Good Design Can Help Build
Strong Youth Programs
By Robert C. Foreman, A.I.A.
Jerry A. Fountain
this page as a
Years ago it was highly unusual for a
church building to be designed with the youth in mind. George Barna,
the pollster, says that the typical church spent less than 3% on youth
ministry while youth average 11% of the membership. Churches seemed to
be saying to the youth, "You really don't matter." According to Lifeway
Research, 96% of those born between 1977 and 1994 are unchurched and the
drop out rate for this age group is increasing. The world is enticing
them away and church leaders have finally realized that they are engaged in
a war for the hearts and minds and ultimately the souls of young people.
response to this challenge, more and more forward thinking churches are
targeting this age group to try to stem the tide of young people leaving the
church. Churches are going on the offense with programs designed to
reach young people with more than just a basketball gym. Buildings
alone do not make a youth ministry. It takes a dedicated active youth
ministry with a designated space and programs to meet the spiritual and
social needs of this age group.
Good architectural design is key to a facility that meets
these needs. Churches are providing youth with multi-function spaces
where they can just hang out with friends. Youth are extremely social
beings. They like to congregate in both large and small groups.
This is how they feel loved and accepted. These new youth spaces are
very non traditional – often industrial feeling. They combine the
features of the "shopping mall" with the old fashioned "soda shop" and the
recreation center. Young people should not be isolated from the rest
of the church. Wise youth leaders recognize that youth facilities
should be part of the church's family ministry center where provision is
made for all age groups, from children to senior adults. The youth are
recognized for their special qualities and also their integral role they
play in the church as a whole.
In larger churches, well designed youth assembly rooms
are being equipped with multi media audio, video and lighting systems, with
"state of the art" sound quality. Youth assembly spaces must be sound
isolated from other areas. Many traditional churches have contemporary
"youth worship" services on a weeknight to appeal to their style and still
have traditional worship on Sunday for everyone to come together. Churches
that have a contemporary style of worship will provide the same technology
features in the youth assembly areas as their main worship center.
Food is never far from the minds of young people. A
kitchen is often a key part of any well designed youth space. A sink, a
refrigerator, microwave, and/or vending area may be all that is required. Or
a full service kitchen and serving area may be part of a large church youth
Well designed youth areas will incorporate low maintenance materials and
easy to clean, damage resistant surfaces. The traditional finished ceiling
can be omitted and the exposed structure and mechanical components can be
painted. These "no frills" youth areas should not cost more and, in fact,
often cost less than traditional construction.
A well designed youth building should avoid hidden nooks
and corners, without obvious attempts to provide ways for adult leaders to
keep an "eye" on the youth. If classrooms or other small assembly spaces are
included, provision should be made to lock off access except when they are
needed. Youth need conversation areas, with informal furnishings. An
improv stage can be included in multi-purpose areas, allowing these areas to
be used for assembly.
Recreation areas for youth
in many churches include space for group sports like basketball and
volleyball as well as table top games, billiards and even computer games.
Some churches are including rock climbing walls and indoor or outdoor
skateboard areas. Smaller churches that do not have the luxury of dedicated
youth buildings need to plan regular events and activities for youth, either
at the church or use available community recreation centers. Even churches
on very tight budgets should at least have a special room designed around
the needs of this age group.
A good example of a well thought out youth
facility is our design for the Student Center at Eastside Baptist Church in
Marietta, Georgia. This addition to Eastside's Christian Life Center was
designed to serve the youth of this 4,000 member suburban Atlanta church. It
includes a large "commons area" with a lounge, game room and coffee shop.
The coffee shop is furnished with booths made from recycled school bus
seats. The room is featured with exposed structure / fabric air conditioning
ducts, a ramp connecting two levels and accent walls painted bold colors.
Assembly rooms, one for middle schoolers and one for high schoolers each
have state of the art audio, video and lighting systems. For more about
Eastside Baptist Church, visit www.FSFarchitecture.com.
Quality designed facilities give churches the tools
needed to provide new and innovative ministries for young people. However,
buildings do not guarantee results. A well designed building is only one
part of a comprehensive plan to give youth a sense of belonging and value –
to provide a caring environment where the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be
shared with the youth and their friends and where they can experience the
fellowship of His Church.