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Worlds of Wow wants to get kids excited about going to church again. The innovative Denton, Texas-based company specializes in building Family Entertainment Centers (FECs), themed play zones for children.

Founded and led by Reagan Hillier, Worlds of Wow believes the key to reaching the next generation for Jesus is getting kids hooked on church while they're young. The company is devoted to building play areas for churches that will not only entertain kids while they're there but will also make them want to come back for more.

Sales and Marketing Director Darrin Rutledge explained why children have been the company's main focus.

"When you look at why people pick a church to stick with a church, they do it because their kids love it," Rutledge says. "There are a lot of great churches out there for everybody—there's one for everyone—but a lot of parents will make their decision based on their kids wanting to be there. Our mission is to make kids want to be at a church. Make it fun. Make it cool. Make it a place kids can come and learn about Jesus."

Leading Kids to Jesus

Hillier had a background working in the play equipment industry. Worlds of Wow "basically started in [Hillier's] kitchen," Rutledge says. "He knew there was a need to bring better play, better theming to churches throughout the nation, just to spur kids on to want to come and, well, to be frank, to get them to meet Jesus."

Launched in 2004, Worlds of Wow has made a name for itself in the Family Entertainment Center market. The company works primarily with churches but also with secular businesses, including the pediatric dental/medical market, YMCAs and military recreation centers.

"The reality is there are a lot more commercial businesses looking into theming their facilities for children," Rutledge says. "In almost every mall, you'll find some place people can take their kids to play. ... It's becoming more and more prevalent as time goes on."

Just as Worlds of Wow serves both Christian and secular businesses, the company employs people from all types of backgrounds. Yet ultimately, everything the company does is driven by kingdom principles and values, and that's reflected every day in Worlds of Wow projects.

"We don't only hire Christians," Rutledge says. "We don't make a habit of preaching to everybody we hire. We're an equal-opportunity employer, and we hire men and women of all races and genders. But people just know when they're coming to work here that our key market is churches, and because of that, the Bible and faith touch every one of our lives every day."

That focus on faith is wrapped up in everything from the company's overarching philosophy to operational minutiae. The art department designs biblically themed areas. The artists design and create drawings, characters and 3-D themes based on the churches' programs. These biblical characters and designs are produced, painted and installed, eventually touching almost everyone on the team.

"It's just nice to be able to work at a place where you get to not only create biblical atmospheres and themes for churches, but you get to share your own faith with people individually throughout your business," Rutledge says. "It's so much a part of what we do, it just happens."

Competing for Kids' Attention

Though the team enjoys creating fanciful characters and creative designs, that's not what motivates them. The creatives of Worlds of Wow are driven to help churches and businesses build lasting relationships with children—relationships that will hopefully cultivate a relationship with God.

"When you hear a children's pastor say, 'I wouldn't even be here if it weren't for that one time I came in to a children's ministry area and heard about Jesus, and it changed my life,' those are the types of moments that happen every day," Rutledge says. "You just don't know how those children are going to turn out. You don't know how God's going to work in their lives. But getting them connected at an early age and locked in to this way of thinking, that Jesus is with me wherever I go and feeling secure about that, it's very important."

Many of Worlds of Wow's employees used to work in the church and understand the needs of ministries.

"Reaching families is a foundational part of why we work so hard," says Mackenzie Hastings, Worlds of Wow's marketing director. "We know creative environments and attractive spaces enhance the efforts of ministry staff, they help reach the hearts and minds of children, they create an identity for your church, and they lead to transformational experiences. Over the years, we've seen and worked with many of today's fastest-growing churches, and in every case, they have two main characteristics in common: They're passionate about their unique mission, and they're reaching families by focusing on children."

Again and again, the team reiterated the importance of getting children plugged into church at an early age. Children's ministries have to find new ways to stand out in an age of distraction.

"Let's look at the competition," Rutledge says. "It's video games. It's play areas that are just phenomenal when you go to some FECs. And for a church, it's important you grab those children's attention. You give them a place where not only do they learn what the basics and fundamentals are for what it means to walk out a Christian life, but you give them a place with just as much wonder as anything else the world is trying to give them."

