By Scott McLean
The day has arrived. You heard about it from a friend, you read a great review, so you came to experience it. As you enter, you look around, soaking in the ambiance — the decorations, the wall colors, the lighting, the other people. Memories of favorite places emerge.
Everyone’s seated, the waiter comes, you order one of the review writer’s recommendations. The steaming food arrives, everyone savors their meal. You finish, the bill arrives, the waiter takes your credit card, and you reflect about feeling a part of something special.
What a good recommendation. Just as you hoped. You can’t wait to tell your other friends.
We are attracted to new restaurants. We judge them not just on their food, the service and the ambiance, but on the experience and how it made us feel. Children are even more impressionable than adults.
When it’s time to decide where to eat, parents will often select a place where the kids want to go. If they enjoy their surroundings and their experience, then they want to come back.
McDonalds learned this a long time ago. They created “happy.” A happy place and a happy meal. So did Disneyland. The Happiest Place on Earth, they say. People have been coming back to these places for decades.
Visiting children’s church spaces should be a similar experience. It should have ambiance and provide a good experience. It should strive to capture a child’s curiosity. It should create excitement, draw out a child’s joy, create delight, and generate wonder. If successful, children will plead with their parents to come back.
Theming is one of the most important church building elements to attract and retain new visitors—both children and adults alike. As McDonald’s discovered years ago, if you can get the kids hooked, the parents will get hooked, too! Parents will drive 20 miles out of their way to please their children.
But theming is not just a dressed up a place where adult attenders drop their children off. Instead, it’s about the future growth of your church! Hear me on this. Churches that draw younger families usually see their church explode with new growth.
As quarterback of church building expansion projects, our objective is to create an attractive experience for existing members and first-time visitors, for adults and for children. To accomplish this, we deploy experts for each aspect of the new building process — the real estate broker to select the best site, a church experienced architect to create the most usable floor plan and exterior look, engineers to assure usability and comfort, and a contractor who can build an enduring place. Our goal is to create an attractive, engaging, comfortable interior environment where people are engaged and want to come back.
So, what is theming? Theming are the enhancements made to a designated space to increase a person’s experience there. Theming engages the senses — sight, sound, touch, smell, taste. Theming is audio, visual, lighting. Its 3-D. Theming is a powerful first impression, and an invitation into the story. Theming is all about an attractive and engaging experience.
Historically, theming was installed only for the indoor environment — that eye-catching wall art noticed when the child first enters the children’s ministry area. Today, theming is indoor design but also the outdoor environment where experiences can be more easily achieved.
Whether its indoors or outdoors, theming facilitates learning — learning to love Jesus and learning to love others. Indoor themed areas are hand painted or acrylic wall murals, or more relevantly today, 3-D wall attachments where the hard material protrudes from the wall. The most common installations here in Colorado are replicas of the outdoors, including mountains, waterfalls, trees, campgrounds, bike trails, etc.
Theming has changed dramatically over the past several years. We’ve moved away from stale biblical themes such as Noah’s Ark. They don’t appeal to this generation, are too “churchy,” and can hinder a church’s ability to attract new seekers.
Removing these traditional church images from church buildings has been trending for a while. Images of classic movie or book characters (e.g. Charlie Brown) are out, as are gender-specific activities such as boys playing sports or girls engaged in household activities.
While we don’t agree with much of this secular movement, we do agree that the interest by both boys and girls in non-traditional activities is healthy and should be encouraged. To mine for theming ideas, we recommend observing what other growing churches are doing. Good examples can be emulated from children’s museums or other museums of nature that have children’s exhibits. Pinterest is an excellent source of ideas.
What’s “in” today are timeless themes that will endure and not go quickly out of style. An attractive themed children’s area is costly investment (or should be) and should last 10 years.
Today, we observe more abstract designs being installed, such as such as collages of bicycles to boxes emerging from a wall or ceiling. Today’s colors are bright, and today’s designs have lots of movement.
Today, outdoors is in! Churches have long provided outdoor play and recreation spaces, but today outdoor gathering spaces continue to trend strongly. Such gathering spaces including fire pits, amphitheaters, and eating spaces (BBQs).
We are opening our buildings to the outside more. Coffee cafés and restaurants have been doing this for a while. We’re now doing it with our homes. We’re seeing this with children’s areas, as well.
Children shouldn’t just be sequestered in their designated rooms but also assemble into a central large group space with high ceilings, a stage, and good quality audio, visual, lighting that enhances video presentations, interactive drama, etc.
Children’s areas should have the same quality as the adult worship areas. While it may be at the end of a long list of “must haves” for the new church building, it shouldn’t be.
A high-quality themed children’s area will supercharge your children’s ministry, will create new momentum for your church, and will make it easier to recruit volunteers.
The future growth for your church will depend on attracting children from all over your community, and when the word gets out and you start gaining momentum, it will be unstoppable!
Scott McLean, a principal of Church Facility Solutions located in Denver, leads growing churches into new building spaces, www.churchfacilitysolutions.com.