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The Eyes Have It

Whenever our staff travels, we're amazed at the wonderful things children's ministers do with their classrooms. So we decided to have a contest to ferret out those hidden wonders -- and then honor the best of the best with coverage in this issue of Children's Ministry Magazine.

Our design team had a tough job because there were so many great rooms to choose from. Each church had worked long and hard to make their children the real winners of this contest. You inspired us with your passion for reaching children, commitment to excellence, and faith in God!

We learned that the #1 reason people create amazing rooms is that children are worth it! Listen to what Dale Hudson from First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas, and a winner of the Most Innovative Room category wrote, "We believe that if children can grow up knowing that church is a fun and exciting place to learn about God, they will continue on as they mature into teenagers and adults. We want them to walk away saying, 'Church is an exciting place to be and God is an exciting God to learn about.' Beige walls, metal folding chairs, and an overhead projector will not cut it anymore. This is the visual generation."

Redecorating rooms was also a learning process for most of our entrants. You'll find in this article the steps they took and the obstacles they overcame to create winning rooms. Cindi Boggio from Faith Factory at the Family Life Center in Mukilteo, Washington, and a Most Innovative Design winner, itemized all she had learned:

1. There are ways to make a huge impact at a minimal cost.

2. Remodeling is a witnessing opportunity. Letting people and businesses know why you want materials is a great way to open the door to tell them about your church, vision, and Lord.

3. We need to develop timelines and break large jobs into smaller ones.

4. There's only so much I can do on my own.

5. Redecorating will snowball!

6. Creating deadlines helps, not hinders.

7. I have awesome talent available in my church body!

8. Work made fun isn't work.

9. Look what God has done!

"Look what God has done!" That was the resounding cry of almost every contest entrant. They asked God for big dreams and then saw him faithfully provide to fulfill those dreams. Our only double-category winner is BLAST: Bible Learning and Spiritual Training at First Presbyterian Church in Visalia, California. Beth Richards, their children's director, saw God move in amazing ways. She writes, "Although this was a monumental task for us and a great leap into the unknown, we never looked back once we started! Our enthusiasm and faith were fanned by the Holy Spirit moving discreetly throughout our congregation. Our largest ticket items were donated, as was almost all the labor to transform the rooms...It seemed that each obstacle we met (usually in the form of a huge bill that was due) was removed by an even grander form of support (usually in the form of a donation). We felt God's hand in everything we set out to accomplish because when it was all finished, the overall transformation was far more than we had envisioned! Even today, when I walk through the classrooms, I sense God's presence. We learned that God is faithful and that he answers prayers. We also learned to trust his guidance."

So have we whet your appetite enough yet? Once you turn this page, you'll enter into some of the most amazing rooms we've ever seen. And if you don't get enough here, go to www.childrens for complete coverage of the winners, runners-up, and honorable mention churches. If you've ever dreamed of transforming your Christian education area, you won't want to miss out on the expert interviews and design tips to help you create winning rooms in your church, too.


Most Innovative Design
Adventure Bay at Fellowship of South Bay in Lomita, California, submitted by David and Jodie Searle.

This church of 200 features a King's Kidz children's church program that meets in a dockside community named Adventure Bay. The stage looks like a boat dock, and puppets interact with the children from the windows and rooftops of the village shops built adjacent to the dock. Their yearlong theme of Adventure Bay has enabled them to transform a 30x30-foot worship center into a seaside experience. Their Adventure Bay goal is to capture children's interest by using a dynamic and interactive worship experience.

How'd They Do That?

1. We gutted an old classroom by removing cabinets and unused sliding partitions.

2. We painted the room a soft blue. It's amazing the difference a paint job can make.

3. We carpeted the room and built kid-size benches.

4. We built puppet stages out of plywood, cardboard, and assorted framing materials. Then we painted designs on the storefronts.

5. We hung fabric behind the puppet stage and the overall stage to hide background clutter and enhance puppet viewing.

6. We built an 8x8-foot dock out of 2x6-inch lumber and landscaping posts to fit over the main platform. We painted the dock brown and used black spray paint to give it an old wood grain effect.

7. We used an overhead transparency from Big-Action Bible Skits (Group Publishing, Inc.) projected onto a white queen-size bedsheet to paint the background ocean scene with tempera paints.

8. We purchased an assortment of nautical junk at a local nautical salvage yard and got several interesting pieces from a church member. We placed these all over the dock and stage.

9. Potted palm trees, fish netting and sea shells, piles of nautical odds and ends, dozens of suspended birds, and even tropical scented plug-in air fresheners helped create the tropical paradise.

