Children’s Ministry Environments: Children’s Hospital, Kids Museum, or Disney?

There is a lot of talk in the children’s ministry world about creating attractional environments for kids. This is for good reason. At the very least, “Let the children come…” means removing every hindrance that stands in the way of connecting kids to Jesus.

Fun and safe kids’ facilities, excellent hospitality, and exciting kids events are children’s ministry’s front door. But attractional environments for kids come in all shapes and sizes. Which one is most like children’s ministry? Here are three options:

  1. The Children’s Hospital. Once I had to take my daughter Elisabeth to Norton Children's Hospital for a procedure. I have a love/hate relationship with the place. I hate having to be there, because it means usually means that my child or someone else’s is sick or hurt. On the other hand, I’m always intrigued by the children’s hospital, because it is one of the most kid-friendly environments in our city. Waiting in the lobby for an hour before a test is more pleasant at the children’s hospital, because there is an interactive video projection game in the lobby. A painful procedure goes more smoothly there, because you can play games on an iPad and Frozen is showing on the ER television. The entire place is designed to build a child’s trust so that healers can provide care. Do you see the connection to children's ministry? Our environments are like the children’s hospital. Attractional environments build a relationship of trust so that kids can be led to the Healer.
  2. The Kids Museum. On another occasion, I was talking to a seminary class about how to create attractional environments. One of the students objected, “That sounds like Nickelodeon.” Without thinking, I answered, “No, it’s more like PBS Kids.” Sure. There is an entertainment factor, but there is an goal in mind that is larger than selling a product or a character. Like the interactive exhibits at the kids museum or the skits on Sesame Street, we have an educational goal in mind. My friend, Dave Ainsworth, put it this way: Attractional environments lead kids to hands-on, real-life, engaging discovery. Thinking through this has helped me to see why it’s important to do more than theme your environments in a kid-friendly way. You must also use the kid-friendliness to teach. We need environments that lead kids to engage with the Truth of the Bible. I wrote a bit about how we do this at Sojourn Kids in the December/January 2012 edition of K! Magazine in an article entitled, “God Has the Best Imagination” (pages 48-51).
  3. Disney. We've visited Disney World as a family a couple of times now with our children, and we love it! There are so many things to love about Disney’s attractions and amazing hospitality, but we fell in love with Disney for the way they took care of our Lucy. Lucy has special needs and a very unique diet. Disney asked about special needs before we arrived, and, when they discovered Lucy’s diet, they took care of her. Whenever we ate at a park restaurant, the chef met us at the front and showed us menu items that would work best. Their excellent hospitality allowed us rest and simply enjoy the theme park experience. After all, that’s part of their mission, right? They want you to lay down your worries and get lost in the Disney story–where dreams always come true. Tim Keller has written about how excellence and higher quality production communicates something about God’s transcendence. In other words, the excellence of an attractional environment can help lift eyes above temporary things to the bigger story God is telling. In another context, Paul Miller said it this way, “Disney is right. Because of the intrusion of a good God into an evil world, there are happy endings. Some of God’s last words in the Bible are, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5 KJV)

Do you think it is important to have an attractional environment for children’s ministry? Do you agree with these three analogies? What other analogies would you suggest?

Photos courtesy Jared Kennedy (at Louisville’s Norton Children’s Hospital), Art Sparks at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum, and Amy Embry (at Walt Disney World). This post originally appeared at in 2012. 

Create, Connect, Grow, Go: A tool for assessing your family ministry

John Piper says, “Leadership is knowing where people need to go and taking the initiative to get them there in God’s way and by God’s power."

 Many Christian leaders have a robust theology. They have clear standards for how ministry should be. The leader may even be able to see how their church or ministry area fails to live up to those standards. What they don’t have is a creative vision for how to move the people under their care in the direction they should go. They don’t have a strategy for ministry. In order to have a clear ministry vision, it’s important to have deep convictions and also be able to see how they will work out practically.

Here is a four-part strategy we've use to plan and measure our progress in family ministry. I presented this earlier in the week at the ETCH conference in Nashville.

Review the questions below or download the full powerpoint presentation here. 

  1. CREATE welcoming environments for building relationships with kids and families. Welcoming environments are the front door of our children’s ministry. We show Jesus to children through the way we welcome. We want the atmosphere of our children’s environments to be prayer-filled and dependent on God. We want facilities that are fun and safe. Welcoming environments include exciting kids events like Vacation Bible School and even our website where new families look to check out what we do for kids before they come. Keeping our environments welcoming involves training up excellent hospitality teams—including those who do follow-up and those who serve kids with special needs.

