Design Challenge: How to Improve Traffic Flow and Security in Kids’ Ministry Space
South Harbor Church, one of five Harbor Churches in the Grand Rapids, MI, area, was planted in 2011. The facility was outdated, and their kids’ ministries were spread out in various places throughout the building, making it difficult for parents with multiple-age kids to drop off and pick them up easily.
“Consolidating kids to one area of the building is a common challenge for many of the churches we’re designing now,” says Rosie Mitchell, a project designer for Aspen Group. “When nursery, preschool and elementary rooms are located in various or far parts of the building, this makes it very difficult for parents with multiple ages to navigate the building.”
In 2018, South Harbor embarked on a building renovation and expansion with Aspen Group. “Among many improvements we made to the building,” says Mitchell, “one significant upgrade was moving the nursery closer to the other kids’ classrooms, which allows parents one point of check-in/check-out.”
For many parents, dropping their child at the nursery or children’s area may be the first time they’ve ever done this. “Security is one of the most critical features 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,” says Greg Snider, account executive at Aspen Group.
Learn how to create Third Place spaces in your church where people can connect and deepen their relationships with God and each other.
To evaluate the drop-off/pick-up process for kids at your church, put yourself in the shoes of a first-time attendee:
- 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?
A new secure, centralized, and improved South Harbor Kids Ministry space includes check-in desks, nursery rooms, a large group room, sensory room, and family restrooms.
“For toddlers through school age kids, we try to design children’s ministry space with restrooms that are within this secured area,” says 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.”
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.
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. South Harbor's wide hallways give ample space for parents to gather their kids and move easily throughout the children's ministry wing.
Along with changes to South Harbor’s children’s area, Aspen also designed and built a new front entry and expanded the lobby area. The lobby features a double-sided fireplace, a new coffee bar and seating areas, which creates an inviting setting for Sunday conversations, as well as space for midweek social gatherings and meetings.
“The lobby is the most critical space for creating relational space for a congregation,” says Snider. “It’s the primary place where people congregate to connect with others. Lobbies are mission critical for churches. They give people permission, space, and comfort to foster relationships with each other, which is an essential aspect of growing together as the Body of Christ.”
South Harbor implemented many of the ideas Snider discusses in his article, “10 Ways to Maximize Your Church Lobby.” The church also reworked its admin space, relocating and linking it with a new Connecting Point to create a centralized spot for newcomers to get to know the church.
In the sanctuary, the renovation included building a lower platform, installing new audio, video, and lighting upgrades, and updating design finishes throughout the room. With space for 700 seats—a combination of theater seats, non-fixed chairs, and riser seating—South Harbor’s sanctuary is ideal for community-wide events.
To accommodate the continual growth, the parking lot was also expanded. “Having enough seats in your sanctuary is important,” says Joe LaPaglia, Aspen’s Director of Cost Modeling and Strategic Partnerships. “After all, if you want to get people into your church, they need to be able to park their car first.”