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. Attractional environments--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. A few weeks back, I had to take Lucy to Kosair Hospital for some tests. 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. Draining a staph infection goes more smoothly there, because you can play games on an iPad and Rapunzel 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 kidmin? 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. I was talking about how to create attractional environments with a seminary class recently. 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 SojournKids in the December/January edition of K! Magazine in an article entitled, "God Has the Best Imagination" (pages 48-51).
3. Disney. We visited Disney World for the first time as a family this past year, and we loved 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 Disney 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 Kosair Children's Hospital), Art Sparks at Louisville's Speed Art Museum, and Amy Embry (at Walt Disney World)