How an international design agency transforms the décor of spaces for children—and what your ministry can learn from it.
I’m sure you’ve felt it: that uncomfortable, awkward feeling when you walk into a plain room that has no décor, no sense of identity, and no direction. Sort of like a creative void. It’s kind of sad, isn’t it? Like a cake without icing, apple pie without ice cream, a great outfit without cute shoes. Where’s the fun? What’s going to make you want to stay a while, and more importantly, what’s going to make you want to come back again and bring friends?
Now imagine you’re a child entering a church building for the first time, and everything is unfamiliar and scary. You look around, trying to find something to relate to or that will put you at ease. But you see nothing that helps. Sure, the room is full of children and parents who are laughing, talking and shuffling along to their classes. You, however, have no idea what to do or where to go because the building has no clear direction and doesn’t offer visual cues. Worse, it’s nondescript, with no personality or sense of theme. As a child, you have no idea what the room represents except an impersonal, blank, unwelcoming void. At this point, you might want to turn around and run back through the door you came in.
Now imagine this same building. But this time you’re greeted with color, images, fun sculptures, and even clever signs pointing you in the direction you need to go to join the other kids your age to play, make friends, and learn all about Jesus. This time, your parents have to force you to leave because you’re so engaged in the experience and atmosphere of the church. You’re excited to tell all your friends about it and invite them to come with you next week. This kind of experience is what we want for kids. We want them to walk into an area and immediately sense that they’re welcome and that Jesus and the church are accessible to them.
It’s really that simple. Children’s ministry visionary Reggie Joiner said something along the lines of “no one should feel more welcome at your church than a child.”
A Blueprint for Décor Dreaming
Dream Think Imagine has helped churches create welcoming rooms for over 15 years in 11 countries. We’re a global company that’s passionate about the value of creating inviting spaces. Our goal is to create unique and thoughtful themed spaces that inspire healing and learning. We work with an incredible team of artists, sculptors, painters, designers, builders, and extremely creative minds within our offices in Asheville, North Carolina, and in the Netherlands. Here’s a glimpse into our process—with ideas for how you can use these same concepts in your ministry.
An engaging design offers many benefits.
Along with our work in churches, we’ve created welcoming atmospheres within the medical field including transforming waiting areas, corridors, treatmentrooms, and radiology areas. This work requires us to perfect our product to exceed the requirements and expectations of the very rigid healthcare industry while keeping things engaging and interesting to kids. These same clients report encouraging statistics once the décor is complete, such as reduced sedation rates, reduced cancellation rates, and overall reduced anxiety and fear in children and adults.
These results match what we desire for our ministries, don’t they? We want to ease anxiety and fear and provide a welcoming place. We want kids and families to want to come—not show up and then “cancel” coming back. Our goal is to bring fun and stimulation into our rooms by way of colorful images, sculptures, and interactive play so kids have a memorable, engaging experience. And a great side benefit of an engaging atmosphere for kids is that parents get to be present during their own time of worship and study.
Start by understanding your needs.
When we meet with clients for the initial consultation, we learn all about them and the DNA of their ministry. For us, learning the church’s vision for the facility and collaborating on ideas is a thrilling experience. Here are questions we ask that you can ask yourself as you consider your design vision:
- What’s our philosophy and our mission? How might the design reflect that?
- What is our church culture? How can the design complement that culture?
- In which ways do we want to interact with our community? How will the design help us achieve that?
- What’s the size of our church and the percentage of children regularly attending? What goals do we have in mind in regard to design and our children’s ministry population?
- What’s the church’s overall vision for the areas to be decorated?
- What’s our budget? What are our goals? What are our dreams?
Once a solid plan is in place, make it real!
Once the dreams, goals, and budget are in place, Dream Think Imagine takes the church’s floor plans and specs and enters the design phase. This is when our artists and extremely creative minds bring the design
to life. With any décor plan, the client has final approval on creative plans before anything moves forward. The church is wise to keep internal lines of communication open with any décor or theming plan—regardless of scope—so everyone is updated and on the same page.
Once the final plan is approved, our artists, designers, and builders all do what they do best: make it real. Finally, a hand-picked team of expert installers will go on-site to the church and completely transform the space. (The final walk-through with the client is my favorite part of the entire journey. The “oohs” and “ahhs” along with the dropped jaws and huge smiles are a tremendous blessing.) A great idea for churches is to invite the community to come and check out the new atmosphere. Even if your updated décor is a small-scale project, invite people to come to see and be welcomed by your church. This is a rare opportunity to “show off” a little and help families get a taste of how much you value them.
