Here it is… one of the biggest questions in all of youth ministry: How do I create an appealing space for teens? There are many large churches that pay good money for their youth ministries to have brand new, state-of-the-art, top-notch youth centers. [If you belong to a church that is considering such a project, we would love to help you. The biggest piece of advice we can offer in preparation for that effort is COLLABORATE. If you are struggling to get buy-in for a dedicated youth center, partner with other ministry leaders who can benefit from the space when you aren't using it.] For all of the other churches that do not have a need to build any new space, or churches that simply can't afford it, this is usually a DIY project – making the best of what you already have – some more successful than others.
“In general, teens want to be in the same types of environments that many adults do.”
Often the people most in need of design direction are the ones that have the fewest resources with which to pursue it, and they seldom get much say in suiting a physical environment to the ministry that happens within. Some youth ministers have a great eye for design, or have someone at their disposal who can help. For the rest, the youth room (if a church is blessed to have one) more often than not receives little design attention and quickly becomes an accumulation of ratty furniture, dated posters, and all of the other stuff that nobody else wanted. This room is the place where we expect our teens to actually want to come. Imagine if any business set themselves up this way!
Some youth room examples from our projects:
"We have to lead with beauty and relevance."
Granted, the Gospel itself is an appealing message and must be the core of every ministry effort; without content, the environment matters little. Clearly, effective ministry can be done in any setting, but that does not mean the physical environment is not important. Particularly in a world dominated by distractions that all vie for the little bandwidth teens have left for God after school, band, soccer, scouts, etc., we have to lead with beauty and relevance to the culture to establish a foothold for the message to take root. [It should be stated here that the ministry environment is created physically but also enhanced through intangibles that the people create, such as acceptance, community, inspiration, and love offered within.]
In general, teens want to be in the same types of environments that many adults do: well-designed spaces like restaurants, coffee shops, music venues, and other places that are hip and trendy and full of action. You don't need to do anything new or inventive. Take a look around next time you are somewhere you really enjoy and ask yourself what it is that makes it an enjoyable environment. There are a handful of elements that make for a really successful place to gather, pray, study, recreate, etc. We have listed these with some practical DIY tips for renovating (and planning new) youth rooms below. These layers of design concepts will help you build a successful environment for your ministry.
1. CLEAR THE CLUTTER.
Cost: 0 | Effort: medium to high
A youth room should not look like a storage closet. Decide what really needs to be out on a regular basis and store the rest. If there is not an available closet, consider purchasing or building shelving or cabinets. Items that have been donated or accumulated over time that you aren't using are doing more harm than good because they send a message that is cluttered - just like the room is cluttered. Each week return the room to what needs to be there, carefully returning the excess items to a more appropriate home. And if there are things you don't use, there are places that would probably gladly take them from you, such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or a local shelter or halfway house. Being a good steward and keeping only what you really need and use is a valuable lesson for the young people to whom you minister.
🠊 Know exactly what purpose everything in your room is serving and make sure it's essential!
2. PLAN THE SPACE.
Cost: 0 | Effort: low to medium
Understand what activities you need to accommodate in the room. Is the room primarily for assemblies? For un-programmed lounging / hangout time? For small group meetings? All of the above? Know the amount of space you need and understand how those spaces need to work together. Planning a central cluster of sofas around a TV is a good lounge space that can easily become the focal point of a small stage for assemblies, with chairs added to the outside of the ring of furniture when needed. At other times, those additional chairs can be around the outside of the room for students to use at other times for chatting, studying, and playing games. Think of a room in terms of zones of space. The materials and furnishings need to serve the function of the zone to visually cue what is happening in each area. Draw a scale drawing of your room on grid paper or an inexpensive drafting software, and put in all of the items you already have and the ones you hope to buy. You can use tape to mark off spaces in the room to get a feel for scale as you determine how you want to configure your layout.
🠊 Draw plans of your room in advance and make sure they work well for your activities.
3. USE COLOR WISELY.
Cost: $ | Effort: low to medium