posted by Michael Raia
As a follow-up to my first post 10 Tips for Renovating or Designing a Youth Room, I wanted to offer some practical solutions for the average church youth minister to tackle as part of an overall plan to make a successful and engaging environment as a backdrop for youth ministry. Successful ministries are built on a vision and carry a message. Architecture speaks; it can reinforce, contradict, or even confuse a message – the component of ministry that often receives the most attention. Removing obstacles – from harsh lighting to messy clutter – can eliminate conflicting ideas to integrate the physical environment with the message. Some communities need to create a dynamic space to provide a stimulating getaway. Others (increasingly more the case this day and age), seek to provide an alternative to the noise of the culture. Research has shown that among the most important element of ministry for today's teens is authenticity – so whatever you seek to do, do it well and do it for the right reasons.
Many of these ideas are on the low side of the cost scale and the high side of the impact scale. If you're looking specifically for ideas to design sets or staging, check out Church Stage Design Ideas.
1. CLEAN UP!
Have a clean-up project. The first thing you can do to improve your environment is tidy it up and get rid of everything you don't need. Have some teens volunteer to come in and toss everything they don't want to keep for the ministry. Turn the effort into both a service project and a fund raiser by collecting items from all church members that they want to donate, then have a church garage sale. Anything donated that the youth want to keep for the ministry they can, and anything left unsold can be donated to a local thrift store. There's probably a lot of stuff you don't want or need, but don't forget it may be a blessing to someone else.
Cost: 0 | Effort: medium to high
2. PLAN A GOOD LAYOUT!
Arrange the room to fit how you use it. Many times youth ministers inherit a room layout, furniture, etc. If you can think of a better way to use the room, make the change. A simple change in setup with a little thought as to how the room works best can dramatically alter its feel. Ask the teens for input if they have particular thoughts on what they think could be improved about the room configuration. Pay particularly close attention to how large spaces need to be: A bible study area for an 8-person small group may need a corner as opposed to being in the middle of the room. Also, consider features of the room that benefit you: A stage wall will need a backdrop, so pick a large wall you can paint, hang a screen or tv on, or put up banners. Finally, think about circulation: Games and social space need the most room, so locate them so they are easy to get to. Make a to-scale drawing of your room and scaled cutouts of your furniture if you need to. It doesn't need to be fancy, but something that allows you study your options can go a long way to thinking differently about your room use. Typically I recommend breaking medium-sized rooms into zones, unless your room is either a small classroom size or a large permanent assembly space. If your room is flexible, create a focal point like a grouping of sofas around a TV or a small stage and building around it from there.
Cost: 0 | Effort: low to medium
Paint an accent wall. If you have a focal wall that serves as the backdrop of your stage, or a wall that serves as the place where you want a mural, a ministry logo, or another graphic element, painting just one wall can go a long way. Seek help from someone who's good with color; you won't want to make the rest of the room look bad if the colors clash. A nicely planned pop of color can really make the room dynamic. Adding a wainscot with paneling can be inexpensive and add a lot of pop, or even a stripe around the room to tie it together. Go buy a few cheap tester-sized paint jugs and try a few on for size before buying more. With a little plastic, painter's tape, some rollers, and volunteers (all inexpensive), you can have a brand new look in a hurry.
Cost: $ | Effort: low to medium
4. LIGHT IT UP!
Replace your fluorescent ceiling lights. If you have can lights or pendants that currently have compact fluorescent lamps in them, you can replace them with LED. Not only is this energy efficient, but you have choices when it comes to color temperature, which is measured in Kelvin (K). In general, anything 4000K and up is very cool or blue looking. The higher the number, the cooler and bluer the light. Anything from 3000K down will look much more like standard incandescent lights, or halogen. If you have 2x4 lens troffer lights in a ceiling grid, you have another option. Buy some very inexpensive floor lamps (Target, Lowes, and Home Depot have them for $20-25, Walmart for $10). You can easily plug them in to extension cords and a foot switch at one location for easy on/off. You can also tie them in to a dimmer if you want to get really fancy. You'll be amazed at how different your room looks with different lights.
