Chuck E. Cheese's opened its first location on May 17,1977 in San Jose, California. It was the brainchild of Atari co-founder, Nolan Bushnell.
As of 2017, there are now over 600 locations in 47 states and 15 foreign countries.
If you have a child, you've probably been to one of the locations. I know my kids loved going there when they were young and I took them quite often.
There are some key strategies that the company has used to attract kids and families that the church can learn from. Let's take a look together.
Strategy #1 - Create fun environments for kids. Chuck E. Cheese's tag line is "Where a Kid Can Be a Kid." You won't hear any "shhhhhhhs" or "sit still's" there. From the games to the pizza to the decor, the environment was created for kids to have the opportunity to be kids.
Kids hear "shhhhhh's" and "be still" all the time. They long to be able to laugh, giggle, move and play.
But many churches try to force kids to be adults while they are at church. Sit on a pew and be quiet. Sing songs that are not age-appropriate. Walk slowly down the hallway in a reverential manner. And then they wander why parents say they have to force their kids to come.
If you want to grow your ministry, then create fun environments where kids can be kids and learn about God in a fun, age-appropriate way.
Here are some articles that can help you create environments that kids love to come to.
Strategy #2 - Parents will follow their kids to places their kids love. Kids wield great influence in their parent's decisions. If you want to reach parents, then you first have to engage their children. Churches that reach kids will reach their parents.
A great children's ministry is a growth engine for a church. If you want to grow your church, then make children's ministry a top priority. Here are some great steps you can take to make this happen.
Strategy #3 - Families are looking for shared experiences. Offer this and you will attract them.
Nolan, the founder, was looking for a way to expand video games beyond adult locations like pool halls and make them available in a more family-friendly environment. His concept for this new strategy was also influenced by his fondness for the Disney company.
Chuck E. Cheese's are full of families. Kids and parents eating, playing and having fun together. Think about ways you can create shared experiences for them at your church and they will come.
Here are some ideas for this.
Strategy #4 - Safety and security. Chuck E. Cheese's had a check-in and check-out system long before churches considered it. Their kid check program uses matching hand stamps to make sure kids leave with the person they came with.
In 2012, they started offering gluten-free items on their menu to prevent allergic reactions. They have a gluten-free individual cheese pizza and chocolate fudge cupcake. They also have a full list of FAQ's with a whole section of food allergies.
They also initiated Kids Play Safe, which helps keep the play areas clean and safe. They use eco-friendly, healthy and safe cleaning methods. You'll also find hand sanitizers throughout their environment.
In our world's new norm of terrorism, school shootings, church shootings and abuse, safety and security is a huge factor. If you want to grow your ministry, parents must know that their children will be safe in your care.
Here is some help to make your ministry safe and secure.
Strategy #5 - Use characters to connect with kids. A big part of the experience is interacting with the characters such as Chuck E. Cheese (a mouse), Helen Henny (chicken), Jasper T. Jowls (dog), Mr. Munch (friendly monster), Pasqually P. Pieplate (puppet chef), Pizzacam (camera), Munch Jr. (character that bounces) and Wink (left eye in logo).
These characters have been used in the animatronic shows, videos and in live costumes. Kids love characters. Just ask anyone who has been in a character costume and they'll tell you kids will mob them with attention, hugs and conversation. You can also see this at Disney World, where kids and parents will wait in line for hours to meet the costumed characters.
Think about creating some characters for your ministry that kids will recognize and connect with. This can be done through puppets, video and costumes.
My friend and co-author of the book "If Disney Ran Your Children's Ministry," Justyn Smith, does an excellent job with this. He and his team have created really cool characters that interact with the kids who attend the ministry. You can read more about the characters at his site.
Strategy #6 - Celebrate family milestones. In 2012, of the 65 million people who went to Chuck E. Cheese's, over 5 million of them were kids attending a birthday party.
One of Chuck E. Cheese's biggest draws for families is celebrating milestones like birthdays. A customized rendition of "Happy Birthday" is sung to children, while a costumed character and other employees dance with the family and celebrate with them.
This strategy is one of the most powerful ways to impact and influence families. There are several key milestones when families will welcome your input and influence in their lives. This includes baby dedication, faith commitment, baptism, Bible presentation and elementary graduation.
Here are some great tools you can use to partner with parents and celebrate their child's spiritual milestones with them.
Strategy #7 - Harness the power of the web. The company is using the web to connect with families. In 2012, their website received more than 20 million visitors who reserved more than 450,000 birthday parties and played online games more than 18 million times.
They also are working with a network of almost 700 bloggers to build lasting relationships for their brand.
Think about how your ministry can use the web to connect with families. Your website. Facebook. YouTube.
Strategy #8 - Go mobile. In early 2013, the company introduced its first-ever downloadable app. The app earned recognition with a Mobile Excellence award.
Does your church already have an app? Can you tap into this to promote your children's ministry? Can you use an app to partner with parents? Can you create your own app for your ministry? There are lots of possibilities.
Strategy #9 - Free wifi. Chuck E. Cheese's now offers free wifi at its locations. Today's parents live online. If you want them to stick around your facility for any amount of time, then you need to provide free wifi.
Strategy #10 - Give families the opportunity to make a difference together. Many of the restaurants are now offering community service campaigns that families can participate in together. An example is the Roundup campaign, where families can roundup their purchase to the nearest dollar and donate the money to charitable causes.
Parents are looking for opportunities to serve with their children. Think of ways you can give families the opportunity to serve together. Here is an example of how we did this and saw our attendance spike as a result.
Strategy #11 - Minister to families who have kids with special needs. Many of the restaurants have started hosting special evenings for families who have kids with special needs. These events include lower lights, less noise, sensory sensitivity, less characters and more.
Consider starting a special needs ministry, if you don't have one. My friend, Craig Johnson, leads a wonderful ministry called Champions Club that helps churches set up special needs ministries. You can get more information at this link.
Strategy #12 - Evaluate and update as needed. "Where a kid can be a kid" is not the same as it was when the company first opened in 1977. Childhood has changed. In a day of virtual reality games on cell phones and endless food choice options, traditional arcade games and family entertainment is not as captivating as it was back in the day.
Chuck E. Cheese's recognizes this and is updating to stay relevant. In August of 2017, the company introduced a new design concept and introduced a re-brand. The updates include a different color scheme, an open kitchen and a play pass card system to replace tokens. They are also replacing the animatronic stage show with a dance floor area.
Ministries must also be willing to change and adapt as needed. If you're operating like it's still 1977, it will be hard to be effective.
This means we must always be evaluating and changing to remain relevant. We must stay anchored to the truth while being geared for the times.
Implement these 12 strategies and you can grow your ministry to the next level.