Bruce Barry had designed much glitzier projects in higher-profile places: the E.T. ride at Universal Studios, stage sets for the Nickelodeon cable network, and the realistic animal ambiance of Rainforest Cafes. This much-in-demand designer of children's amusement rides did not need work when Dale Hudson called last fall.Hudson, children's pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas, was looking for someone to design high-tech sets for the congregation's revamped elementary-age worship areas. He presented Barry with an idea that included a modernized version of Noah's Ark and Joseph's coat of many colors. Though Barry had never been to church, and though well-known Bible stories were utterly foreign to him, he agreed to help and approached the project with great enthusiasm.

"Dale was on a mission to bring kids into the church," recalls Barry, 39. "And I have a love for kids." He soon also had a great affection for many of the 4,500 people at the church. "I had never met such sincere and warm people," he says. "It was surreal."Through his encounter with First Baptist, Barry and his wife became Christians. Hudson baptized them both last November. They now attend a Baptist church in Tampa. "It has changed my life forever," Barry says of his conversion. Indeed, he already has invited more than 300 families to attend church. " Anybody I talk to, I want them to find the Lord."

Technology to the Max

The new worship areas, which opened in November, are located in two large rooms: Toon Town for first- through third-graders, and Planet 45 for fourth- and fifth-graders. The fully animated cartoon town has 26-foot-tall buildings. The services draw 500 kids a week, more than double the number before Hudson's hiring two years ago. ...

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