregation members.
The two who weren’t welcomed or acknowledged left the service
feeling ignored and left out. One said, “Only one gentleman came
and spoke to us. I spoke to two others because I needed to ask a
The other said that as a visitor, she wouldn’t return to the
church because it seemed as though the regular members, while
friendly to one another, were indifferent to her. She felt like an
outsider. One reviewer who was welcomed by congregation members was
delighted by the level of friendliness she found. “This
congregation is very friendly! They wanted to share names and phone
numbers and offered to help if I was moving to the area. They even
asked me to sit with them and have coffee afterward.”
Safety, The Standard: Evidence that an adequate
safety system is in place and functioning.
What Our Reviewers Found: Not one of our
reviewers could find a protection policy for the children’s
ministry clearly stated or posted. One reviewer said, “I didn’t see
the safety policy, and I was looking for it.”
Another commented, “The children are dismissed for children’s
church about 10 minutes into the worship service. When I took my
4-year-old downstairs, the worker asked her name. My daughter
stated her first name, but the worker didn’t ask for her last name,
and she didn’t ask my name or for any information about my child.
If there’d been a problem, they would’ve had to come to the
sanctuary and hunt for me.”
Another reviewer said, “We often assume a child is safe at
church. I had to trust that my child would be there for me at the
end of the service.”
None of the churches gathered parent contact information, and
none inquired whether kids had food allergies or health
One reviewer said that although the church she visited didn’t
ask for specific information about her child, she felt adequate
measures were taken to protect regularly attending kids with
allergies. “It was clear that they’re controlling allergy issues by
posting signs on the wall about which kids have allergies. Plus,
they had a No Nut Zone sign.”
Two reviewers said they felt completely comfortable leaving
their children. One said she felt okay about leaving her child, and
the fourth reviewer said she felt uncomfortable leaving her child.
“I felt sure that my 4-year-old was safe. But I also felt very
uncomfortable because I’d left her with complete strangers who
neither knew me nor anything about her. It was a bit
Only one reviewer felt well-informed about what her child would
be doing while she was at worship. “They really went into detail,
telling me about Sunday school and children’s church and what
happens in there.”
All the reviewers were especially pleased that their kids had
been made to feel secure and welcome in their classrooms.
Eye and Heart Appeal, The Standard: A clean and
kid-friendly area for children.
What Our Reviewers Found: Three reviewers were
impressed by the fact that the churches they visited were
especially clean and tidy. These same three reviewers noted the
churches’ sanitary and inviting restrooms, and the fact that all
the classrooms smelled fresh and recently cleaned.
One visitor reported that the church she visited “could have
used some improvement” in this area. Although this fact didn’t seem
to affect her overall opinion of the church, she did notice that
the restrooms and classrooms weren’t as clean as they should’ve
All our reviewers said the churches seemed very kid-friendly in
their decorations, furniture, and focus. In fact, three churches
filled their classrooms with age- and size-appropriate furniture.
One has even installed child-sized toilets in the restrooms!
Educational Philosophy, The Standard:
Indications that R.E.A.L. Learning — relational, experiential,
applicable, and learner-based — is taking place.
What Our Reviewers Found: Two reviewers saw
clear indications that kids were taught using interactive
activities. These same reviewers said these churches took measures
to ensure that kids were actively engaged in their Sunday school
classes or children’s church.
One reviewer reported that her child was unable to tell her
about the lesson after Sunday school. Another said that her
children indicated that the teacher was more concerned about
disciplining the “wild kids” than anything else. Two of our
reviewers said their children left without learning anything new
Last Impressions, The Standard: A send-off that
makes people want to return.
What Our Reviewers Found: Two reviewers were
invited back by congregation members. The same two were thanked for
coming and invited back by greeters.
The reviewers who were given a fond farewell said, “My kids had
a nice time and made friends. As a visitor, that meant a lot to me,
and the friendliness and genuine interest was very touching.” Most
surprisingly, two of our reviewers weren’t thanked for coming,
invited back, or told goodbye by anyone at all.
One of these two reviewers summed up her thoughts this way: “The
worship service was good, the preaching was good, but to be honest,
I felt pretty ignored. The children seemed happy to be there. I saw
a lot of interaction between families in the church. I saw smiles
and hugs and handshakes. On the other hand, I didn’t feel a very
warm welcome. I had to initiate conversation. This church’s
greatest weakness for visitors, based on my experience, is the need
for more friendliness. I’m sure that these folks didn’t
intentionally ignore a visitor. My observation was that the church
family felt loved and glad to see each other. However, as a
visitor, I’d probably move on to other churches.”
