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Shared Space in the Church

The ups and downs and how to work together

Jan/Feb 2014 //

My heart sank a little as I walked down the children’s hallway one morning. They’re back … preschool teachers, that is. All summer I enjoyed the freedom of doing whatever I wanted in the classrooms we share:  hanging things on the walls where I wanted, pushing all the preschool furniture back to open more space in the room, leaving our own tables and chairs out each week, decorating rooms and keeping it that way, not worrying about putting away supplies. Now that was over. We were back to sharing space. Back to physical labor every Sunday moving around tables and chairs. Back to the way it was before summer began.

Many of us share space in our churches. We just don’t have the money to build a new building. I totally understand, but it does not make sharing space any easier. It’s a joint effort. All parties have to be on board and willing to work together. In my case, it’s myself (the Children’s Director) and the Preschool Director. We are two leaders who have to be positive and set the example. If we aren’t working together, then our teachers and volunteers won’t either.

I won’t lie:  sharing space is a challenge. I get along great with our preschool director and her teachers. They are wonderful ladies who do a fabulous job teaching our preschool-age kids each day. While neither of us likes sharing space, we developed a plan and it’s working.

Every Thursday after preschool is over, the teachers move out their tables and chairs and set up our tables and chairs in the appropriate rooms. The teachers also hide or cover the preschool toys. They put away their supplies and lock them in their cabinets. Then, I come in and put out the sign-in/out clipboards and hang signs above the doors in the hallway that display the grade or age that meets in that classroom. On Sunday evenings, our children’s ministry volunteers turn the rooms back into preschool rooms. We also keep two bulletin boards in each room that display the children’s artwork or highlight the Bible story of each week.

Why do I go to all this trouble? I do it for the children. I want them to feel comfortable walking into a room that has appropriate-size tables and chairs, knowing that it’s a room fit just for them, not one where they feel like a baby. If they feel uncomfortable or don’t like the room, they won’t want to come back. I want them to be excited about coming to church every Sunday. It may be a lot of work, but it’s worth it when a child smiles, laughs, or tells her friends about her awesome church.

How do we go about getting along in shared space when we both have different needs?

Ministry area leaders need to meet to go over their needs.

Be honest about your needs. If you’re not up front about the things each of you need in your ministry, then all you end up doing is getting upset every time something happens. Come with an open mind.

Be supportive of each other’s ministry.

We both work with children (just in different settings), but essentially our goal is the same—to teach the children about Jesus and share His love with them. Even though one is in a preschool setting and one is in the children’s ministry setting, we both work with kids in the faith setting. Don’t make the other feel that your ministry is better. Both of our ministries are very important. Be supportive and help each other.

Work out a plan.

Preschools meet four or five days a week, where children’s ministry classes meet one or two times a week. Preschools need to have their space set up for their children, which includes appropriate age tables and chairs, as well as different centers (reading center, computer center, dress-up center, play center). They need their space to teach these children all week.

Children’s ministry also needs space designed appropriately for each age group. This might include having to move tables and chairs around as we do. What elementary child wants to sit at a preschool-size table or chair? A child wants to feel like they are in a room that is centered on their age. Make the room serve multiple ages. This may take more work, but it will be worth it.

Design a plan where both ministries are helping in setting up the room. If you try to do it all by yourself then you will definitely be worn out. Join forces to help each other. It will go much smoother if both ministries are willing to help each other.

Let each ministry have ownership of the room.

My main request when our children’s ministry went back to sharing space with our preschool was that I wanted my kids to feel like they had some kind of ownership of the room. For me, that meant having a bulletin board in each room for my volunteer teachers to hang artwork the children made, kids’ photos or class pictures, or display posters or verses that highlight the Bible story for each week. I have two different children’s ministry programs that meet weekly and I wanted both of these programs to have some kind of wall space. Our preschool director was very gracious and allowed us to put in two big bulletin boards in the rooms for our elementary kids. Our kids love seeing their pictures and artwork in the rooms!

Take out or hide the preschool toys.

I found that toys were a VERY BIG distraction for my elementary kids. When they saw all the toys that the preschool children play with, they wanted to play with them instead of listening to the Bible story or the activities we had planned each Sunday. Volunteer teachers were getting frustrated because of the distraction the toys caused. My easy solution was turning around the bookcases where the toys were located. If I was not able to do that, I got dark-colored flat sheets or fabric and covered them. This helped tremendously in keeping their attention off the toys and on the lesson we were doing.

Put away things you don’t want touched, used, or lost.

This would be advice mainly for preschool teachers. I know there are certain important items in each teacher’s classroom that they don’t want to be harmed. We decided each teacher would put away what they didn’t want our kids to touch. That may sound silly, but accidents occur and I didn’t want anything to happen to things that were really important to the teachers. We had to tell the preschool teachers to put away their craft supplies:  markers, crayons, tape, glue sticks, and construction paper. My volunteer teachers were using their supplies, not on purpose, but because they were out in the open so they thought it was free to use. Now all preschool supplies and other important teacher items are locked away in a cabinet.

Create storage space in classrooms.

Each ministry has supplies that need to be stored in a classroom. For our children’s ministry programs, our normal supplies include:  glue sticks, markers, crayons, scissors, pencils, tape, Bibles. For preschool ministry there is A LOT more. Our solution was for the children’s ministry to have two shelves in the cabinets in each room. Since we didn’t have as much stuff as the preschool, two shelves were plenty of space for our volunteer teachers to keep our normal supplies. If the preschool is not able to give up shelves in their cabinets, then another solution would be for you to get your own cabinet or shelving unit for your children’s ministry in each classroom. Having normal supplies in each classroom is necessary so that volunteers will not have to visit the supply room for simple, every day supplies used for children’s ministry programs.

Be willing to change.

No one likes change, especially if we are set in our ways. Each of us wants our own space, our own freedom in using the rooms just for our purposes. However, when you are sharing space you need to be willing to change. If not, then no one will get along and you’ll be in a constant battle with each other.

Shared space isn’t easy, but if you’re willing to work together and develop a strategy or plan, everyone’s lives will be much simpler. Children’s ministry and preschool ministry are two very important ministries. We both need to come together and let God fully use us to serve the children in our church and community.

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About the Author

Vanessa Myers has been in the ministry for 13 years serving in Youth Ministry & Children’s Ministry and currently serving as the Children’s Director at Dahlonega UMC. She has found that children’s ministry is her passion. She enjoys sharing the love of Jesus with all children, teaching the kids the Bible stories in fun and exciting ways, and planting seeds in the spiritual lives of these children. Vanessa has found another calling to be one of encouraging other Children’s Ministers and loves to write and share her experiences on her blog. Vanessa and her husband, Andrew, have 2 daughters and live in Dahlonega, GA. You can follow Vanessa on Twitter at: vtmyers0921.