Growing churches know that youth and children's spaces can be among the most challenging when it comes to providing high-function while balancing budget.
Here are five trends to help inspire you as you maximize the facilities that serve your younger congregation.
1. CONNECTING YOUTH SPACE TO THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH.
"We’re seeing churches that are intentionally seeking to address inter-generational ministry move away from an age-segregated youth empire' at the church to a smaller youth hangout' that may be off the narthex but can be open to it," shares Steve Fridsma, principal architect at Elevate Studio in Grand Rapids, MI. For InSpirit Church in Byron Center, MI, the youth space opens to the main lobby via a big aluminum garage door. On many Sunday mornings, it is intentionally open to make the youth more part of the life of the church.
"The design is still a casual youth-friendly space," points out Fridsma, "but people flow in and out so that it isn’t youth only. Not only does this help with multi-generationalism on Sunday morning but it has been good for stewardship because it required less square footage overall. "
At Centerpoint Church in Murrieta, CA, Visioneering Studios helped the church craft two gym size buildingsone for high school and junior highwith large roll up doors that merge into a common outdoor connection space which is the heart of the campus. Bob Bergmann, director of design for Visioneering Studios in Irvine, CA describes, "It was important to the church that the space was just considered a venue and not labeled for youth. They are on purpose a little more youthful spacesvery durable, easy to clean and maintain, but community groups can also use the area."
2. RECLAIMING UNDERUTILIZED AREAS TO GROW CAPACITY
It can be difficult to envision space as anything except what it is already used for when you see it every day, but the fresh eyes of a designer can make a big difference when it comes to redefining the use of a space.
Eastview Christian Church in Normal, IL and BLDD Architects recrafted a two-story high gym to give it a "House of Blues" feel that would appeal to both the youth and adults.
"On Sunday mornings, the youth service includes about 300 high school kids, but it is a great auditorium for multiple functions," shares Jason Smith, family pastor at Eastview Christian. "There are bricks and old pews. Lots of pallet wood that creates a cloud for lights. No one feels far from the stage—even on the mezzanine. This venue has become a very popular wedding spot in our church. It gives a small church feel in the middle of a big church. We have adult service in this space at 9:00 in the morning followed by a high school service at 11:00."
3. APPLYING DESIGN THINKING TO BREAKOUT SPACES
Breakout spaces are often the place where there is limited design. A table and chairs, then call it a day. But recent trends are giving more thought to these spaces.
At Eastview Christian in Normal, IL, the PreK-1st Graders spend half of the morning in small groups and the other half in large groups. BLDD Architects created small group space for first graders with an innovative application of graphic and interior design to cue children where to go.
The dividers create podseach with large graphics that are easy to identify without having to read. There is a green library. A blue police station. The children sit on colorful circles on the floor and stay in consistent groups. Each pod has a whiteboard and the ability to hang things integrated into the design. "We can have over 400 PreK-1st graders on a Sunday morning," shares Jason Smith, family pastor at Eastview Christian. "The kids travel with a consistent small group of 5-8. It has been a great space. These pods allow us to optimize small groups in a compact area."
At the First Church of Zeeland, Elevate Studio used low walls and a variety of different types of furnishings to create varied breakout spaces for conversations. This makes the spaces effective on Sunday mornings, but also creates support for different uses throughout the week.
4. RECRAFTING CIRCULATION
"Many Children’s ministries are stuck in outdated facilities that often utilize the double loaded classroom model. In addition to contributing to an institutional environment that looks and feels like school or a hospital, the corridor often requires 20-25 percent of the total building area to accomplish, just for a hallway.
We prefer to reconfigure that square footage from a linear hallway into an area for large groups, surrounded by smaller breakout areas," shares Stephen Pickard, director of Church Works at GFF in Dallas, TX.
At the First Baptist Church of Garland, TX, GFF led a small renovation replacing a masonry wall with storefront that created transparency from the main church to the children's ministry. The doors to the classrooms were also replaced with glass to open the views. For other churches, like Central Baptist Church in College Station, TX, a renovation can help bring a children's ministry that is located into disparate parts of the church into a single locationwhich is a big win for security and making it easy for parents to pick up and drop off children.
5. CREATING SOMETHING FOR YOUTH AND CHILDREN OUTSIDE OF THE CHURCH.
"We knew we couldn't reach the youth in our community if we didn't have dedicated space for them," shares Jason Ray, pastor of operations at Saint Mark Baptist in Little Rock, AR. "During the process, we researched and looked into ways we could help the youth in our community. We started developing new programs and partnering with existing programs that could be housed in our space. "
Saint Mark found the need to help youths was high in their immediate area. They also found a close by elementary school that was failing.
"We launched an after school program for children from that school along with 21 other schools utilizing Little Rock school buses and our six busses to get students from across the city. Parents would come in with a long list of problems their kids had in school. Within weeks, those same parents would come in and say, I don't know what you guys are doing, but things have changed drastically.'"
It turns out Saint Mark was meeting basic needs and spending time with the kids. "In our research to see what programs we could house," highlights Ray, "we found that many kids have home situations that make it hard to focus. The first day of the program, a kindergartner cried from 2:30 until 5:15 until we got down to the dinner hall. We realized she was hungry. She ate her food and asked for more. Another child asked if he could take some home for his brother."
Saint Mark's program found kids who didn't have beds or dressers, so they mobilized to meet threse basic physical needsincluding a Christmas gift program where families in the church went above and beyond showering kids with gifts.
The church's new children and youth space is used every day with hundreds of kids going in and out and the city has put the church in its youth plan because of the impact. "When kids and youth see that people actually care, it makes all the difference.
Hope is powerful.