Three of our four visitors said they’d be happy to visit these
churches again based on a good experience. Unfortunately, one
indicated she wouldn’t consider returning.
We asked our reviewers to comment on things the churches did (or
didn’t do) that particularly stood out in their minds. Here are
- “It’s obvious that this church cares about children. The
children’s area is in an older part of the church, but it’s very
well cared for and clean. It appears that this care is initiated by
love for families.”
- “The lobby had ministry tables set up for each ministry area.
This is very helpful. I was able to retrieve children’s ministry
stuff and newcomer stuff. Excellent displays!”
- “Strong leadership is apparent. This church’s vision was
evident on the foyer wall. It’s clear that they know where they’re
- “We had a great day. It was eye-opening to be a visitor with
kids. Every children’s minister should do this periodically.”
- “The children’s director helped my kids connect with kids their
own age. She was loving, friendly, and helpful.”
- “I saw passion, but passion for what? Jesus was not evident. I
saw passion for programs. I was disappointed that this church’s
strength wasn’t verbalized as ‘kids growing in Christ.’ “
- “Possibly they could make the choir for the kids more
contemporary — it was very formal, stiff, and almost sad.”
- “This church’s greatest weakness — how can I say this gently?
— is the need for more friendliness.”
CHILDREN’S MINISTRY MAGAZINE “TRADING SACRED SPACES”
Find a partner with whom you can trade sacred spaces. This
person should be someone from another church. Take a moment before
your visit to familiarize yourself with the questions on this
1. FIRST IMPRESSIONS OUTSIDE
based on directions.
located near the church entrance.
Easy-to-read signs clearly mark the church entrance and
children’s ministry area.
where I should go.
2. FIRST IMPRESSIONS INSIDE
welcomed me within one minute.
identified and easy to locate.
A visitor check-in area is available.
ministry is easy to find and understand.
material about its children’s ministry.
children’s ministry (location, check-in, classrooms) are clear and
easy to find.
children’s ministry director, pastor, or leader.
greeted me immediately when I visited a classroom in the children’s
and welcomed as visitors in each classroom.
without any problems after visiting the children’s ministry.
the children’s ministry is clearly stated.
place for parents to retrieve their children.
A children’s ministry worker gathered my parent contact
any allergies and/or health concerns upon check-in.
served is clearly posted.
children’s ministry area.
4. EYE AND HEART APPEAL
Please rate the following statements using a scale of 1-5.
(1=Poor; 2=Needs improvement; 3=Average; 4=Good; 5=Excellent)
___ The nursery area is clean, tidy, and has a pleasant
___ The preschool area is clean, tidy, and has a pleasant
___ The elementary area is clean, tidy, and has a pleasant
___ The preteen area is clean, tidy, and has a pleasant
___ The children’s ministry area is decorated in an appealing
manner that portrays the character of the ministry.
___ The children’s ministry area is kid-friendly in its
___ The furniture and objects in the rooms are age- and
size-appropriate for kids.
___ The temperature in the ministry area is just right.
___ The displays and decorations are current and seasonally
___ The restrooms are sanitary and inviting.
___ I felt secure leaving my child in the ministry’s care while
___ I was informed about what my child would be doing while I was
___ My child felt secure and was welcomed by the teacher and
___ The logistical flow between the children’s ministry and worship
area works well.
___ My child had a great experience in Sunday school or children’s
___ My child would enjoy visiting this church again.
___ I was impressed by how friendly this church is toward
___ I would visit this church again based on a great
5. EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY
interactive activities and learning opportunities for
experiential, applicable, and learner-based) takes place in this
My child(ren) were actively engaged in their Sunday school class
or children’s church.
were taught and came away with practical life application.
new about God in their classes.
statement is clear and was lived out during my visit.
6. LAST IMPRESSIONS
I was told goodbye and thanked for coming.
7. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
Describe the strengths and weaknesses of the church and
|The church I’m visiting stated
that its strengths are:
|And that its weaknesses are:
|Based on your experience, what is
this church’s area of greatest strength? weakness?
|What should this ministry continue
|What should this ministry
eliminate, replace, or stop doing?
|If you were to advise this
ministry to focus on 1 thing for improvement, what would it be?
|How would you encourage this
|Any other comments?
Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change. Originally published in
January-February, 2004 in Children’s Ministry Magazine.