4 Keys to Building a Dad-Friendly Church
Kids play a significant role in helping parents select which church they'll attend. If children enjoy the teaching and activities offered at a particular church, this can have a strong influence on a mom and dad’s decision about that church.
Along with considering how well their kids acclimate to a church, parents look for a lot of features when it comes to selecting the right church home.
In honor of Father’s Day, we asked our architectural design team of dads at Aspen Group to tell us what features are most important to them in terms of bringing their kids to church. Here are three keys they all agree on:
Whether choosing a church or designing one, all of our architect-dads say they want a church that’s parent-friendly in terms of getting little kids from the parking lot to the sanctuary or Sunday school as efficiently as possible, and space that’s easy to navigate, especially with infants and toddlers.
For parents of young kids, it can be difficult holding one child’s hand while carrying a diaper bag or car seat in the other hand. And when it’s raining or snowing, it can be nearly impossible. Having an exterior canopy over your children’s drop-off area, or positioning church staff near this area to receive your kids is a great way to create a convenient experience for parents. College Park Church and Vineyard Cincinnati Church utilize two drive-thru canopies to help transition people into their buildings.
Inside the lobby, it’s helpful if churches lay out furniture in such a way that allows for good traffic flow, especially for parents who may be making their way through the church with a stroller.
“As a somewhat new dad (my daughter is about a year-and-a-half old), one of the things I’ve come to appreciate at church is having seating that’s near the exit doors and that has additional space to potentially bring a bag or baby seat into church,” says Ryan Bouck, an architectural designer for Aspen Group. “The extra space gives room for all the baby items needed, and being near the exit is helpful in case my daughter becomes noisy, and I need to take her out of the worship service.”
Another benefit Bouck values as a dad: “Having a ‘family room’ where it’s possible to watch a child and still see and hear the service is a huge benefit.” Aspen included a family lounge in Orland Park CRC’s renovation, a feature Bouck says lots of dads (and moms) will appreciate.
Learn how to create Third Place spaces in your church where people can connect and deepen their relationships with God and each other.
If you’re building a new facility or doing a remodel of an existing space, be sure to add baby changing tables in the men’s restrooms and family restrooms. No one wants to change diapers on the floor or go back out to the car to do so. Baby changing stations are low cost items that can go a long way in making your dads feel welcome.
2. Direction and Traffic Flow
It can be intimidating for a dad who’s never been to your church to quickly identify where to go and what to do once he arrives on your site. Along with convenient canopied drop-off areas, comprehensive site signage and lighting can help first-time visiting dads get the lay of the land. If it’s difficult for visitors to navigate and find check-in points, that’s what they’ll remember about your church.
Wide hallways in the children’s ministry area are especially helpful for parents with strollers. When Orland Park Christian Reformed Church renovated their campus, they widened the corridors of their children’s wing. This greatly improved traffic flow during check-in and check-out times.
Having space for the transitional check-in/check-out time—including larger corridors for less congestion and easy traffic flow—goes a long way toward serving the needs of parents with young children, especially if they have multiple kids to pick up.
When Aspen worked with The Fields Church in Mattoon, Illinois, on renovating their church building, we focused on improving both the security and the traffic flow of their children’s area. By moving the children’s area from the back of the church to the front, they were able to better convey the importance the church places on serving families.
“We moved the church offices from the front door to the back,” says Derek DeGroot, Director of Design and Integrated services for Aspen Group. “This freed up space to enlarge the children’s area, relieving the bottleneck that occurred in the cramped hallway during check-in/check-out on Sundays.”
When it comes to designing children’s ministry space, safety and security are the top priorities. The reality is, if first-time attendees bring their kids to church and they don’t feel assured that the nursery and kids’ ministry area are built with safety and security in mind, they are not likely to return.
“Security is the number one conversation churches want to have with us when we’re discussing a remodel or building project where kids space is addressed,” says Greg Snider, account executive for Aspen Group, and dad to three kids.
When we’re designing ministry space, we work closely with church leaders to make certain we address security concerns. We recommend that churches:
- Create one or two security barriers that one must pass through before getting to your children’s areas.
- Consider utilizing access card readers for church staff and volunteers, installing locks on classroom doors that are controlled at a master location in emergency situations, and providing a person at designated entry points.
- Install windows to improve visibility, especially if it’s one-way windows so parents can see into the children’s ministry area without their child catching a glimpse of them.
In the nursery, it's important to have viewing access of the changing table and to be able to observe the volunteers and children.
“A safe and fun space is the key for children to enjoy going to church,” says Cesar Espinoza, an architectural designer at Aspen, and father to three.
How about at your church? How would you rate yourself on these questions?:
- How easy is the check-in/check-out process?
- How safe is the children’s area for ensuring outsiders don’t have access to the children after they’re checked in?
- How smoothly and safely does the check-out process go when it’s time to retrieve your child after the service?
These are the details parents notice, and how well your church tends to these details speaks volumes about the value you place on the safety of their children.
Some kids need a little more time to warm up to a new environment. Consider creating a space for dads to hang out with their kids before checking them into the nursery or classrooms. At The Orchard, Aspen Group designed interactive spaces for kids outside the main check-in area, providing kids and dads the needed transition time to help make drop-offs go smoother.
Kids aren’t the only ones who need space to warm up. Espinoza says, “One of the things I appreciate is when churches have dedicated and adequate space for parents who are dropping kids off for Sunday school to socialize with each other.”
“To create a healthy and comfortable environment, churches need to intentionally design spaces that provide a sense of belonging—a home away from home,” he says.
This may look different for men compared to women. For instance, in his article, “What the Church Can Learn from Buffalo Wild Wings,” architect Dave Wilde writes, “Men are visual creatures, and sight is the first sense we engage to study our surroundings. Companies like Buffalo Wild Wings, Harley Davidson, and Cabela’s understand this masculine, visual language.”
What kind of an environment would help the men in your church feel at home?