Price tag: $300 (excluding carpet)

Obstacles to overcome: Finding laborers. David and Jodie Searle write, "We had a small group of very dedicated workers who worked long, hard hours. Additional helpers would've made a big difference. A couple of times we had a large number of volunteers show up, and we were unprepared. We didn't have tasks identified, and we didn't always have tools or materials available. I'm sure this discouraged some of the volunteers. In the future, we'll spend more time preparing for the actual work with these steps:

• identify small jobs,
• estimate the time the jobs will take,
• ensure that all necessary tools and materials are available, and
• spend time advertising our requirements so we find unknown talents or resources currently available in our church."

Runner-Up: The King's Kids of Oologah Assembly of God Church in Oologah, Oklahoma, submitted by Diana Coe.

Honorable Mention: Wayside Presbyterian Church in Landisville, Pennsylvania, submitted by Jane Kintzi.

Most Resourceful Design

My Father's House at Valley Christian Assembly in Charleston, West Virginia, submitted by Stan Jenkins.

This church performed a resourceful makeover to make a dilapidated room warm and inviting. Stan Jenkins writes, "Our room was covered with paneling that was bowed and rotten. Attempts at painting and covering it with pictures helped somewhat, but it wasn't nearly enough. Our carpet was so old that we had to keep it in place with blue electrical tape."

The first thing they changed was their ministry's name. "Our idea was to change the name from K.I.D.S. Church to My Father's House and teach the kids that our king wonderfully made them and they're heirs with Jesus," writes Stan. "We are now in the process of having medieval costumes made."

How'd They Do That?

1. We removed the paneling. Church volunteers helped paint the walls off-white.

2. We redesigned the layout of the room.

3. We tore off the unnecessary door of the puppet house to give more space.

4. We cut a bookshelf in half to make two bookshelves.

5. A generous church member donated three windows, which have added light to the entire area.

6. The church bought another cabinet to store materials.

7. Another church member donated two banners and a wall mural of a castle.

Price tag: $1,285 (including carpet)

Obstacles to overcome: "One major obstacle was expense," Stan writes. "Not being a church with a large budget, the expenses could've been a problem. Yet when someone in the church heard of a need, they stepped in to meet that need."

Another major obstacle was the mess involved in remodeling. Teachers and students worked out of boxes and cartons for several weeks. It took patient kids and willing volunteers to overcome this obstacle.

Runner-Up: Summit Assembly of God in Youngstown, Ohio, submitted by Dalinda Marshall.

Honorable Mention: Augustana Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, North Dakota, submitted by Dawne Barwin.

Best Design in Capturing a Ministry's Theme

Grace Castle at Grace United Church of Christ in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, submitted by Stacy Zeger.

What better place for a king's kid to meet than in Grace Castle! "We chose a medieval castle theme so our students could relate in a fun but enriching way about our one true king-God," writes Stacy Zeger. Stone walls, banners, a family shield of faith, a royal throne chair, medieval pictures, royal armor, and warmth from crackling logs create the decor of this special place. All of this helps kids learn about being a king's kid.

"Our attendance had been slowly declining when I decided to use a theme," Stacy writes. "Our class is made up of mostly boys, and this really appeals to them. Occasionally one of them dresses as a herald to bring us announcements, and they take turns being a jester who brings us 'church-appropriate' jokes."

How'd They Do That?

1. To make the walls, we covered big pieces of cardboard with stone-type paper ($15 to $20 per roll).

2. We purchased posters and pinups from teacher supply catalogs and stores, and from a party supply store.

3. We made banners and shields from poster board. (Making the decorations temporary enables us to change to another exciting theme when the time comes.)

4. We created a bulletin board with photographs of each child sitting in a throne-type chair and wearing a crown.

5. We used a miniature castle to collect the offering.

Price tag: $100

Obstacles to overcome: The biggest challenge I faced was finding inexpensive decorations. I recycled old toys and hit the thrift shops to keep costs down.

Runner-Up: The Castle Condo Kids at Belmont Church of Christ in Dayton, Ohio, submitted by Monty Liles.

Most Innovative Design

Faith Factory at Family Life Center in Mukilteo, Washington, submitted by Cindi

"Boring is death to children and insulting to our Lord," writes Cindi Boggio. "The name of our children's department had to sound like a place where the children were going to learn, grow, and become equipped with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We challenge the children not just to know, but also to apply what they've learned at home, at school, and in their neighborhoods."

Because of this, Cindi and her husband, Anton, chose the name Faith Factory. Step into this children's department and you'll see how innovatively these decorators captured that theme.

How'd They Do That?

