Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week Lisa Molite, stuff, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to talk five ways to prepare your environments for a Sunday morning experience.
LET’S GET IN TO THE EPISODE
We’re back at you from Orange Conference 2019!
We kick off with a brief debate on the merits of a Gina Intro versus a Mike Intro with Kellen as moderator. Kellen takes sides and then pretends he didn’t. Gina chalks it up to Kellen’s Enneagram Nine-ness. (Kids: never use the Enneagram to stereotype your colleagues. Even when it is so clearly true.)
Our crew is weary, but caffeine-fueled, from hanging out with 8,000 of our closest kidmin friends. Time to take a break from three gazillion and five steps for a conversation about kidmin environments with the fantastic Lisa Molite!
Environments are vital. They matter. And at Orange this year, Lisa led a breakout that unpacked five key steps to creating engaging kidmin enviroments.
1. What are the five big tips for creating kidmin environments?
Lisa: Creating an environment is so much more than just the space and what it looks like. You’re creating an experience. When people come into your environment, hopefully it’s beyond what it looks like—even though that is vital. At the end of the day, it’s the experience.
You’re trying to create a physical space that gives an opportunity for relationships to thrive. I try to keep in mind these five things:
- Make it unique
- Make it relevant
- Make it appealing
- Make it fun
- Make it safe
Mike: What you said about creating an environment for relationships to thrive: I thought of Starbucks. (Even though Mike DOES NOT drink coffee.) There’s a vibe there—people engaging in conversation.
Kellen: Starbucks has a three-place mission. Home, work, and Starbucks. They intentionally make it a community center over coffee center. We want the church to be that third place. We want kids to love their home and love their school—but we want them to come to church and not just have fun with the leaders and curriculum, but to get the whole experience as well.
Lisa: We can take our cues from a lot of corporations like Starbucks and Chik-fil-a. There’s a customer service aspect in providing an awesome experience.
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Gina: For someone who loves aesthetics, it would be really easy to gravitate to putting energy, time, and resources into environments and still miss creating community and connection.
Lisa: I learned that the hard way. When I started as a volunteer, I could get hyper-focused on what the environment looked like. It was easy to forget that it’s not the end—it’s the means to an end.
Gina: What’s a time you created something that fit the criteria of being unique and fun, but still missed the mark because it didn’t create a space for community?
Lisa: This happened for my team. We were spending so much time and energy creating a stage and making it perfect – instead of just saying: “This looks good. But our end goal is simply to set up leaders and make it appealing to kids walking by. We don’t need to burn out the team.”
Gina: That keeps you from going further than you need to. You have to take care of your human resources – your volunteers.
2. Talk about what it means to make an environment SAFE.
Lisa: Safety can take two directions. The first is physical safety—fire exits, evacuation plans, background checks. It’s important to put all these things in place to make sure kids and leaders are safe. Plan for emergencies before they happen.
There’s a second angle on safety that’s equally important: Emotional safety. It’s having leaders that have been trained to know how to help kids feel like they belong and can be vulnerable. It’s important to train your leaders and to carefully group kids.
- We group by grades so they meet with kids in their same phase of life.
- Also consider grouping by gender as they get older. Male leaders for the boys, female leaders for the girls.
Create that safety so they can talk openly and connect with one another and ultimately Jesus.
3. Unpack what you mean by a UNIQUE environment.
Lisa: When you think unique, you can think it means doing it better than anyone else. A Disney environment. Instead, each environment needs to be as tailored as possible to the children in that space and their age group.
Our preschool director starts children in a small area with a TV and singing a song. Then they age up to getting a bottom line and a sticker. Then they move up to a stage and a Large Group experience, but it’s still simple, no sound system.
Then when they move up to elementary where there is media, screens, lights, tech, they’re a little more prepared.
In our new preteen ministry, we went the opposite direction. TVs, comfortable seating, snacks, games, more open time. They have the opportunity to make the space their own. It’s really worked, because each age group has something designed specifically for them.
In designing preteen, we also wanted to make sure not to step on the toes of what’s coming in middle school.
Kellen: Build anticipation. If they have older sibling and see those older environments, they get curious and excited about what’s coming.
Gina: Preparation is so important. What they’re experiencing now prepares them for what’s coming next.
Lisa: It’s really worked for us to have a smaller, more intimate setting for preteen. The connection with small group leaders has really ramped up.
Gina: That prepares them for the next phase in middle school.
Mike: When I think about unique design, I love when we visit churches around the country and they contextualize a space based on their location and community—when they reflect that in their design.
Kellen: Mariners Church in Irvine, California, uses a ship theme for children’s ministry. If you do it, do it well so it’s not cheesy. It should be just enough for the kids to be intrigued.
Speak to the students. I love that the preteens enjoy a simplified room. More like a hangout—their cool den they get to go to and be with their friends.
4. What do you mean by creating a RELEVANT environment?
Lisa: I take my cues from Dan Scott’s Caught in Between. (https://store.thinkorange.com/caught-in-between.html) If it looks like 2019 outside, it needs to look like 2019 inside.
