There’s nothing quite like a cool space. Be it a nice house, a trendy restaurant, a unique concert venue, or even a corporate office, great spaces make great impressions as soon as you walk in. That’s what we want to happen in our student spaces, right? We want students to walk into our student environments and go, “Wow!” Not only that, we want them to walk in and sigh with relief because the place they’ve walked into feels safe and comfortable. Imagine the coolest home you can. That’s the feeling we want to create in our student environments.
Now that may be what we want, but the truth is that’s not always the reality. Why? Our budgets get in the way. Our lack of expertise gets in the way. The fact that we have a million other things to do gets in the way. The fact that we share the space with the children’s ministry and the women’s knitting group gets in the way (trust me, I’ve been there). We’re up against a lot!
Creating a cool youth ministry environment is absolutely hard, but there are some hacks that might help you break through in ways you haven’t yet. All of these are things you can do on a low budget to get a big bang for your buck. Don’t believe me? Well, check them out for yourself!
1. Do a car-to-seat walkthrough.
Next time your ministry is meeting, walk outside and walk back in. What do you see? What isn’t cool? What feels out of place? What isn’t clear or inviting? Change it! Start with the low hanging fruit: walls, flooring, and lighting. Do you have children’s ministry stuff all over your walls? Hang some black drapes or create some wood paneling to cover it during your student ministry time. Is your student space super uncomfortable to sit in? Buy some cheap carpet squares and create something cool and comfortable. Is your entrance or stage lackluster? Try throwing some lighting cans out there. Sometimes a little bit of lighting can revolutionize a whole space.
2. Cheat the room.
Does your current attendance fill the room? If not, then cheat it. Use furniture, curtains, or anything else to make it feel When your student space is more full, the room feels cooler, and students feel like it’s a more exciting place to be. Never settle for a half-empty room. Do what you can to make the room feel full so your students feel comfortable.
3. Cater to first-timers.
Don’t let your visiting students feel awkward when they show up for the first time. Make your space the easiest space to come and visit. Create an obvious place for new students to check in. Have students or volunteers welcome them and introduce them to people if they want that. Allow first timers to blend into the crowd if they desire. Never ask them to raise their hands or come up front. Make sure every transition is obvious, and someone is available to help first timers if they don’t know what to do. That simple thing will go a long way to create a welcoming environment for new students.
4. Set a high production bar.
As the leader of your ministry, play the producer role. A producer’s job is to find, develop, and inspire great people to perform at a high level. So give feedback. Cast vision. Show examples of the level you’re working towards when it comes to music, speaking, or even hosting. When you create a culture of excellence, it ends up creating an incredible experience. And spaces with incredible experiences are irresistible. Never settle for a program that is just good enough; strive for a program that’s great.
5. Do market research.
Ask students about your environment. Just make sure you ask the right students—the ones who know what the students you’re trying to reach like and don’t like. Ask them what they think is cool and what is just plain lame. Identify the dials they think you should turn in your current environment.
6. Fill it with great people.
The number one thing that makes a space cool and irresistible is when you fill it with great people. Your volunteers and Small Group Leaders will do more than anything or anyone else to make your space one that students just can’t stay away from. So go find amazing people and have them all ready in your space when students arrive.
We hope that gives you a good place to start. Good luck creating environments that capture the hearts of the students in your town. We’re praying for you!