Does the Youth Room Matter?
By: Kyle Rohane
You may have seen a recent article from The Onion, parodying youth workers’ tendency to fixate on their rooms. The fictional pastor from the piece seems to believe that the new facility will solve his ministry problems by attracting students with Ping-Pong, video games, and soda. In light of this, we asked four student ministry leaders whether or not a decked-out youth room matters to the success of a ministry. According to these leaders, the youth room is…
Transformative, If Done Right
Joel Mayward, Pastor of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at North Langley Community Church in Langley, British Columbia
Environments matter. They communicate our values and our stories, creating experiences for those who enter them. Youth workers have to be environmentalists—advocates for the protection and stewardship of the youth environment.
For the past few decades, youth workers have spent a lot of energy trying to legitimize our vocational calling. Part of this legitimacy is having our own separate space. (Notice the key word: separate.) If your church is large and values youth ministry enough, maybe they’ll designate a middle school and a high school room—I worked at a church where we had a college room, too. Yet these separate spaces can quickly become silos separating family members from one another, creating a disconnect between teenagers and the greater church body. They can also distract from the relational heart of youth ministry if we find ourselves cleaning, improving, and tweaking our rooms nonstop.
On the other hand, a primary task of adolescence is autonomy, defining oneself through separation and individuation, embracing one’s unique contributions and existence in the world. A youth room can be key to this task, creating an environment of grace and hospitality that communicates the value of young people and creates space for them to explore their faith. Separation isn’t inherently wrong when it leads to self-differentiation.
But if a youth room doesn’t lead to a transformative experience at some point, it’s just walls, chairs, and a foosball table. The space should limit distractions and barriers to the sharing and practice of the gospel. The goal should not be to create a “cool” youth room. It should be to craft an environment that allows students to make choices and discoveries, to develop a relationship with the space and context and experience that leads to a relationship with Christ.
A Reflection of Your Ministry
Aaron Thompson, Pastor of Student Ministries at First Baptist Church of Wheaton, Illinois
I have a love-hate relationship with youth space.
I love that for many students, the familiar sights and even smells of a particular room put them at ease. In Crazy Busy, writer and pastor Kevin DeYoung reminds us that hospitality and hospital share a common root. And that is true for a youth space in the church—it can and should provide rest and healing from busyness, stress, and messy family issues. Of course that isn’t always the case. But it is something to hope for.
I hate that for almost everyone outside our ministry, the youth room is an object lesson of the shortcomings of youth ministry. It can be a living testament to our tendency to over-estimate the importance of junk food and games. And it is almost always in a location that reinforces the myth that youth ministry is a kind of purgatory for both students and leaders—where rambunctious students are kept busy until they are ready for real church with the grown-ups, and where wannabe pastors can test their chops before taking on adult ministry.
Ultimately our spaces, like our programming, will be as strong or as weak as our theology. As we learn from some of the ministry mistakes that superficial youth rooms reinforce, our spaces will come to reflect those changes. But I can’t ever see a time when students won’t need their own hospital(ity) space to be loved, to encounter Christ, and to share in life together.
Nice, but Not Necessary
Phil Bell, Pastor of Family Ministry at Keystone Church in Saline, Michigan
I used to think that a great youth room was key to a healthy and vibrant ministry. Every time I walked into a large church, I would get “youth room envy” as I looked around at their elaborate set-up. I would think, Wow, if I had this space, I could really make a difference in youth ministry! Then I joined a church plant that rented facilities and set up and tore down every week. I thought to myself, How will I ever develop a healthy ministry without consistent space?
I remember my first youth group meeting in a basement with 10 to 15 kids and a couple of leaders. We had a Ping-Pong table, a hanging sheet to project onto, and more bugs than kids. We could do only so much with our environment, so it forced us to focus on the students and our experience together. Over the months and years, we grew out of the basement, into coffee shops, Salvation Army buildings, and eventually into our first building. By then we had over 100 students.
If I am honest, a great environment that students can take ownership in and enjoy is helpful. Existing students find it easier to invite their friends to a youth room with fun and exciting elements. However, I have discovered that the “stickiest” factors for students are relationships, authenticity, and experiencing faith together in service. A healthy youth ministry can still thrive without an elaborate youth space. In fact, that kind of room can take away from the elements that will impact students for a lifetime.
A Potential Distraction from Relational Ministry
Leneita Fix, Co-founder of Frontline Urban Resources and Training and Recruiting Coordinator at Bow Down Church in West Palm Beach, Florida
I served about 15 years with a ministry that shared space, using buildings that did not belong to us. There were no bells and whistles. Even our snacks were kind of boring. One of the church buildings we met in had a youth room with everything students could want. They even had pizza almost every week—seriously. Our students were encouraged to attend both groups, but only one ever took us up on it. When we asked why they didn’t go to both, the students responded, “The adults from the other group don’t talk to us. They won’t even acknowledge we’re there.”
Relational ministry is messy. It isn’t as flashy as a gorgeous facility. I once had a friend say to me, “What teen is going to invite a friend by saying, ‘Come where there are caring adults who teach us about Jesus’?” It’s easier to say, “Our room is awesome. We have fun and eat pizza and play games.” Something ingrained in us makes us believe that if we don’t have cool and creative areas, they won’t come. We hope that if students pick out the paint color they will take more ownership in the ministry.
Yet I meet youth workers all the time who have seen both growth in size and depth in ministries with no space at all. No youth pastor has ever told me, “Students come for the PlayStation.” Why? Students want to know their worth more than fun and food. They don’t need a youth room for video games and play. They have technology in their pockets at all times, and pizza is easy to come by. What they can’t find anywhere else are people who will spend the time to get to know them, speak truth to them, and teach them how to be servant leaders for the Lord. And if that’s what the room is used for, it doesn’t matter whether your chairs are beanbag or folding.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More