1. We got permission from the pastor to make permanent changes.

2. We shared our vision with an amateur cartoonist and a team of construction experts from our church. We brainstormed elements of a factory and paralleled our purpose with our children's church needs.

3. The cartoonist created sketches which we shared with the congregation to cast the vision, recruit help, and request donations of supplies.

4. We used salvaged or donated items to create the following:

• a time card machine for taking attendance;
• a master power switch to "plug into" God's power through prayer, the Word, and worship;
• a puppet stage;
• a huge rotating earth hanging from the ceiling to remind children to pray for the world;
• a large "www.gointo alltheworld.God" banner on the wall;
• a series of conveyor belts on the wall to display the children's artwork; and
• a bulletin board that looked like a giant Jetsons-style TV.

Price tag: $165

Obstacles to overcome:
1. The time-crunch. Most of the experts had full-time jobs.

2. Organizing all the renovation aspects.

Runner-Up: We Are Not of This World at Cornerstone Church in Chillicothe, Missouri, submitted by Sandy Sappington.

Honorable Mention: Tot Lot at Lompoc Foursquare Church in Lompoc, California, submitted by Angie Hamlin.

Most Resourceful Design

St. John's Lutheran Church in Mohnton, Pennsylvania, submitted by Jackie Grauel.

Imagine standing nose to knee with Goliath or standing on the shores of the Jordan River as Jesus is baptized, and you'll be able to picture what this church did to its hallways.

This resourceful group of people transformed a factory building into a Bible land experience. Jackie Grauel writes, "We purchased a factory building ages ago for our Sunday school classrooms and social hall, but it never really looked like a church-related building. Sunday school teachers didn't have the time to do bulletin boards to make it feel like a church facility."

The Bible stories pictured on the wall have been great teaching tools. Jackie reports, "Teachers gather children around the picture of the lesson they're teaching for the morning."

How'd They Do That?

1. We recruited three artists who were part of our church. All their work and the supplies were donated.

2. We discussed which Bible stories would be the best to depict on the walls. We decided to start with the beginning and proceed to the end of the Bible.

3. We created Old Testament stories in one hallway and New Testament stories in the other.

Price tag: No cost.

Obstacles to overcome: None.

Runner-Up: Christian Family Library at United Armenian Congregational Church in Los Angeles, California, submitted by Ida Marie Mason.

Best Design in Capturing a Ministry's Theme

The Ultimate Adventure: Life With God at Family Community Church in Fair Oaks, California, submitted by Beth Shields.

"Our jungle theme is designed to help bring the gospel to boys and girls in a fun and exciting way," writes Beth Shields. "With the adventurous background, atmosphere and effects, God's Word-including Bible principles with real-life application-comes alive."

This church transformed a supermarket warehouse, complete with a cold cement slab floor, two huge roll-up delivery doors, and 23-foot ceilings, into a jungle. Brightly colored birds perch on thatched roofs, monkeys swing from trees, palm trees and vibrant flowers create lush scenery, and jungle sounds fill the air.

"Because we get children from all backgrounds, it's necessary to create an atmosphere that grabs their attention, holds their attention, maintains discipline, and continues to teach the uncompromised Word of God," Beth writes.

How'd They Do That?

1. First things first. While I prayed about the direction to go, I gathered a kids' prayer group. Because of their prayers, we received carpet, a stage, a sound system, a puppet stage, a puppet ministry with costumed characters, paint, and a new logo.

2. We conducted creative monthly fund-raisers such as a Bible-thon (kids got sponsors for an afternoon of supervised Bible reading); Soup Sunday (families, friends, and neighbors were invited); Movie Night; Ice Cream Social; Taco Sunday; and a concession stand for church events. We also had a Pick a Tag fundraiser where church members could purchase an item on a tag that ranged from $1.59 to several hundred dollars.

3. We kept a notebook for every little idea.

4. We drew a rough set of plans and continued to fine-tune them.

5. We ordered jungle items from the Superior Studio Specialties catalog (800-354-3049). We also hit garage sales and requested donations for airplane parts and old safari-type props.

6. Carpenters built the stage, and workers stapled, nailed, and glued bamboo siding to the walls and doors.

7. We created a teacher's uniform to fit the theme: khakis, hiking boots, and safari hats.

8. We created 12 months of lessons to go with the theme.

Price tag: $4,260

Obstacles to overcome:

1. Cement walls are difficult to hang things on. Liquid nails did the trick!

2. Rather than having one big deadline, we learned to set intermittent deadlines for each phase. And we learned to be flexible with busy volunteers!

3. Teaching class in the midst of a reconstruction isn't always easy. With a good attitude, group prayer before class, plenty of class preparation, and the willingness to be flexible, we made it!

