Church attendance numbers in America are declining. According to Pew Research and Gallop Polls, it has been declining for several decades. This is particularly true for mid-size churches.
A recent study noted that from the period 1994-2004, while the smallest churches (attendance 1-49) and the largest (2,000 plus attendees) experienced membership growth; mid-sized churches experienced a decrease in weekly attendance and new membership numbers.
Shawn McMullen, author of Unleashing the Potential of the Smaller Church, suggests smaller churches cultivate an intimacy not easily found in larger churches. “In an age when human interaction is being supplanted by modern technology, many younger families are looking for a church that offers community, closeness and intergenerational relationships,” he says.
How can mid-sized churches create a sense of community and closeness comparable to what small churches provide? Will this help them to grow – curtailing the trend of declining membership?
One pathway to membership growth is outreach to young families – and especially the children of young families. When a church provides children with a space where they feel welcome and can enjoy themselves, their parents will feel welcome, too.
CASE STUDY: SCOTTSVILLE BAPTIST CHURCH
Scottsville Baptist Church (Scottsville, KY) has been serving the community for 178 years. Despite this longevity, the church leadership decided to remain diligent to reach families and a younger population while also serving the existing church members with children.
As part of this strategy, it was decided to remodel a wing of the building for a Children’s Ministry and to add a very visible playground area to the front of the church — adjacent to the new Children’s Ministry wing. The visibility of the playground serves as a beacon to the community that young people are welcome, and Scottsville Baptist Church is focused on growth and its future. The new playground is open to all pre-school and elementary-age children during church hours.
“I feel that our playground is and will be an outreach to our community. Our church loves children and we long to see the church (and the Children’s Ministry) grow. I view the playground as an example of our love for children. We want them to have a fun experience while here learning and growing in the word of God and connecting with our leaders and helpers,” says Kori Thomas, Children’s Ministry Director.
The turnaround time for the playground project was rather quick – from inception to installation in less than a year, including fundraising. The church focused on a six- month giving campaign to raise funds for the playground. One of the favorite features of the campaign was a cutout of the pastor climbing a ladder where the pastor moved up a rung when certain milestones were met. Keeping progress toward the final fundraising goal in front of everyone helped keep momentum going. Providing church members with a visual of what the funds would be used for also helped. This was accomplished using 3D renderings and composite images supplied by EcoPlay Structures Inc., the playground vendor the church chose to work with.
DURABILITY AND LOW MAINTENANCE
One reason EcoPlay Structures was chosen is because their playground structures are made of an extremely durable plastic lumber that is highly competitive with the strength and cost of steel – yet EcoPlay® lumber will never rust. It is virtually maintenance free as it will never need painting, treating or sealing. Made from clean, post-consumer, recycled HDPE plastics (such as milk jugs), EcoPlay will never rot, splinter, crack, swell, or degrade in any way. With the occasional pressure washing, it will look and perform great for decades.
After meeting with an EcoPlay Commercial Playground Consultant and discussing the parameters of the playground project – including age groups, number of children expected to use the equipment, desired play elements to be include/excluded, available space in the proposed playground site, anticipated budget, and project timeline – a proposal was created offering two custom-designed play structures that met the churches criteria (one for ages 2-5, and the other for ages 5-12). After review, some minor changes were requested, and final designs were approved. (EcoPlay Structures are custom-designed to meet a client’s specific requirements, however pre-designed playgrounds are also available and can be searched online.)
At this point, 3D renderings and composite drawings were created (showing the structures as they would appear when installed in front of the church) and fundraising activities surged. Once funding goals were reached, colors approved, and contracts signed, it took approximately 8 weeks for the equipment to be manufactured and for installation to begin.
INSTALLATION OF EQUIPMENT
Installation of the two structures took only 2 days. Check out this time lapse video of the installation.
EcoPlay Structures installations are quick and efficient because decks and other components are pre-assembled at the manufacturing plant in Marietta, GA, before shipping. This process also ensures a high-quality product – as all assemblers and installers are CPSI certified.
After allowing concrete footings to cure for several days, mulch was spread to the proper depth, caution tape was removed, and the playground was open for families to enjoy Planet Friendly Fun on Easter Sunday.
The two play structures installed at Scottsville Baptist Church kept 2,400 pounds of plastic (approximately 17,516 milk jugs) from going to landfills or being tossed into our waterways and oceans. If placed in a room, these milk jugs would fill a room measuring 21-feet by 21-feet with an 8-foot ceiling.
In addition to being good for the environment, EcoPlay lumber comes with a 50-year warranty. Being good stewards of the Earth and of congregants’ money is always good practice. Choosing EcoPlay Structures allowed the church to do both.
Already, Scottsville Baptist Church has noticed an increase in weekly attendance. Time alone will tell if the increased commitment to families and children will result in increased membership. In the meantime, the families and children of Scottsville Baptist Church are enjoying their new playground – and will continue to do so for decades to come.
This article originally appeared in Religious Product News magazine.