There’s a bigger issue behind that: kids need to know that we understand what’s happening in their world, and we want to help them navigate it. Design the space in a way that shows them, “hey, we’re in touch. We know what you’re going through.”
Walk-in music is a big deal. Orange music (https://orangekidsmusic.com) and what’s provided in the monthly Spotify playlist (from 252Kids) sounds like what they might hear on the radio. Our church is hoping to attract people who aren’t a part of any church, so we want them to hear things that sound like what they’re familiar with.
In preteen, we have an iPad with a picture that looks like an Instagram poll. Every week we have a question they can vote on.
Donuts or bagels?
What kind of question is that? DONUTS. Always donuts.
When we can be relevant and show we understand what [kids] are dealing with, we develop trust and kids can feel like this is a place I want to be a part of.
Gina: What is your source for relevant information and ideas?
‘Cause our 40-something hosts are struggling with this…
Lisa: I have two college-age daughters and I ask them a lot of questions! One of them leads in Young Life and I ask her high schoolers. I also ask the kids in our ministry and small group leaders. Ask what is THE GIFT for Christmas this year. What are you getting for you birthday? What are you doing and what kind of party?
We have a “Big Box of Awesome” prize cart in preteen, and they can get a prize if they are new or brought a friend or it’s their birthday.
Squishies! Slime! Fidget spinners!
There’s a squishy in the room. It’s weird. We derail momentarily.
Kellen: Use high schoolers not just as small group leaders, but ask them for their input. It elevates their sense of being important in the room. They are not just a babysitter.
Lisa: We are big on student leaders. The kids love them since they are so much cooler than I am!
Mike: I love asking middle schoolers and high schoolers so you know the trends and what’s coming for elementary (even as it’s over for the older kids).
Is Fornite on its way out?! This is debatable.
Lisa: We integrated dabs into our dance moves to get those fifth grade boys to engage in worship. It was great at first—but within a few months, it was done. “We’re not doing this Miss Lisa. It’s OVER.”
Mike vows to bring the dab back.
5. Let’s unpack APPEALING environments.
Lisa: This is my jam! Set design and décor. When an environment is appealing, it’s intriguing. It’s attractive. Kids want to be a part of it. A focal wall or set with bright colors and possibly cool lighting is attractive.
Even beyond the physical creation, think through “wow” factors and moments where kids come in and have so much fun in church. If kids think church is boring, they may associate that with our God—and I’m not willing to let that be a possibility. I want them to see our God is creative and cares for them. He’s big and wonderful. We can do that through having fun and relationships, through games and “wow” moments.
We had a VW bus a volunteer had created that stood on our stage. The curriculum called for crowding kids into a refrigerator box, so they used the VW bus instead. Everyone got super excited about counting how many kids they managed to jam inside. It was memorable.
Use the unpredictable moments. Be predictably unpredictable. Children like structure and to know what’s coming. But how can you be a little unpredictable sometimes? Change a game up. Do something different that week.
Gina: Back up to the idea of a focal wall. How do I choose a focal wall?
- We use five insulation foam boards across our back wall on a tracking system. We paint those boards to match the screen graphics since the screens are part of the focal wall. The foam board is cheap and easy to move.
- You can use foam and carve it with a jigsaw or hot knife and attach on top of the foam board wall with T-pins.
- You can also use plywood or pipe and drape.
- Your teaching can happen in front of the focal wall.
Mike: As a kidmin leader, you often don’t have the redesign budget you want. But you can work on one wall and draw the eye to a certain space. This is especially true for a portable church.
Kellen: For portable churches—pipe and drape is your friend. We have to remove all the desks in the school classroom where we meet, so we put pipe and drape in front of them. Then we hang design elements on the drape.
Lisa: Project screens. A screen could be your entire focal wall and teaching space. We met in a basement once and had to do that.
Gina: We have unpacked these five tips for creating environments. Let’s go a little deeper into action steps.
6. What can a ministry leader do THIS WEEK to create better environments?
Lisa: Do you have space for fun in your environment?—Games and activities that allow them to laugh and have fun in Large Group and with their small group leader.
Your space can look beautiful, but it’s what happens in the space that’s so important.
Mike: You can meet in a blah room, but have great activities and still keep the kids engaged.
Lisa: Games and some element of fun.
I’m a big believer in the focal wall. It’s the best place to start. It could be two 8×4 pieces you attach with Velcro and stand up.
Lisa has a web site offering practical ideas and tips:
Lisa: People push back on set design because it’s overwhelming. There are so many other things we need to do as elementary leaders that it tends to get pushed to the side. I wrote a whole series on how to develop a team to help with that. It doesn’t have to just be people who are artistic. You need admins and people who can shop.
Mike: I love that you can do these five big tips for environment with limited resources. One final suggestion: get a fresh set of eyes on your environment and get feedback. It might be someone outside your ministry or even outside your church.
- Review your environment. This week, set aside a short time to walk through your environment with someone outside your ministry. Ask whether your space is:
- Review your experience. Are there elements of fun that allow kids to laugh during Large Group and to engage with their Small Group leaders?
- Focal wall. If you are overwhelmed by the idea of set design, consider how you could start small with a simple focal wall.