**This is a guest post by Glenys Nellist from Kids Ministry Matters
Whether we’re “lovin’ it,” or hatin’ it, there’s one thing we can all agree on—McDonald’s restaurants are successful. With over 33,000 franchises operating in 118 countries of the world and their golden arches gleaming from small village to big city, McDonald’s is rising in popularity. I don’t know about you, but I have never heard of a McDonald’s restaurant that closed down.
Sadly, the reverse is true of the church. All too often, we hear of smaller churches that have had to close their doors. And so it’s an interesting question to ponder—what is McDonald’s doing to attract our children that the church is not? And strange as it may seem, I think there are ministry lessons that we could learn from McDonald’s. Yes, McDonald’s.
A Fun Environment
In 1986 a young pastor and his wife met with ten other people in a small living room in Indiana and the vision for a new church began. As numbers began to increase and land was acquired, the children’s ministry leaders began to have a conversation about how their children’s ministry space might look, and how they could attract the maximum number of kids. They went out into the community and surveyed the children by asking, ‘what is the one place you enjoy going to most on the weekend?’ With a unanimous voice, the kids agreed that they loved going to McDonald’s . . . but not necessarily for the food. What attracted the kids to McDonald’s was the fun they could have at the PlayPlace, the indoor playground many McDonald’s restaurants have, featuring colorful tube slides and climbing apparatus. Armed with that information, the children’s ministry leaders returned to the church and created an innovative, fun environment, where kids could zoom down into their bright, creatively-themed ‘classrooms’ via colorful tube slides. Today, that church offers five weekend services with approximately 5,500 attendees.
Now I know what you are thinking . . . that it’s all very well for a large church, with a lot of financial resources, to create an innovative, fun environment for kids. But the simple truth is that it’s not about how many resources we have, but about how resourceful we can be.
Several years ago, after visiting that megachurch in Indiana with our children’s ministry team, I returned to our small village church and stood in our children’s ministry space. I knew that we could not construct tubular slides, but we could certainly transform our space in other ways! On a limited budget, we were able to create a colorful, welcoming, and fun environment, where kids were able to play for the first 15 minutes of Sunday school. Parents and members of the congregation caught the vision and supplied paint, rugs, good quality toys, puzzles, books, computers, and games . . . many items acquired economically through garage sales. The result was a fun-filled, welcoming and colorful environment that shouted ‘we LOVE kids!’
A Visible Presence
So let’s say that we’ve created our very own ‘PlayPlace’… the next question is, are we able to market ourselves as effectively as McDonald’s does? Maybe we cannot erect luminous signs on our steeples that glow for miles around, but there’s no excuse for being invisible. We have a wonderful gospel to proclaim and we have a duty to advertise it!
In this world of global technology, the first place we need to have a presence is on the Internet. For young parents, it will be the first place they look. If we want to attract new families, we need to make sure that our church website is updated and looking like someone loves it and owns it. If our website isn’t loved and cared for, then that sends a message to parents that maybe our children’s ministry isn’t either. Imagine the impact of posting photographs (or better yet, a video) of the beautiful new ministry space we have created just for their kids! Couple this with a statement or an interview with one of our leaders, that succinctly and sincerely spells out our purpose and vision for our children’s ministry, and this will be a powerful first impression for parents.
Apart from those famous illuminated arches, what are some other ways that McDonald’s manage to entice children on to their premises? Have you ever noticed that their PlayPlaces are always located at the front of their buildings? Perfect! What child can resist looking through all those windows and being lured by those brightly colored games and activities? So could we use that idea to advertise our children’s ministry? If we were parents passing by our church with three young children in tow, what would entice us inside? Could we enlist the help of church members to build an outdoor playground? What better visible way to attract families to our church than having a safe, colorful playground right on our premises?
Next, let’s think about the colorful billboards that catch our eye whenever we are on the highway. McDonald’s knows exactly how to attract our attention. Their advertisements are colorful, fun, and are constantly changing. Could we hang a bright banner outside our doors? Is our church sign drab and corny, or appealing and relevant? How about promoting our Sunday school or mid-week events at places where families play—parks, indoor activity centers? What about car decals or an eye-catching advertisement in the local newspaper? And once people do come in, how up to date and inviting are our promotional children’s ministry brochures that parents are given when they come through our doors? Effective advertising is essential—if we have people in our congregation who work in the marketing field, having a conversation with them and brainstorming about how we might be more visible in the community is a great place to start.
Beyond its great advertising and fun environment, McDonald’s also seeks to keep things fresh and fun through special promotions. So after we have made our children’s ministry space as fun as McDonald’s PlayPlaces are and have done our very best to advertise effectively, here’s one or two more little ideas to try:
- Offer fun take-aways, like kids get in their Happy Meals. What will remind kids and parents of their great experience at church?
- Don’t be afraid to change the ‘menus’ frequently. Creative lessons and activities keep interest high.
- Have a weekly after school ‘drive thru’, where we offer free milk with a cookie (and perhaps a prayer).
And just one word of caution—lest my intentions are misread. What parents and children see on the outside of our churches must match what they encounter on the inside! We would do our church a huge disservice if, having successfully invited families in, we did not give our utmost to building relationships, teaching the gospel, and meeting needs.
McDonald’s is here to stay. Can we say the same thing about the church? After all, the whole purpose for inviting children through our doors is to offer them not fast food, but the bread of life! And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could advertise, along with McDonalds, ‘Billions and billions served—except that we might be able to say ‘Billions and billions saved’. Think about that next time you’re munching on a Big Mac.