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Thousands of churches across America have adopted a portable strategy for their church, and movie theaters have become popular options. But we’ve noticed a key area where churches who meet in movie theaters consistently get stuck: children’s and student ministry.

I recently caught up with Chris Shandrow, Lead Pastor at Compass Church in Bloomington-Normal, IL. Compass expects portable to be a long-term aspect of their strategy, and they met in a theater for almost four years before recently moving to a local high school. Chris shared a little about their strategy and how they made family ministry work in a movie theater environment.


AUSTIN: What led to the decision for Compass to meet in a movie theater?

CHRIS: Initially, it was availability. Our town is strangely hostile to new churches, particularly portable ones. But we actually found that the movie theater offered us a huge benefit because it was a place where regular people regularly gather. Being in the theater kept us focused on reaching people in our community because we would see them there all the time. Some of the theater employees have even become followers of Jesus and are now part of Compass.

AUSTIN: How did Compass address the challenges of offering quality children’s ministry in a theater?

CHRIS: Children’s ministry is a huge challenge in a movie theater because the spaces are not well-designed for traditional kids’ services. We were very fortunate because our theater had two party rooms we were able to use for our Nursery and Preschool, and they worked great. But we had to use a small theater room for our elementary program, and that presented difficulties. The space was very broken up between the stadium seats and the floor, so we ended up using the aisle that separated the upper and lower section of seats for our teaching and worship. We used the concrete floor in front of the screen for small group breakouts.

Aside from the practical issues, it is a challenge to overcome the perception that a movie theater is a bad environment for kids. Convincing parents that it is clean, secure and that the church has permanence in its ability to provide for their kids is very difficult. We worked very hard to overcome that with high quality ministry and big visual cues that things were clean and safe (clear signage, colorful area rugs, TVs on stands with game systems and fun videos playing).

AUSTIN: What are some practical steps other portable churches could take to develop an effective children’s/student ministry?


1) Format your Sunday services with students in mind.

The Sunday gathering should be core to your strategy as a church for student ministry. Engaging students on Sunday morning alongside the rest of the church was one of the best decisions we made. While midweek events are important, it is vital that your students feel connected to the body at large.

Make students crucial to the success of your Sunday services by giving them key roles to serve in. A student who knows the church needs them is a student that will be invested in God and His ministry through the church. Teenagers should be a huge portion of your volunteer base.

2) Go overboard in communicating the importance of quality kids ministry to parents and to your church.

Keep things spotlessly clean and organized. Have bright and clear signage around kids rooms. Train your kids’ volunteers to be the friendliest and most attentive in the church. Everything in your kids’ ministry communicates, so make sure it is saying the right things.  

At a theater you don’t have the benefit of a facility that tells people kids matter to your church. You have to do it in other ways (mailers, videos, testimonies, social media). 

3) Connect with students/kids in other environments.

We are always looking for ways to engage students and kids away from Sunday gatherings. For students, we use youth services and small groups during the week. For kids, we focus more on family-style events. Also be willing to partner with other churches. It’s a win if you can run a youth service on a Tuesday night at a church that has a killer youth room but isn’t using it. 


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