Runner-Up: Agapeland Seed Farm at Goldtown Community Church in Kenna, West Virginia, submitted by Judy Taylor.

Honorable Mention: Fellowship Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, submitted by Shawn Beane.

Honorable Mention: Crystal Island at Jubilee Fellowship Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, submitted by Clint and Michelle Reetz.


Most Innovative Design and Most Resourceful Design

BLAST: Bible Learning and Spiritual Training at First Presbyterian Church in Visalia, California, submitted by Beth Richards.

The Rotation Model ( spawned innovation and resourcefulness in this church of 450. Each of their four rooms focuses on a different aspect of a Bible story. Teachers spend four to five weeks on each story, telling it four or five different ways for a complete rotation. Children visit a different area each Sunday.

While there are four rooms in their program, the Gates to Heaven Theater was our favorite.

How'd They Do That?

1. Several retired men built the false wall to hold the large-screen TV, VCR, and videos. A great place for extra storage!

2. Church members donated money for the surround sound speakers.

3. We bought old, ugly theater seats and had them reupholstered for $33 each. A car body shop repainted the metal backs and sides. Volunteers stained the wooden armrests.

4. We set out an unfinished seat and a finished seat on the church patio for four Sundays with this sign: "Save your seat in the theater!" People paid $100 for each seat and were able to have a loved one's name engraved on a gold name- plate on the back of each seat purchased. We sold all the seats, and we received enough money to pay for other supplies.

5. Church members built the theater seat platform and the metal railing, then attached the seats to the platform.

6. We put glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling and added a giant red popcorn box and a film reel, which were also donations.

7. Other church members donated two camcorders so the children could make videos of their dramatized Bible stories.

Price tag: $1,249

Obstacles to overcome:

Beth Richards writes, "The Sunday we held our ribbon-cutting and open house was so affirming for us as a team and for our church family! Everyone was finally able to see the results of their trust in God's faithfulness, of their generous love, and the results of the labor of that love. The children were amazed and excited, having not seen the classrooms all summer! And it's their enthusiasm and the leap in enrollment that has made the labor all worth it."

Best Design in Capturing a Ministry's Theme

The Wild Kingdom at Windsor Road Christian Church in Champaign, Illinois, submitted by Lynn Peters.

It's a jungle out there for the children at this church. "We truly want to see kids 'wild about Jesus,' " writes Lynn Peters. "Our decor fits perfectly with our new theme. We also chose the jungle motif because of the wide age range we wanted it to reach. All kids in preschool through the fifth grade can identify with the jungle animals, yet it's not too 'babyish' for our ever-maturing fifth graders."

Our judges agree!

How'd They Do That?

1. We started with a creative arts team meeting. A group of seven brainstormed ideas that could be done within our budget.

2. One talented guy tackled the tree building.

3. A team of five ladies assembled the tree leaves.

4. A church member spent more than 50 hours detailing the hut so it looked lifelike. "The detail is incredible," writes Lynn, "from the lit tiki torches to the tiny little miniblinds in the window."

5. We had workdays and nights throughout the summer and one big workday to add the finishing touches.

Price tag: $300

Obstacles to overcome:

1. Determining how to make the tree 3-D was a challenge. A church member created a robotic-looking skeleton, then covered that with foam rubber and a skin of carpet.

2. The tree leaves were also a challenge because we wanted the tree to be up for several years but also to have real-looking leaves. We used recycling bags painted green, torn into little pieces, crumpled up, and then glued onto foam core with wallpaper paste.

Runner-Up: God's Garden: Growing in Jesus at First Presbyterian Church in Bakersfield, California, submitted by Jennifer Roach.


Most Innovative Design

Kids Inc. at First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas, submitted by Dale Hudson.

When kids step into Toon Town and The Space Place at this church, they gasp in amazement. So did our judges! Dale Hudson and his team took dilapidated rooms with light fixtures that literally dangled from the ceiling and transformed them into a world of wonder.

Toon Town is fully animated. In the TV Shop where kids play non-violent video games before the service, satellites turn, wires and the entire building glow, and an animated man from upstairs comes out of a window and talks. The "NSync with Jesus" feature has flashing lights when the music comes on. The firehouse door raises and kids are baptized in the back of the fire truck. Sirens, horns, and lights work. Pipes blow confetti over the kids, and a hammer dings the bell. Steam comes out of the fire hydrant. The car horn and lights work; exhaust even comes out of the tail pipe.

"We believe that atmosphere is a major part of capturing children's attention," writes Dale. "We tried to create an area that would say to them, 'You are important and welcome here. We created this with you in mind.' The truth is: You don't have to make someone go where they enjoy being."

