When the leadership team at Valley Christian Church in Poughkeepsie, New York, decided to launch a new location, they looked at a lot of options before deciding on the perfect location for kids and parents alike, a place that was already at the center of the local community: the Poughkeepsie Galleria Regal Cinema – a movie theater.
Location, Location, Location
Karen Johnson, head of the children’s ministry known as Valley Kids, was at the center of the decision-making process, because the church is committed to providing a dynamic and engaging children’s ministry that reflects their DNA.
What she discovered is that the theater location worked to their advantage when reaching unchurched families.
Valley Christian then partnered with the Portable Church Industries (PCI) to convert the theater into a safe, functional, and inviting church.
“Theaters make terrific church locations because they are comfortable and familiar. People not only know where it is, they know exactly where it is.”
It doesn’t hurt that restaurants surround the theater location either, Johnson notes, making it perfect for fellowship after the service.
Doing Children’s Ministry Right
Like so many children’s ministry pastors, Karen cares about reaching kids. That much is obvious from her passion for safety and her effusive praise of the theater environment as a great place for children’s ministry.
“We found the theater is actually very clean, modern, and fresh,” Johnson said. “The additional things that we bring in simply enhance what’s already there.”
One thing that surprised Johnson when she evaluated the theater as a ministry space was how much room they had to work with.
“I don’t ever recall going down to the front of a theater and realizing how much space is actually down there on the floor,” Johnson shared.
Valley uses the floor space both at the front and in the middle of the room in three different theaters. Johnson explains how it happens:
PCI helped us create safe spaces for [children] by putting down mats and putting up play panels…We’re able to use the front of the theater as well as the middle to be able to have kids in different spaces and create age-appropriate environments.
We use three different theater rooms for ministry, and we’re able to have two preschools in one area, two nurseries in the second area, and then the third theater we use for elementary school areas.
Theaters Make for a Media-Friendly Church
In addition to being a convenient locale, theaters come with built-in screens and great acoustics. Although Valley uses live music and all other service elements, they broadcast their pastor on the big screen as he teaches from their central campus.
“The theater allows for greater opportunities for people to be able to hear him,” says Johnson, “and for him to kind of multiply himself.”
The built-in media elements, combined with the comfortable chairs already in place, mean less equipment to purchase and store each week for the church.
Valley Church uses only one trailer to move and store all equipment.
And a Media-Rich Children’s Ministry
One unexpected advantage Johnson and her team discovered is that the big screens make great teaching tools.
“We take advantage of having [the screens],” Johnson noted. “We’ve embraced those big old screens. We use them for worship time, for video clips, and for Bible stories. The kids love it because they feel like they are really a part of what’s happening.”
“We loved partnering with PCI to create children’s areas and transform the theater space so easily.”
According to Johnson, she has heard nothing but rave reviews from parents: “Parents love it when they come. It’s definitely a kid-friendly place.”
More Advantages of Using a Theater
Set-up time—even including a stellar children’s ministry—takes less than an hour for the entire church. There is nothing to take down, remove, or hide before set-up, as you might find when using a school building.
Take-down requires even less time, which is perfect for a venue in which movies sometimes start around noon. Karen describes the process:
If we know that a movie is going to begin early, we begin to break down that theater first. Breakdown does not take that long in the scheme of things.
The nice thing is that with PCI, we’ve got cases where everything has a place. We also have the schematic of what’s going in the cases on the sides of the panels so anyone can help to break it down.
The Latest in Wireless Lighting
The worship service experience is second to none, with full stage lighting and two light trees in the back of the theater.
PCI consultant Bob Smith says lighting set-ups like Valley employs formerly presented a safety hurdle in theaters because they required running cables along stairs. But not anymore.
After consulting with PCI, Valley chose to employ the latest DMX wireless technology to control all the lighting safely from one location. Even all the on-stage LED lights plug into a rack that is controlled by the wireless DMX technology.
The solution was surprisingly affordable, according to Smith, as churches like Valley can now get four transmitter/receiver points for less than what one cost just a few years ago.
The wireless configuration cuts set-up and take-down times even further, making it a win-win for portable church theater locations.
Advice from the Front Lines of Ministry
If she had to do it over again, Johnson says she wouldn’t change a thing—and she definitely wouldn’t try to do it alone.
PCI gave us a really extensive list of [suggestions], Karen explains, “which helped for our children’s environments. I think that we took almost everything that they suggested. We’re not only using it, but it certainly has made life a whole lot easier.”
PCI helped us create children’s areas that really look like children’s areas. There is no doubt when you walk in that it’s a well-equipped, great space.
Valley Christian wanted to emphasize kid spaces that were highly creative, dynamic and reflected their DNA.
According to Johnson, they succeeded.
And if anyone should know how well theaters can work for a portable church setting, it’s children’s ministry leaders like Karen Johnson.
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