Your youth room should tell your youth’s story.
Every Wednesday night a parade of cars and SUVs wind their way down a dirt road to a house standing in a corn field. Our church purchased the house, and the field, years ago. Eventually, we plan to put a church building on it. For now the house itself serves as our offices and ministry spaces.
Before the house, we’d done youth group in apartments and garages and pull sheds and people’s basements. Purchasing the house, and the unfinished basement, gave us a blank slate to create a space for our group.
Of course, we didn’t have a blank check to go with it. Like any church, we had a humble budget to transform the space. Scarcity breeds creativity, and so we spent many months talking about kind of environment we should create for our midweek programming.
During that process some philosophies of design emerged that I think extend to every youth room. While context matters (don’t put a graffiti wall in a suburban church, please!), the underlying principles of good youth spaces are the same for any church.
3 Principles of Good Youth Space Design
1) Your space should tell your story
Adorning the walls of our youth space are hundreds of pictures. Pictures from retreats and camps and random coffee dates. This is my favorite part of our space.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, in which case our walls have a million things to say about what kind of group we are.
This can be time consuming to manage, and we often fall behind in getting new photos up after a retreat. It is worth it because new students are drawn to pictures. As they browse the photographs they see pictures of students having fun, interacting with caring adults, and going all sorts of adventures. They learn we are an active and caring community before we’ve even met them.
Our walls tell our story, and subtly nudge visitors to become a part of it.
2) Unified but IntimateThe best ministry happens when a person is individually known and listened to.Click To Tweet
In designing the layout of our room, one concept drove every decision; we wanted a space that was unified but intimate. Like many of you we didn’t have control over the shape of our room. We used furniture to help create the feel we wanted.
Unified means anywhere in the space feels like you are part of the group. No “back rows” or unused corners for wall-flowers to retreat. Many spaces put the seating in the middle, creating margins on the sides and creating a divide in the room. We opted to put our furniture against the walls and create an open space in the middle. Benches in the open space provide additional seating, but don’t create a barrier (they are easy to step over).
While we want the whole group to feel together, we understand most ministry happens in small pockets of people. Striving for whole-group unity can often lead to unintentional anonymity. The best ministry happens when a person is individually known and listened to.
We asked ourselves, “How can we create a space where someone can have a private conversation even when we’re all together?” We did this by creating seating pockets. There are four distinct “areas” in our youth space that all function as seating during an up front talk, but just as easily work as small group meeting space.
I am amazed at some of the deep conversations a leader and student can have sitting at the corner where two couches meet, all while a 7th grade boy is flailing about the middle of the room. The space permits a large group atmosphere, and promotes individual conversations.
3) Comfort conveys value
We have nice furniture in our youth space. Most of it is nicer than the furniture in my living room at home. It was all donated. We couldn’t pay for it, so we prayed for it.
From the onset we made a conscious choice to only accept quality, comfortable furniture. This was very difficult. Many well-meaning church members wanted to drop off floral print couches they’d had in their basements for years.
I was lucky to have a dedicated volunteer who served as the gatekeeper. Kathy was great at diplomatically explaining why we didn’t need that sofa (which smelled vaguely of cat urine.) We stuck to our guns and said we’d rather have no seating than poor seating.
Over the years we’ve collected some great pieces. It’s worth it for many reasons.
Quality Furniture Lasts Longer
Our furniture has stood up to the wear and tear better than I expected. You get what you pay for (or pray for).
Comfortable Seating Makes It Easier to Pay Attention
When teens are shifting around in uncomfortable chairs, it takes away from whatever we have planned that night.
Comfortable Spaces Make People Feel Loved
We don’t want to be a glorified nursery for big kids. We are a comfortable sanctuary for young adults. Youth rooms should be a respite, an oasis, a safe place away from the other pressures of adolescence. One of the quickest ways to do that is with comfortable furniture and an inviting space.
Our space has become one of our most important ministry tools.
When new teenagers walk into our space it is inviting it helps them feel like they are part of the group no matter where they are sitting, it offers places where they can talk with a leader or other students, and the pictures show what kind of community we are.
Well designed youth spaces are a crucial part of well run youth ministries. They don’t need to be fancy or expensive (we meet in the basement of a house in a corn field), but they must be intentional. If your youth space feels like an afterthought, your students will too.If your youth space feels like an afterthought, your students will too.Click To Tweet