How to Create Safe, Secure Children’s Ministry Space
When it comes to designing children’s ministry space, safety and security are the top priorities. “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.
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.
“When I first started working on church architecture projects, I began to see ministry space with a more critical eye,” says Rosie Mitchell, architectural designer for Aspen Group. “I became aware of traffic flow, aesthetics, and details of how church buildings were laid out. But it wasn’t until my first child was born that I began to see ministry space through a new lens—a mother’s eyes.”
In this article, we’ll cover some of the key safety and security features every church should build into their children’s ministry spaces.
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For many parents, dropping their child at the nursery or children’s area may be the first time they’ve ever done this. Put yourself in the shoes of a first-time attendee and consider these questions:
- How easy is your 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 features parents notice, and how well a church tends to these details speaks volumes about the value they place on the safety of their children’s ministry.
Here are some best practices for creating a secure environment in your church’s children’s area:
The check-in desk for the children’s ministry area is usually outside security doors. Once a child is checked in, they should then go through secure doors that are not accessible to other adults. This helps parents know that outsiders will not have access to children.
Security is one of the most critical feature for children’s space. Even just a pair of doors that separates everyone from children who have been checked into the children’s space provides security for kids and peace of mind for parents.
“I love it when there’s a complete door at the children’s wing,” says Jessica Bealer, a 20-year veteran of children’s ministry. “You can’t go beyond this space.”
Bealer has spent the last five years overseeing standards, systems, staffing and atmosphere for the children's ministry of Elevation Church in North Carolina. She has overseen the launch of nearly 20 locations, and is considered a specialist in kidmin multisite. Today, she also serves as director of family ministry services for Generis.
“Elevation built all of their buildings so that the children’s wing is a horseshoe,” says Bealer. “The only way to get in is through two doors. The same volunteers that secure the lobby could also secure the children’s wing doors.”
Not only was the design of the children’s ministry wing safer; it also helped reduce the number of volunteers needed to monitor and secure the entry point. The horseshoe design meant you only needed one volunteer to comb the hallway.
Bealer likes using a tag system for keeping track of kids, parents, and volunteers. “A parent can flash their tag and be let in, and volunteers have tags too, which means they’ve had a background check. Otherwise, there was no need for anyone else to go into the children’s area. A lot of times grandparents or aunts and uncles are visiting. We still didn’t let anyone without a tag go into that area.”
The check-in process should provide a way to keep people out of the children’s space and maintain an accurate roster of who’s in each room—including your volunteers.
“Volunteers have to check in to prove they were there,” says Bealer. “It’s to protect volunteers from false accusations about their care and to verify that two adults were present in room.”
Bealer likes printing out three tags—one for the parent, one for the child, and one for the class roster. She also recommends that any allergies be written on the tags. “If you have allergies noted on a clipboard, it’s easy to overlook allergy information or any other special notes. But if it’s on the child’s name tag, you’re much more likely to notice his or her food restrictions.”
Having a safety-focused, efficient check-in process is key to helping give parents peace of mind when dropping off their kids, and having a similarly safe and efficient check-out process is equally important.
“When kids are walking out of the room, don’t just match up numbers, but also remove the child’s name tag,” says Bealer. “If they have a name tag on, it says the church is still liable for their safety. We have trained all volunteers that if a child escapes from the area and has a name tag on and is without an adult, they need to bring child directly back to children’s area.”
The check-out process can be chaotic. 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 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.”
In the nursery, it's important to have viewing access of the changing table and to be able to observe the volunteers and children. Installing windows is a great way 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.
At The Fields, the nursery features an open floor plan. Spaces are sectioned off with half walls but every volunteer and child is visible throughout the whole space.
Cameras are being installed in more churches, especially in children’s areas. “Cameras are great if you’ve got someone who will look at the video, but it’s not useful if no one’s checking it, plus you’ll be liable for everything that happens on camera,” says Bealer. “You could use the footage to prove something, but it doesn’t prevent anything. I’m not a fan of cameras unless you’re going to use them properly.”
Restrooms for Kids
Restrooms are another potential danger zone for churches. “If a children’s classroom doesn’t have a bathroom within it, and you only have two adults in the room and one has to leave to help a child who needs to leave to use the bathroom, now you’ve created two points of liability,” says Bealer.
A better solution is to build restrooms into the children’s rooms, especially for preschoolers. Shared bathrooms between two classrooms can be a cost-efficient option.
“For toddlers through school age kids, we try to design children’s ministry space with restrooms that are within this secured area,” says Aspen’s Architect, Rosie Mitchell. “That way kids don’t have to leave the large group area or classrooms to use the bathroom. Churches can’t always afford bathrooms in every classroom, but at the very least, we try to include restrooms inside the large room space so children don’t have to leave this secure area.”
Churches will also opt to locate restrooms in the secure hallways as a way to save money, according to Snider. “This works for elementary age kids, as long as there’s a hall monitor who can keep an eye on the bathrooms.”
Other security ideas
“We can solve many security issues by making changes to the facility,” says Snider. “But children’s ministry safety also involves having a good process, people, systems, and volunteers.”
Here are some additional ways to create a safe, secure environment in your children’s ministry:
- Always secure rooms. Before each service, completely vacate each room and perform a thorough safety check on the space.
- Gather your volunteers and leaders before each service time to remind them of the “why” for serving kids. Share any necessary information, such as curriculum details or last-minute training. And take time to pray with and for your volunteers and the kids they’ll be caring for.
- Always enforce the two non-related adult rule. According to this rule, always make sure that two non-related adults are supervising each group of children at all times.
- Weed out potentially malicious volunteers by adhering to a thorough application process that includes doing a background check, and eliminate potential opportunities for abuse within the ministry by using the two-adult rule and other supervision procedures.
Some of these ideas are things you can change today, and others, such as adding restrooms within your classrooms, may need to wait until you’re ready to build a new church, or renovate the one you’re in. No matter what challenges your space presents, the children in your church deserve your very best efforts to create space that’s safe and secure.