More than anything, in a world that feels increasingly dark and cynical, sometimes an exuberant play zone is just what children need to feel God's love. Rutledge is a big believer that even colors, designs and aesthetics can shape a child's view of God for the better.

"I just think it's important that they know that God is full of color, God is full of wonder, God is full of life, and when they walk into that space, they need to see that," Rutledge says. "We serve a God of 'Wow,' and we're trying to help children see that. We know churches know that because it's one of the key factors they consider when expanding their current facility."

Attracting Families to Church

Though every church is unique, Worlds of Wow has a fairly standard process for each of its clients. Once the company contacts the client, it sends someone to do a site visit, take measurements and fill out a creative brief.

"Once that creative brief is filled out, they meet with the concept department," Rutledge says. "They're a great group, very imaginative, and they'll bring the wow. They take the thoughts and designs for each room, and they really bring it to life."

That process can take as long as two months, depending how much back and forth is necessary to get a concept that both Worlds of Wow and the client like. After a contract is written and both sides sign the production agreement, the real fun begins. The design team takes the agreed-upon concepts and fleshes them out further. Elevation drawings, finished artwork, prints, characters and play attractions are created during this phase. Finally, everything is shipped to the church, where installation begins.

"At that point, the install crew can take anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks," Rutledge says. "They'll install all the items, get the customer's final approval, and the job is finished. Generally, depending on the project, it takes anywhere from eight to 12 weeks, but it can take longer if a job is very large."

By the end of the process, the client is left with a polished FEC that often goes above and beyond what they hoped for at the start of the process. With more than 13 years of work, the Worlds of Wow team has accumulated some incredible success stories.

Dawn Brand, a preschool minister at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was elated with the final product.

"TK's Place is a unique facility that will simply make your jaw drop and say, 'Wow,'" Brand says. "Worlds of Wow created this amazing environment that will help our children's ministry attract families throughout the lake area. There is nothing like this in Southwest Louisiana."

At Spring Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, the new kids' area revitalized morale in the children's ministry.

"It is not an uncommon sight to see families taking pictures of their children by the scenes," Mark Harrison says. "This has helped change the attitude of the workers and parents alike in a positive way."

Ruth Charlson from Second Baptist Baytown in Baytown, Texas, had specific numbers to quantify the "Wow" effect. After creating a new FEC with Worlds of Wow, Charlson says the children's ministry "experienced a 35 percent increase in overall attendance—nursery, preschool and elementary age. The increase is attributed to the new facility environment, which includes new spaces, great décor, state-of-the-art security/check-in system and a super location."

One of the company's biggest projects was at Answers in Genesis' new Ark Encounter theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky. A full-scale recreation of Noah's ark, The Ark Encounter has become one of the biggest Christian tourist attractions in the year since its opening. The attraction drew 400,000 visitors in its first four months and is expected to draw 1.2 million in the first year. And when all these visitors enter the park, one of the first attractions they see is the Fairy Tale Ark—which the Worlds of Wow team created.

"We got to do several pairs of animals in the ark, and they're looking down into this open shop," Rutledge says. "We did a 3-D Bible where the ark is literally coming out of the Bible, and of course, the whole area looks like an ark when you come in. That was a really good project for us. We got to create some unique characters and be a part of something very big."

The company has also handled projects for megachurches such as Gateway Church in Dallas/Fort Worth. But Rutledge says it's not the size of the church that matters. Whether they build for a megachurch or a small rural church, success comes from seeing kids excited to learn about God.

"When we take and do a smaller project for a smaller church, and we hear them talking about the kids' reaction when they first came in, to me, that's a success story every time we finish one out," Rutledge says. "Kids love having a place where they can come in, and it's a wonderland."

Taylor Berglund is the content development editor for Charisma Media. He hosts the "Charisma News," "Charisma Connection" and "C-Pop" podcasts.

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