shifting our physical space in youth ministry

Ascetics makes a difference in youth ministry. What I mean is that where you meet and what it looks like impacts effectiveness. Now, I am not going to get all Martha Stewart on you and argue for garden-fresh and pleasing aromas and certain hues of earth-tone colors for your window dressings.

Over the past 10-20 years in youth ministry there was a move from the small to the big.

Youth pastors rallied together in their desire to move out of the youth room and into the fellowship hall (and progressively into the Sanctuary and then maybe….a local gym)

Personally, I would envision having bleachers full of students looking down at me, or me looking up into hundreds of faces (if I were teaching at a local theater)

Throw in maybe a fun skit, heavy use of media, and lots of loud music and free prizes.

It resembled a mini youth conference..and a school assembly morphed together.

Is that really what our students yearn for?

We must ask ourselves how often each week are students being taught at and being spoken to.

Think about their environments at school.  Teacher in the front of the classroom, instilling knowledge and facts to silent students all sitting in rows.


At home, the setting may be less formal and structured, but their parents still bark orders at them, telling them what to do and what not to do.

Now, I am not saying that either ways of communication and education is wrong, or necessarily out dated. However I do believe that by the time our students come to us on a Wed or Friday night, they are sick of it.

Where is the dialog, interaction, and participation?

At school they are instructed to face forward looking at the back of each others heads..kind of looks like church on Sunday morning.

No wonder why kids seem to hate both!

Could it be that today’s students do not learn best in a stagnant, uncreative, and individualistic environment?

Today’s church must rethink its structural set up for fear of losing these upcoming generations.

Take the example of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. At first glance, I had to admit that their “church” resembled my youth room in many ways. Plenty of couches and chairs in a circular pattern. The speaker, Doug Pagitt, sits on a stool in the center and makes himself, and his message, very approachable during the teaching times. People are encouraged to interact with the message, ask questions, and be creative and conversational in their response. And, probably most importantly, is that everyone is humanized. They sit in a way that looks the other person in the eye and promotes physical contact and touch.

solomons-porch solomons-porch2

A bit different than the “sit 3 inches away from every one on the cold hard pew”…type of atmosphere that you and I may have grown up with..and sadly still exists in many churches today.

Nowadays, youth groups must celebrate and work back towards the small.

Youth rooms (old couches and half broken chairs) are not such a bad thing after all. Maybe we should thank those elders who vetoed our youth budgets all those years!

Now, if you really can’t fit in your (used to be a janitor’s closest) youth room anymore, then perhaps you really do need a bigger space to meet.

However, trying to jam pack more and more students into an already over crowded room (just so we can justify needing a newer and bigger youth room)…I’m not so sure that is a really good thing anymore.

Growth is good, don’t get me wrong. And many times, you will naturally grow numerically without having to try very hard.

But a word of caution for you: Don’t change your approach because you are growing.

Find new and creative ways to keep the eye contact, open dialog, interaction, and student participation alive in your meetings. Bleachers and movie theaters are probably not the best idea for that.

Lastly, I believe it is also important to find ways to utilize current space and transform it into sacred space. Much has been written about this topic and I would recommend the following resources. (listed a bit further down actually)

I will simply say that without too much effort, you can permanently transform places into sacred spaces for your teens. Or, a few times a semester turn your youth room or fellowship hall (or whatever space you meet in) into something new and different. Create atmospheres that allow for the mysterious, transcendent, and wonderful Spirit of God to be experienced in fresh and memorable ways by your students.

Teenagers these days are very into spirituality and mystical things, and while we don’t want to make Christianity into a trendy New Age cult phenomena, there is definitely a historical precedent to these ancient practices. So, in some ways it is nothing new, but rather a return to tradition.  (at least you can tell your parents and elders that!)

The Sacred Way– Tony Jones

Contemplative Youth Ministry– Mark Yaconelli

*Sacred Space:A Hands-On Guide to Creating Multisensory Worship Experiences for Youth Ministry

by Dan Kimball and Lilly Lewin  (Lilly Lewin’s blog)

* (an index and description of great prayer stations)

(youth specialties always does one of these and you could probably do in a fellowship hall,  sanctuary without pews, or a gym…and might actually be the best use of a gym you could find)


4 thoughts on “shifting our physical space in youth ministry

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