Ministry Basics: Creating Irresistible Environments Kids Will Love!

Today, I’m excited to share excerpts from a conversation I had recently with Ken Neff, Children’s Pastor at Christ Central in Lake City, Florida.  I ‘met’ Ken through a Facebook group for kidmin leaders.  He posted this picture of a set he designed for his kidmin and I wanted to talk to him and see why and how he does this.

Photo Credit: Ken Neff
Photo Credit: Ken Neff


Ken has been featured on and is highly sought-after to help design sets for kidmin environments. What I found fascinating is that Ken has NO construction background.  Prior to becoming a Children’s Pastor, he was in retail for 12 1/2 years – where he picked up marketing and art skills – and was a deputy sheriff for 10 years.

Kathie Phillips (KP):  Why do you do what you do [take time to design and build sets]?

Ken Neff: (KN):  “To me, it’s more than stage design.  It’s the whole atmosphere.  Not only are kids visually stimulated, but there is usually something else going on.”  For example, Ken’s church ties music into the monthly theme.  When they did a baseball theme, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was played.  Costumes are also integrated along with the set design.  For the baseball theme, volunteers wore baseball uniforms and hats.  Ken also mentioned that prayer and God-given ideas inspire his creativity.

KP:  What set design ideas do you have for churches on a budget?

KN:  “I often hear, ‘I want to do something but I don’t have a budget for it.’  However, if you plan ahead, you can do something.  Planning ahead makes preparing a lot easier.  An added benefit of that is you can purchase items for a good price or get them donated for free.  You can’t do that if you wait until the last-minute.”  Ken’s ministry has a different teaching series each month but he plans out the year in advance.  In fact, he’s already working on ideas for 2016!

KP:  I’m curious about what curriculum you use that inspires these great sets.  Do you write your own curriculum?

KN:  “Yes.  We write it all.  It’s God-inspired but even if you use published curriculum, there’s no reason you can’t still build a stage and have props that engage the kids.”

KP:  Are you the only one constructing these fabulous sets?  Do you have any help?

KN:  “I am the primarily one responsible, but there’s a lady in our church who comes in about a week before I change the set to help paint things.  She’s an artist, so that’s helped a great deal.”  Ken mentioned that he has picked up artistic skills from this sweet lady.

KP:  Changing out your set every month must mean that you need a great deal of storage space.  What kind of storage do you have?

KN:  “We have a 30 x 50 ft storage space at our church.”  Ken also recycles and repurposes quite a bit, so this helps to keep clutter to a minimum.

KP:  What storage options would you suggest for those in portable churches?

KN:  “You have to get creative if you’re in a portable church, but it can be done.”  Some suggestions might include renting a storage space, storing items in someone’s garage, or asking your portable church location if you could store things there.

KP:  What advice would you give to churches who share space with another group or ministry?

KN:  “If you can make just three (3) props that go along with your theme, I would make them out of something like styrofoam.  That would help it to be lightweight and make transporting to a storage area manageable.  You could also get with other ministry leaders who share your space to see if they could incorporate the same theme so that props could be left up during the week.”  It should be noted that Ken’s ministry shares space with their church’s weekday preschool, run by his wife, Andrea.  That makes leaving his set in place a lot easier!

Quotables from our conversation:

“It’s a good feeling that we, the church, can have a huge impact on kids like Disney does and not have to spend millions of dollars to do it.”

“We need to make Jesus exciting!”

Here are a few other tips Ken suggested:

  • Build/group things in odd numbers.  It’s easier on the eyes.
  • Look for resources all around you.  Things like paint, wood pieces, and empty carpet tubes can be donated by people in your church.  You can also find inexpensive pieces from flea markets or second-hand stores.

Check out more of Ken’s work here.  If you’d like to contact Ken, you can email him at

Ken Neff headshotKen & Andrea Neff are the Families & Children’s Pastors at Christ Central located in Lake City,Florida. They minister on a weekly bases to 300 children. Through the creative anointing that God has placed on Ken’s life, he brings the Bible stories alive for the children by creating a monthly stage design that goes with the curriculum that he and Andrea and write. They believe in equipping other leaders and pastors to advance the Kingdom of God.

Great Resources for Lent

This Wednesday, February 18th, is the first day of Lent, the 40-day period before Easter, is the time when we mark the time when Jesus is sent into the wilderness.  While there, He prayed and prepared for what was ahead of Him.  Likewise, the season of Lent can be presented to children as a time to pause, pray and prepare for what lies ahead of us.  Each year, we provide our church families with a family friendly devotional to encourage faith conversations at home during this time.

If you are looking for materials for your family or for yourself, here are a few I’d recommend.


A Sense of the Resurrection

Blogger Amanda White, who wrote the popular Advent devotional Truth in the Tinsel, has written a resource for Lent.  A Sense of the Resurrection contains 12 fun, hands-on, easy, meaningful activities to help your kids come face to face with the Easter story.

Sense of the resurrection image


Family Lenten Practices Calendar

This free downloadable calendar written by blogger Traci Smith shares either a prayer, service or fasting activity each day.  The activities can be adapted for children of all ages.  In addition, she offers an adult calendar for purchase.

lentenpracticescalendar20151Holy Week Devotional

According to the What’s In the Bible? website, this devotional contains an 8-day family Bible reading and devotional plan designed to guide your family into a deeper understanding of the days of Holy Week and prepare your hearts to celebrate on Resurrection Sunday!

