Given a choice, most children prefer the local hamburger joint to a fancy five-star restaurant. Why? A fun but safe playground, chairs that are the right size, and bright colors might have something to do with it.
Now take a look around your church. The food you serve your youngsters' souls is more important than any hamburger they will ever eat. But is your children's church environment as attractive and safe as the nearest fast-food chain?
"The children's area of the church should be unique and designed especially with children in mind," says Dale Hudson. Dale Hudson, Director of Children's Ministry at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach, Florida, knows a lot about environment and its effect on ministry. He remembers the impact of environment at a church he used to work at, First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas, which built two age-appropriate children's areas, Toon Town for the younger ones and Space Place for the older group, attendance by children doubled to more than 500 per week and hundreds have been saved he says.
"The environments we created help capture the kids' attention and draw them into the message we are trying to communicate each week," Hudson says.
Church Meets Disneyland
Dale Hudson had a big vision for the children's worship space at First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas. To make his vision a reality, Hudson approached a top designer of children's amusement rides, Bruce Barry. Barry had designed the E.T. ride at Universal Studios and stage sets for Nickelodeon.
Barry, not yet a Christian, didn't really need the work, but his love for children drew him to the project. He accepted Hudson's offer. As he worked at the church, God's love worked on him. Barry and his wife became Christians and were baptized the same month the new worship spaces opened.
There are two children's areas, each age-specific. "I believe it is very important to have age-appropriate environments for today's children," Hudson says. "Today's pre-teens are a world apart from a kindergartner or a first grader. We have recognized the needs of each age and tried to create a unique, appropriate environment for them."
Toon Town is for first through third graders. Entering the room is like entering a different world, full of animation, 26-foot-tall buildings, puppet stages, lights, bright colors, and video games. The room has pipes that blow out confetti, a water tower bucket that overflows and pours bubbles down on the kids, a prize booth, a firehouse with a hammer that rings a big bell, cars that honk and flash their headlights, an oversized working stoplight, and a tv shop with glowing neon wires and moving satellite dishes. "It is almost like going on a ride at Disneyland," Hudson says.