    We measure…

    Hospitality: Is there a regular prayer huddle that sets the atmosphere for our time together? Is there a welcoming hospitality presence? Are there long lines at check-in? How are we following up with new families? Thank you notes? Care packages? Do teachers know regular kids by name? Is there a need for a special needs team or bi-lingual workers? Is the hospitality team clearly identifiable (lanyards, t-shirts, etc.)?

    Safety: Are all exit/entrance doors secured? Is there a security presence at main entrance? Emergency response plan up-to-date? Volunteer records (background checks, references, membership, policy and abuse training) up-to-date? Are policies and procedures implemented? Are there reports of policy violations?

    Showing Value of Children through Aesthetics: Are you providing a kid-friendly and bright environment? Displaying adequate signage? Using up-to-date check-in technology? Hosting attractional family events?
  2. CONNECT kids to Jesus and the church community. After kids have stepped through our front door, we want them to see Jesus. This means preparing creative and application-oriented Bible lessons that connect kids to Jesus and his good news. It also means providing consistent leaders who intentionally shepherd children and other volunteers. We recruit and develop men and women who are willing and gifted for serving and leading in children’s ministry.

    We measure…

    Large Group Teaching: Is there a regular large group teaching time? Is the gospel (Need / Good News / Faith) clear? Does it include music? Excellence level? Are you regularly assessing the teaching? Are we using technology (sound, video, powerpoint, etc.)

    Classroom Lesson: Are teachers kid-friendly and engaging? Following and implementing provided resources? Are teachers following provided lesson schedules? Is the gospel (Need / Good News / Faith) clear? Are classrooms organized and well-stocked? Are lesson materials prepped for teachers before they arrive? Engaging a variety of learning styles? Are there any testimonies to report about engaging kids in the classroom?

    Leadership Team: Are coaches and coordinators regularly meeting with the other leaders and teachers under their care? Are we consistently meeting classroom ratios (Nursery, 1:3; Toddler, 1:5; Preschool, 1:7; Elementary, 1:10)? Did we hold a training for our children’s ministry team during the past month? What percentage of our team has completed basic vision training before serving?
  3. GROW alongside kids and families by helping them take next steps. After families have become regular parts of our community, we want to move them into taking the “next step” along their journey of faith. So, we’re intentional about equipping families with classes and resources to help them grow with Jesus. We also lead our families through a series of milestones that include child dedication and the student baptism process.

    We measure….

    Training (Classes): Are parents attending classes? Are the topics the classes cover engaging the questions that families are asking? Is the gospel (need / good news / faith) clear in our classroom presentations? Are the classes organized as a pathway? How do the differing classes relate to one another?

    Involvement (Milestones): How many families participated? How well was the milestone promoted? Excellence level? How are we gifting parents or individuals who participate? How are we encouraging community celebrations?

    Equipping (Resources): Are we providing weekly take home resources? Are other parent resources available at the book table or online? Are we highlighting them? Are we sending a regular (weekly/monthly) parent e-mail? Are families using these resources? Are there any testimonies to report about parents teaching kids at home?
  4. GO—Send kids and families on mission. Growth for kids and families moves beyond their personal discipleship. Our growth in faith should move us to be ambassadors for Christ who love our neighbors and go with God on mission to the world. We cultivate this in our family ministry by partnering with our church’s international missions and mercy ministries. We also give families opportunities to serve together, and we are intentional about training children in evangelism.

    We measure…

    Evangelism Training: Are you regularly challenging kids to invite their friends to church? Have you taught kids to share their faith? Has this been highlighted in the last month? Have you given them clear resources to use when sharing their faith with their friends?

    Service: Do middle and high school students have some way to use their gifts in your church? Can they serve in your children’s ministry (never without adult supervision; we don’t leave children with children)? How are you cultivating a heart for service or a heart for the poor amongst the next generation?

    Missions: Does your church sponsor short-term mission trips where families can go on mission together? Does your children’s ministry regular pray for missionaries? Do the kids in your ministry create care packages for missionaries? How are you doing missions education with the kids under your care?

What emotions are you experiencing about this self-evaluation? In which of these twelve areas do you feel the weakest? In which of these areas do you feel the strongest? How does the gospel speak to your emotions? What are two or three next steps can you can take to grow as a ministry. Write them down. Pray about them with a friend.