Each day includes 1-2 short Bible readings and a conversation-starting discussion guide, as well as a coloring page that illustrates the day’s Bible story. The Holy Week Devotional Download Pack will engage your kids in discussion, prayer and creative expression in the week leading up to Easter.



Bible Gateway

Bible Gateway offers a free devotional delivered straight to your inbox.  Get more details here.

Margaret Feinberg

Join author Margaret Feinberg as she reads through the Gospels this Lenten season.

margaret feinberg lent challenge 2015

Flashback Friday: My Favorite Online Reads & Videos (Week of February 9, 2015)

This Week’s Favorite Online Reads & Videos

Here’s a sampling of some of the online reads and podcasts I enjoyed this week:


Do You Emotionally Crash After Big Events? 6 Things You Need to Know by Dale Hudson

{VIDEOS – From the Just ONE Virtual Conference}

Equipping Our Hearts for Ministry by Lori Wilhite

Equipping Ourselves To Give The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

Equipping Ourselves For Change by Kristyn VanBuskirk

Equipping Ourselves For Life In Ministry by Stephanie Carter


I hope you enjoy reading these articles and watching these fabulous videos as much as I did.

Did you read something this week that inspired or encouraged you? Share it with me so I might check it out, too!

{Throwback Thursday} Speak Your Volunteer’s Love Language

Years ago, I read “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.  The title was fascinating and I wanted to learn more.  Not only did I want to learn how to best show love to my husband, I wanted to learn more about the way I best receive love.  The findings weren’t astonishing – I already knew – but I could give it an “official” title.

If you are not familiar with The 5 Love Languages, allow me to give you a brief description of each:

Words of Affirmation:  Use words to affirm other people.

Acts of Service:  For these people, actions speak louder than words.

Receiving Gifts:  It’s not the price or extravagance of the gift; it’s the thought behind it.

Quality Time:  Give people your focused, undivided attention.

Physical Touch:  Use appropriate touch to lift someone’s spirits

Since the first book, there have been subsequent books, including “The 5 Love Languages of Children”, “The Five Love Languages of Teenagers”, just to name a few.  The author also penned a book called “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace”.  According to their website, this book gives “practical steps to make any workplace environment more encouraging and productive”.

I’d like to offer that as kidmin leaders, one of our goals should be to make our ministry environments more encouraging and productive.  How?  By creatively loving on our volunteers as often as we can.  What if we loved our volunteers in ways that they would best receive it?  What if we moved away from “one size fits all” volunteer appreciation?  After all, if we don’t properly care for our volunteers, who will?

Show your volunteers how much you care by speaking their love language.  Below are a few ideas to help get you started:

Words of Affirmation:  

  • Praise your volunteers publicly, in front of other people.
  • Write notes to them, affirming them in how they are an invaluable member of your team.
  • Write notes to their family, thanking them for sharing their family member with your ministry and the impact they are having.
  • Catch them in the act and mention to them how they made the right call, gently spoke to a child, made the Bible story come alive, etc.

Resource:  DaySpring provides free e-cards you can send to your volunteers to let them know how much you care.

Acts of Service:  

  • Take them a meal when they are sick, have a baby, etc.
  • Offer to babysit volunteer’s children so that your volunteer can enjoy a date night with their spouse, a day of pampering, or a day of solitude with the Lord.
  • Run an errand for them.
  • Prepare their supplies for an upcoming lesson.
  • Love them enough to give them the Sunday off when needed.

Resource:  Make a coupon book for volunteers for them to use in redeeming “services” (with advance notice, of course!).

Receiving Gifts:  

  • Give volunteers their favorite piece of candy, a gift card to their favorite restaurant or a gift card to their favorite coffee shop.
  • Frame their favorite scripture verse in a beautiful picture frame.
  • Put together an electronic photo album, showcasing your volunteer in action.  (I love Smilebox.)
  • Frame a picture of your volunteer in action.
  • Frame a picture of your volunteer’s class or team.
  • Have the volunteer’s make a handmade gift.

Resource:  Find out your volunteer’s “Favorite Things” by asking them.  Here’s a free form to get you started.

Quality Time:  

*Disclaimer:  Keep appropriate boundaries when interacting with someone of the opposite sex.

  • Take your volunteers out for coffee or meal just to chat and get to know each other outside of church.
  • Call your volunteer and ask how you can pray for them.  Pray for them right over the phone.
  • If you share a hobby with a volunteer, do that hobby together – bake cookies, go fishing, take a class, paint a room, plant a garden, etc.
  • Serve together in a cause that you’re passionate about.
  • Read a book together and discuss it.

Resource:  Subscribe to websites like Groupon or Living Social – they have great discounted goods and services.

Physical Touch:

*Disclaimer:  Use appropriate touch, especially toward the opposite sex.  I am a hugger by nature, but a rule of thumb that I follow is that I do not hug my male volunteers.  I have a completely hands-off policy for male volunteers.

  • Give a hug to a hurting volunteer of the same gender.
  • You could also give fist bumps, a high-five or a special handshake.

Brainstorm additional ideas to help each volunteer feel loved and appreciated in ways that would mean the most to them.

What ideas would you add to the list?  Share them with me below!