How to Make the Most of the Space Your Church Has
Published: March 15, 2023
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. Just over a year in the new building, we were already 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.
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 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.
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 or Kaplan 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 the 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.
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.
Rethink room function.
Some churches save space by redesigning existing rooms to be function-specific. For example, various ages rotate through arts/crafts, media, storytelling, and group/prayer/worship rooms on a weekly or daily basis—saving the need to house each of these components in every room.
Update or eliminate equipment.
Replace the piano with a small keyboard. Lapboards rather than tables work well for upper elementary and preteen kids. Many churches use stackable chairs or no chairs at all. Carpet squares work great in place of chairs—they can be stacked and set aside or arranged for comfy seating during teaching time. Check with carpet stores for free carpet samples.
Disorganized Storage Areas
No matter what size your church, storage is always an issue. Use these ideas to get disastrous storage areas under control.
Get rid of it.
Pare down “stuff.” Purge your supplies, teaching materials, games, and more. This may be hard to hear—and even harder to do—but it’s necessary. This is your first step in organization. Donate leftovers to other organizations. Host a garage sale. Throw away broken toys. Don’t save those old crayons because you think you’ll have time to melt and remold them later. Purge every six months, and create a team to join you for these biannual Purge Parties.
During our portable church days, every week we towed a trailer with nine wheeled cabinets holding all our children’s ministry supplies. We had to go through the cabinets every two months, pitching broken items and restocking supplies. And in those days, not owning a church building meant everything went into my garage unless we got rid of it. So we learned how to get rid of it.
Find storage for items you can’t get rid of, but still need access to occasionally. This works well for seasonal items. Consider renting a storage unit or enlisting the help of a congregation member who has an extra storage area.
It’s difficult to part with that backdrop scenery for last year’s VBS or the beautiful quilt the kindergartners made to decorate the hallway a couple years ago—especially when great memories are attached to the items. So take a picture of it, put the picture in a scrapbook, and then throw out that clutter.
Closet organizers, stackable crates and tubs, and resealable bags are essential to maximizing your space. Add shelves to wall space, attach hooks to the backs of doors, and slide plastic bins under counters, tables, and benches to reduce visual clutter. Hang pocket shoe bags inside closet doors to organize smaller items. Resealable bags are available in all sizes and are great for storing all kinds of items. Neatly label your organized drawers, bins, and tubs, and keep similar items in the same areas.
Clear everything out of problem areas first.
If your space is overwhelmingly cluttered, heed this advice: Completely empty the area and start over. It’s easier to redesign an area and get rid of stuff when it’s not in the room. Take time to look over the empty space. Think about what you want in the room and put back only those items. Donate, discard, or file everything else.
Once everything has a place, and your tubs and drawers have labels, assign a volunteer to freshen up everything monthly. Don’t add to your supplies; replace them. If you buy a new toy, let go of an old one.
Say no to what you don’t need.
Let’s face it. When folks clean out their closets at home, they usually call the church first to get rid of their extra stuff. If you don’t really need it, just politely decline. It’s okay to say no, thanks. Explain that you’re doing exactly what they’re doing—organizing and getting rid of stuff.
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 and hardware stores) display children’s art and are unobtrusive when emptied. Companies such as Church On Wheels and Portable Church sell wheeled shelves for bins, and they’ll create custom cabinets to fit your specific needs.
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 magnetic 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.
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.
Space Management Resources
Visit these websites to find solutions for all your space challenges.
• www.churchonwheels.com: Products for portable churches
• www.portablechurch.com: Products for portable churches
• www.kaplanco.com: School and children’s ministry equipment
Deb Vos is a retired children’s ministry director and adjunct instructor in Florida.
Want more articles for children’s ministry leaders? Check these out.
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