How'd They Do That?

1. Our children's worship met in a chapel that was also used for funerals. I told the pastor and finance committee that if you can comfortably use a room for funerals, it's probably not a good children's room. They approved a budget to redecorate.

2. I did some research and located an animator named Bruce Barry who had animated the E.T. Adventure ride at Universal Studios, Rainforest Cafe restaurants, and more. He accepted this challenge.

3. I shared my vision for the rooms with him. Then he sent me some sketches and a model of Toon Town.

4. As Bruce created Toon Town and The Space Place at his studio in Florida, we gutted two areas.

5. Bruce came in October and set up the two rooms in two weeks. (Bruce and his wife became Christians during this process!)

Price tag: $290,000

Obstacles to overcome:
"It simply took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears and all-nighters to make this vision a reality," writes Dale. "Our church members gave thousands of volunteer hours to make it happen."

Most Resourceful Design

Kids in the Now at the Church in the Now in Conyers, Georgia, submitted by Jim and Robin Jaros.

Color from top to bottom is what jumped out at our design team when we saw this room!

"We decorated the Kids in the Now room around the overall vision that Jesus is still in the now and is relevant to our everyday lives," write Jim and Robin Jaros. "We used very bright colors and lots of TV screens, black lights, and fluorescent carpet. We tried to make it a place that immediately attracts the media interactive generation we're commissioned to reach."

How'd They Do That?

1. We found brightly colored material at a local fabric store and used it to make flags to hang from our ceiling.

2. We used those colors for paint throughout the room. We used black paint from the chair rail down, then splattered color on top. We painted the top silver by using a paint edger to make swirl effects because we wanted a chrome look.

3. We used liquid nails to glue plastic foam shapes along the top of the walls for a 3-D effect.

4. When we were almost done, our bishop said, "You need to get some new carpet." Although not in our original plan or budget, we looked for carpet that would have some of our colors. What we found amazed us! We found carpet that had the exact shapes we had used on the wall, and it was black light carpet.

5. We added zigzag shapes behind the pulpit.

Price tag: $2,500 (excluding carpet)

Obstacles to overcome: None listed.

Best Design in Capturing a Ministry's Theme

Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, submitted by Beth Greenway.

This children's ministry team has spent the last few years writing their curriculum, and each grade level is focused on a specific yearlong theme. "In their classes," writes Beth Greenway, "the decorations, sets, props, audiovisuals, actors, and puppets give the children mental hooks that help them connect with the main theme and key principles."

So far the church has completed three rooms: Mission to Planet Earth for third-graders focuses on mission work in their sphere of influence; In Search of the Sacred Door is a knowledge-based course in the Bible for fourth-graders; and The Knights of the Cross focuses on developing the character of Christ in fifth-graders by using the metaphor of the noble knight embattled in spiritual warfare.

Our judges liked all three rooms, but we chose In Search of the Sacred Door. (You can see the other rooms such as the Mission to Planet Earth room pictured here on www.childrensministry .com.)

This Indiana Jones-inspired theme room was designed as an archaeologist's tent. The tent is made from fireproof canvas and stretches over most of the center of the room. It's supported by a removable center post and other decorative side poles. Painted scenes on the walls provide a 360-degree view of the desert. Crates, relics, a World War II radio, excavation tools, and other provisions fill up one end of the tent area.
Pilgrim's Portal is a mysterious, vine-covered cave. From time to time, the children journey through the portal to answer questions about the Bible. If they answer correctly, a "rock" rolls back to allow them to enter the dig sites. These are 4-foot square boxes filled with dirt and artifacts that represent the day's Bible story.

How'd They Do That?

1. We first crafted our vision for this room through our curriculum

2. One to two years out, we selected the archaeological theme to capture the focus of this Bible-literacy curriculum.

3. Six months out, we created a design concept and preliminary sketches for the tent room and cave.

4. Three months out, we completed the final storyboard (design with colors and textures) for the tent room and cave.

5. One to two months out, we listed needed materials, resources, and volunteers.

6. One month out, we generated a work schedule.

7. Two weeks out, we purchased the materials and began construction.

8. Ongoing, we continue to add finishing touches to the room.

Price tag: $2,000

Obstacles to overcome:

"The greatest lesson we learned was that God provides incredible and diverse gifting through his people to do his work. We also learned that the money and effort and time were all worth it. God has been glorified in ways we never imagined. We don't want to paint an unrealistic picture, because we still have challenges just as all children's ministries do, but the children enjoy coming and so do the mentors. We have lots of fun. I think we've created environments that celebrate God, the children, and the learning process."

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