By Cathy Hutchison

Children’s spaces are unique in that they lend themselves to a high degree of creativity when it comes to design.

Those designs are most effective when they are tailored to the unique needs and mission of the church.

To learn more about tempering ultra-creative designs with function in our children’s ministries, we spoke with three design firms about their latest design projects. Here is what they shared:

With the construction of their new worship center, Abundant Life in Lees Summit, Missouri had the opportunity to relocate their children’s ministries closer to their new worship venue to improve accessibility. The church teamed with Mantel Teter Architects of Kansas City, Missouri and Wacky World Studios of Oldsmar, Florida to create an indoor extravaganza to support the children’s ministry’s navigational theme.

“It was really exciting to witness the church’s focus on children,” says Skyler Phelps, vice president at Mantel Teter Architects. “Many churches will theme an entry, but Abundant Life invested all of the way through. There are big trees in the foyer, a van with a camper, ranger station, rafts on the floor…” Phelps explains, “One of Wacky World’s strategies to animate the space was through video projection. There is a digital waterfall that projects water falling onto the floor, and projected leaves that separate when children step on it.”

Journey Kids—the name of the children’s ministry—is structured to invite kids into the adventure of life in Christ. The new space allows the church to make that message a three dimensional story. “There is nothing like it in our area,” reveals Phelps. “It doesn’t come off as a theme park. It’s simply an immersive environment that calls kids to join in.”

At Crossroads Christian Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, one of the biggest design decisions for the facility was to make it a stand-alone venue. “The church told us that they wanted something unique and creative, and because the building wasn’t tied to what already existed, that gave us an open canvas,” comments Bruce Woody, president of HH Architects in Dallas, Texas.

The new building—visible from the nearby freeway—has a distinctively animated architecture in its shape, form and color.

Gary Kirchoff, the project manager shares, “The fact that it’s a stand-alone building with such a unique personality really gave the church an opportunity to rebrand their children’s ministry. The design literally took off on the backside of a napkin. Once the idea of a themed children’s village came together it just came to life.”

Nan Gannon, interior designer with HH Architects, adds, “The church didn’t want something cartoonish. They wanted a world that kids could enter.”

The theme—which carries through the building—is centered around a Main Street that features realistic row houses built to 2/3 scale so they are sized for children.

In keeping with this storybook world, the entryway arrival is designed to look like a Victorian-era train station, the children’s ministry large theater is an art deco design, and there is even a fire station—-along with a garage, attorneys’ offices and other town scape facades.

The play area looks like a city park, and the playscape has children crawl through a magical forest. “One of the interesting things was the use of color,” comments Gannon. “The interior uses over seventy different colors.” The vault ceiling is painted like the sky with programmed LED lighting changes which create looks from daylight to dusk.”

Another advantage to having a stand-alone building was the opportunity to develop an outdoor fellowship plaza that connects back to the existing worship building. The plaza features an outdoor baptistery at the center of the fellowship area and will eventually link to a new youth facility that is still on the drawing boards.

Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas is a ninety-year-old church that continues to grow—especially in the demographic of young families. “As soon as the kids can start hearing about Jesus, we share age-appropriate Bible lessons. We constantly hear from families that their kids are coming home and sharing what they’ve learned in church,” offers Chuck Bestor, administrative pastor at Central Baptist.

“It used to be that parents brought their kids to church, but now we find that kids are bringing their friends and their friends are bringing their parents.” The new children’s building at Central Baptist Church currently on the design boards with GFF in Dallas, Texas will triple the size of the existing children’s facilities.

“This new design solves a lot of the problems of the existing space,” verifies Stephen Pickard, director of church works at GFF. “For one thing, the church has outgrown what they have, but this new design has allowed the children’s staff to rethink what was needed. The children’s spaces will be consolidated into a single area to improve access for parents and there will be a much more optimal mix of large group and small group environments. It will be much easier to operate.”

“At 76,000 sf, this is a really big project for us,” points out Bestor. “We’ve been impressed with how responsive the GFF team is to design with us. They have really good technology and listen to what we are asking for. Many times we’ve worked via video, moving doors and widening hallways.”

“This really is their design,” shares Pickard. “They understand their ministry and we have worked room by room to get them exactly what they want.”

GFF chose tilt-wall construction to allow the church to have a great deal of square footage within the budget. The church will spend about $1 million on theming—provided by Little Mountain Productions—which is focused on the gathering space, large group worship venues along with highlights throughout to animate the space.

“We wanted everything to blend with the existing building, but to still speak to children,” adds Jeremy Roehr, project leader for GFF. “We designed a large glazed entry to the new children’s commons with colored glass and a ‘pop up’ play space. This expresses visually the type of ministry that happens here and it also allows the church to really let it be the kids space.”

The new children’s spaces at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kansas are deceptively simple: open ceilings and exposed structure with some color blocking to add visual interest. Yet, the strategy behind the design is a story in reallocating space to maximize flexibility.

“This church is active every day of the week,” offers Brian Rathsam, project architect for Mantel Teter in Kansas City, Missouri. “We designed the rooms to be inherently multipurpose. The church has created some art for minor theming, but it can be easily updated. The 200-seat auditoriums are essentially identical.”

While the primary function of the dual auditoriums is to serve middle school and high school worship, the rooms are labeled the East and West Auditoriums—which allows them to be used for other ministries and events during the week.

With the new worship spaces, the existing high school space was able to be reallocated for the children’s ministry. “The previous high school worship space had two story volume. So we put in another floor, doubling the square footage and creating additional classrooms for children’s ministry. We were also able to extend and enlarge the church’s lobby space in a way that makes it feel like it has always been there. What was previously congested now has fluid circulation and a nice, open café space,” comments Rathsam.

For each of these new projects, the designers started with each church’s unique ministry.

Whether it was about calling children to adventure, planning a dedicated building that children want to run into, creating exactly what was needed to do big ministry in a small city, or designing multiuse flexibility for a continually innovating ministry, every decision was made to support a clearly defined purpose.

So, what is the purpose unique to your ministry? Are your facilities aligned to support it? 

Published in WORSHIP FACILITIES, April 2016 

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