From this...

Our themed kids' church environment

...to this. Click for a larger view

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, I just haven’t taken the time to do it.  One of the things that impressed me most about my years spent working in a large church was the kidmin environment.  The environment radically transformed the experience.  It served to enhance the service, rather than detract from it.  I grew up in a church where the kidmin environment was just a room with posters on the wall or even just a corner of a fellowship hall.  Themed environments were a new concept to me.

While I was in college and working at this large church, I began designing my future kids’ church.  I had sketches and plans, but I was planning for a church with a dedicated kids’ space and a budget.  When I started at my new church, I had neither a kids’ space nor a budget.  I didn’t even have any kids.  How could I take my great idea and get it into the…wait for it…corner of the fellowship hall.  This is where creativity HAD to kick in.  I am not a naturally artistic person.  I can envision something, maybe even do a crude sketch, but I have no idea how to materialize that idea.  My wife, fortunately, can do exactly that.

Here’s what we did.

We made trees to line the back wall to create a “focal point.”  These trees were made from used carpet rolls that I pulled out of the dumpsters of local carpet stores (with permission).  Then, using brown paper towel (which is surprising cheap) and a mixture made of glue and water, we created “bark” for the trees.  We also bought a few cans of textured spray paint to give it a little grittier feel.

Next, we used some green tulle that was left in a storage closet at the church.  Bunched up along the ceiling, it gives the feel of the tops of trees. This could be a little pricey, but it is still way cheaper than buying fake greenery. 

We did buy a little greenery from Hobby Lobby to give some extra depth to the set.  Typically, they run their stuff at 50% off ever other week.  Just catch them on the right week.  (The nearest Hobby Lobby is an hour away, so if that is the same for you, I advise calling ahead to make sure you have the right week.)

The doorway, which leads to the Sunday School hallway, is made from a crudely made awning topped with a grass table skirt.  The sides are made from bamboo mats I purchased at a party supply store.

For the crowning achievement, the thing that I was most excited about, we wanted a screen to use Powerpoint and DVD worship.  Rather than just have a random tv or projector (we couldn’t afford one anyway) in the middle of our rainforest, we put the tv into a tree.  Instead of using a carpet roll, we purchased four of the largest cement tubes at the hardware store.  Two for the top and two for the bottom.  With one cut down the side of each tube, we spread them out and attached them to a wooden frame my wife made with her dad.  This gave us the size and support we needed for the tv.  After this, we just used the same process we had with the smaller trees of paper towel, glue, and water.  Unfortunately, it would be 2 1/2 years before I had a computer to use PowerPoint, but we have done some DVD stuff using the tv, so it has served it’s purpose.

We made the power supply fit with the theme

There was one major problem with our setup.  There was not a power supply anywhere near our tv.  The nearest one was way down the side wall.  What did we do?  We took a green extension cord, and draped it from the outlet to the tree and around so it looked like a vine.  My wife made some paper flowers that added to the effect.  We ended up liking the look so much, we used another extension cord the same way and just cut off the ends.

Using donated materials, trash, cheap stuff, and a whole lot of creativity, we were able to create a space that I am proud of three years later.  We’ve added to it a little, adding some extra greenery and patching up some holes, but for the most part, the backdrop remains what it was when we started.  We’ve begun doing more with the rest of the space, but we’re limited because the space still serves as a fellowship hall on occasion.  You can do the same thing.  Steal my idea if you want.  If you are stuck and just need someone to help talk through your kidmin environment issues, shoot me an email and I’ll try to help you out.