You have more space than you think. Every year the fall season (start of academic year) brings a sense of energy to student ministry. After a summer of trips, camps, vacations and all the other things that this transient season brings, leaders and students alike begin start to crave this thing called “routine”. For Student Ministry the start of the school year can feel a lot like New Year’s. We make plans and look to the “kickoff” as the right time to start something new. Almost like a new year’s resolution.
There is a lot of merit to that thought. And it is a strategic starting place, however as hard as many of us work there seems to be a cycle to student ministry that can create a sense of failure by the end of the school year. In a lot of ways the academic calendar for student ministry mirrors the pattern of the traditional calendar for “adult church”. And while most all of us aspire to grow the numerical participation during the student ministry season (and we should), the reality is the calendar works against us. End of school events and spring (post Easter) happenings tend to be distraction not only for student ministry but church attenders in general.
For years I would watch our ministry kickoff and think “where am I going to put all these kids” and in April I am figuring out how to make spaces feel “not empty”. Spaces are important in student ministry. They are not as important as the students, obviously, but they are important to the students themselves. Not unlike a church worship space, If there is a dedicated Student/Youth space, it should be functional while also connecting students to God and Christian community with its design, feel and purpose. While multiple posts could be written on “Youth Room Design”, I would like to focus on the idea of how you use the space in the fall season of ministry. I have learned some things that help enhance community and keep your space from getting stale, and it has nothing to do with new furniture, paint or A/V equipment.
Be Out in Nature.
In most parts of the country, fall is an amazing time of year. It’s like spring with less pollen, and a different set of colors to marvel at. I have learned that student ministry can happen outside in multiple ways outside of a retreat or camping trip.
I make it a point at the start of the year to allow students to connect with each other and leaders. I have learned that they are craving this to begin with. We cookout multiple times during the fall. Sometimes there is a spiritual tie such as a teaching or outdoor worship but other times it’s simple fun and dare I say fun is spiritual.
One thing I do is whenever there is nice weather especially during the fall is to have our small groups meet outside opposed to their regular assigned area. Small Groups are a vital part of our student ministry and tied in to our main worship/teaching night.
What does all this have to do with your designated space? The more you can create change of environment when you have the flexibility with nice weather. The less stagnant your space will feel during the winter months. This will also will allow you to plan more of your space for reality. Compare it to an urban restaurant where you can one evening dine on the roof and another time be in the basement at the bar listening to music. Same place, same elements but different feeling and vibe.
Explore the Church.
This is a little more complicated, requires planning and even some advance work from other areas of the calendar. Obviously for worship/teaching you want to be together but for your social/discussion/game time, provide options in different areas of the church you don’t normally use. If you wanted you could move into the teaching area too, providing multiple speakers at the same time, breaking down by grade or gender.
The emphasis here is to facilitate growth and vitality while working to maintain a sense variety and closeness while you can so the parts of the calendar when you become limited by weather, facilities or schedules your “same ol” does quite feel so same ol.