By Eric Torrey
Church attendance numbers in America are declining. According to Pew Research and Gallop Polls, it has been declining for several decades. This is particularly true for mid-size churches.
A recent study noted that from the period 1994-2004, while the smallest churches (attendance 1-49) and the largest (2,000 plus attendees) experienced membership growth, mid-sized churches experienced a decrease in weekly attendance and new membership numbers.
Shawn McMullen, author of Unleashing the Potential of the Smaller Church, suggests that smaller churches cultivate an intimacy not easily found in larger churches. “In an age when human interaction is being supplanted by modern technology, many younger families are looking for a church that offers community, closeness and intergenerational relationships,” he says.
How can mid-sized churches go about creating a sense of community and closeness comparable to what small churches provide? Will this help them to grow – curtailing the trend of declining membership?
One pathway to membership growth is outreach to young families – and especially the children of young families. When a church provides children with a space where they feel welcome and can enjoy themselves, their parents will feel welcome, too.
Scottsville Baptist Church in Scottsville, Kentucky, has been serving the community for 178 years. Despite this longevity, the church leadership has decided to remain diligent to reach families and a younger population and also serve the existing church members with children.
As part of this strategy, they decided to remodel a wing of the building for a Children’s Ministry and to add a very visible playground area to the front of the church – adjacent to the new Children’s Ministry wing.
The visibility of the playground serves as a beacon to the community that young people are welcome, and Scottsville Baptist Church is focused on growth and its future. The new playground is open to all pre-school and elementary-age children during church hours.
“I feel that our playground is and will be an outreach to our community. Our church loves children, and we long to see the church (and the Children’s Ministry) grow. I view the playground as an example of our love for children. We want them to have a fun experience while here learning and growing in the word of God and connecting with our leaders and helpers,” says Kori Thomas, children’s ministry director.
The turnaround time for the playground project was rather quick – from inception to installation in less than a year, including fundraising. The church focused on a six-month giving campaign to raise funds for the playground.
One of the favorite features of the campaign was a cutout of the pastor climbing a ladder where the pastor moved up a rung when certain milestones were met. Keeping progress toward the final fundraising goal in front of everyone helped keep momentum going.
Providing church members with a visual of what the funds would be used for also helped. This was accomplished using 3D renderings and composite images supplied by EcoPlay Structures, the playground vendor the church chose to work with.
After meeting with their playground consultant and discussing the parameters of the playground project – including age groups, number of children expected to use the equipment, desired play elements to be include/excluded, available space in the proposed playground site, anticipated budget, and project timeline – a proposal was created offering two play structure designs that met the churches criteria (one for ages 2-5, and the other for ages 5-12). After review, some minor changes were requested, and final designs were approved.
At this point, the company created 3D renderings and composite drawings (showing the structures as they would appear when installed in front of the church) and fundraising activities surged.
Once funding goals were reached, colors approved, and contracts signed, it took approximately 8 weeks for the equipment to be manufactured and for installation to begin. Installation of the two structures took only 2 days.
Check out the time lapse video of the installation online at www.ecoplaystructures.com/churches.
After allowing concrete footings to cure for several days, mulch was installed, caution tape was removed, and the playground was open for the families to enjoy their planet-friendly fun on Easter Sunday.
The two play structures installed at Scottsville Baptist Church kept 2,400 pounds of plastic (approximately 17,516 milk jugs) from going to landfills or being tossed into our waterways and oceans. If placed in a room, these milk jugs would fill a room measuring 21-feet by 21-feet with an 8-foot ceiling.
Being good stewards of the Earth and congregants’ money is always good practice. Choosing these structures allowed Scottsville Baptist Church to do both.
While it has only been a few months since the playground area was completed, Scottsville Baptist Church has noticed an increase in weekly attendance.
Time alone will tell if the increased commitment to families and children will result in increased membership.
In the meantime, the families and children of Scottsville Baptist Church are enjoying their new playground – and they will continue to do so for decades to come.
Eric Torrey is a commercial playground consultant for EcoPlay Structures, Inc. For additional information on playground equipment, and to discuss adding a play structure at your church, visit www.ecoplaystructures.com/churches.