Cost: $$ | Effort: low
5. FLOOR IT!
If your flooring is like the vast majority of church youth rooms, it's either a very low-grade carpet that is well past its prime or it's VCT (vinyl composition tile), which is the oatmeal-looking stuff that comes in tons of colors, none of which are very appealing. Nothing says institution like these two types of flooring. If you're fortunate enough to have nice carpet, stained concrete, or vinyl plank, then perhaps skip to the next one. For those who need some flooring help, consider area rugs. They can be had quite cheaply at a number of stores. If you have a little more to spend or can seek some budget or donation funds, look into some new flooring. You may be able to install laminate wood floors or wood-look vinyl plank on top of your existing floors. Options are abundant and pricing may not be as bad as you think, especially for smaller rooms.
Cost: $$ - $$$ | Effort: low
6. FURNISH IT!
Get new furniture. Ok, so cheap furniture isn't going to last as long as the commercial-grade stuff. But that's why it's cheap. You can find great microfiber or leather sofas from a number of retailers for only a few hundred bucks. Get online and look for some deals. Typically clearance sales come before and after major holidays. You may be able to find a benefactor parent or church member who's willing to put up the money. Or maybe you have some families that are looking to donate some (nice) used furniture. The main thing is to be selective. Don't let the room become the used junk dump heap of the church. Make sure the furniture you have is used regularly, good quality, and aesthetically pleasing. If it's not any of those things, it might be doing you more harm than good.
Cost: $$ - $$$ | Effort: low
7. DECORATE IT!
Get some wall décor. This is perhaps one of the biggest areas that youth ministers without a good eye for aesthetics need to seek help. If you do have a design side, however, take a shopping trip to get some inexpensive and fun items to hang up. You want to avoid the look of clutter, but a few well-placed items can really make a room feel much less institutional. Hobby Lobby and Michael's have lots of items that you can purchase cheap and customize by painting or decorating yourself. Getting nice matted frames for some artistic photos (black and white is very popular), painting some wood or metal letters, or even decorative touches like plants or custom-painted accent furniture – these are simple projects that make a big difference. Pinterest, Etsy, and similar sites can be a big help on this one. Guys, I know plenty of you out there have some pretty solid design skills, but typically the ladies are much better at this kind of thing than we are. That said, try to avoid gender-specific theming that caters too much to either.
Cost: $ - $$ | Effort: medium
Invest in some better technology! Is your TV deeper than the screen is wide? Could you benefit from the purchase of a new laptop or tablet to run presentations or check-in? Certainly these devices have an aesthetic appeal to them that in and of itself may not be worth the price tag, but they really could unlock the potential to do whole new things in ministry. Think about what things you can't do because of your limited technology and find a way around it. Used laptops and tablets on sites like eBay, MacOfAllTrades, or manufacturers' refurbished websites are often deeply discounted and can be found in great condition from people who sell these devices after only a year or two to upgrade to the latest and greatest. Invest in the proper software to help you do what you need to do. ProPresenter, MediaShout, and similar presentation softwares are extremely useful and versatile.
Cost: $$ - $$$ | Effort: low
9. BRAND IT!
Make your room uniquely yours. Maybe you have a great logo you can paint as a mural on a wall, or maybe there's a really neat way to put in some material or texture that's identifiable. Create a custom sign by projecting an image to cutout from wood or coroplast and paint, or try experimenting with uplighting some thick acrylic with LED tape. Whether it's an entire wall, or just an accent, do something to tell everyone that they have arrived and they know what they can expect. Wrap that message in quality. If it's poorly crafted, your message can be associated with being poorly crafted as well. If you aren't inclined to this type of creativity, there are tons of DIY videos online, and if you ask around, you just might find someone in your community who's really good at this to help you.
Cost: $ - $$ | Effort: high
Just get started. The more you plan, the longer it might take to get any momentum. Chances are, you'll get more help, more money, and more ideas once you get started. Pick the easiest and highest-impact item on this list that you can do well in a week's time and see how far you get. You may find that many of the other things you thought were important are not so important. Conversely, you may find the energy and motivation to knock out many other projects once you get started.
Michael is a speaker, musician, event coordinator, and consultant in the Central Texas area. He has been involved in the planning of multiple youth centers for ministries of all sizes. Feel free to send him an email here if you have any questions.