Updating, redecorating, or reimagining your space can work with all budgets, mostly because you don’t have to do everything at once. Our clients come back year after year to add on, modify, or even completely change their theming.
Great Décor on a Small Budget
We all know not every church has a big budget for theming—and some churches may have NO budget for it at all. This hard reality doesn’t impact the need to present an atmosphere that’s welcoming and has eye and heart appeal. Think of it this way: Having a crimped budget simply gives you the chance to be ultra creative. You have an endless stream of options. Here are my suggestions for refreshing your décor on a dime.
1. Go “treasure hunting” in your church.
Do you have a storage area? If so, then you probably also have old props and miscellaneous things you can use in your children’s ministry area. Repurpose, rearrange, repaint, and recover things you already have.
2. Remember: Color is everything!
There’s no end to the items you can paint and hang randomly or in a formation to cover an entire wall. Paint pieces of wood with Scripture, pictures, abstractdesigns, or make them into Scrabble letters. Mod Podge may become your best friend.
3. Nothing has a bigger impact than God’s Word.
So why not cover your walls in Scripture? Think bold! Use a dark color as the base (black, dark navy, dark aubergine), and then write the Scripture in big, white letters. Wow! Fantastic!
4. Brightly colored fabric is indispensable.
You can use colorful fabrics in a myriad of ways: as curtains for real windows or pretend ones, as room dividers, as cushion covers, and as hanging banners and flags. Fabric adds a flexible, changeable color splash to any space.
5. Remember string art?
Well, it’s back and better than ever! Make small letters or even wall-sized art using just nails and string. How beautiful would Jesus’ name be in colorful string on a wall with lighting?
6. Lighting can change a room in an instant.
Well-utilized lighting will set any mood you’d like and bring attention to the places you want people to look. String lights are an easy, cheap way to create a really interesting room.
7. Consider a projection system.
You can install a projection system that will allow you to project content onto a wall. It’s fun to display upcoming events, Bible passages, your lesson for the day, or anything else you like.
8. Go old school.
Chalkboard paint on a wall along with colored chalk is always a hit. Kids love this interactive design element, and it’s easy on your budget. The same goes for painting dry-erase walls or magnetic walls (and you get to skip the chalk dust!).
9. Never underestimate the power of a refresh.
You don’t have to go crazy—painting your walls in a fresh, new color or installing new flooring will feel like a giant, refreshing transformation.
10. Use wall coverings.
We can design custom wall coverings for your walls. This is a terrific, exciting way to reflect your church’s personality and mission.
11. Enlist little “artists.”
Your kids are naturally creative and innovative, so ask them for help! You’ll give them pride and a sense of ownership in their church, which will keep them coming back and bringing their friends.
12. Bring the outdoors in.
Painted branches make simple and lovely decorations, and acorns, pine cones, leaves, rocks, shells…well, this list has no end. Bring natural items inside and use them for art projects, string them as garlands, or even pile them in glass jars to offer visual interest.
13. Go small.
Think about breaking up your large spaces to create smaller, more intimate ones. Smaller areas are easier to decorate than one large room.
14. Go intimate.
Let your kids get cozy. Create a reading area with beanbag chairs and stacks of books. Again, add some cool lighting to complete the look.
15. Stay simple.
Your décor doesn’t have to be sophisticated or serious. Simple is often more effective. The goal is to make everyone feel welcome and to enhance their worship experience—and to let families know you value their children.
16. Reach out to parents.
Reach out to parents once you know what décor theme you want to pursue. You never know who might be a fabulous decorator, who’s super crafty, or who might even want to donate funding for your décor. You also might find yourself with more volunteers once you have an engaging ministry area.
I believe children are the most important people in the church, and their space can’t be overlooked or underprioritized. For many children, your ministry may be the first encounter they have with Jesus. Bringing more children into the church means bringing more parents into the church—and that means church growth. A healthy, grow- ing church will do more in the community and in the world to spread God’s love. It’s a wonderful cycle, isn’t it?
It may be just “decorating” I’m talking about. But whether it’s papier-mache handprints, wall coverings, and carpets, or a wall of monitors playing the story of Jesus, it’s all part of leading people to the cross and the life-changing relationship with God we pray everyone knows. So let your creative juices flow, and start decorating or talk to your church about the budget for your children’s ministry areas. DREAM BIG!
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