Does the experience shape the room, or does the room shape the experience?
By Mandy Kyes / RPM Youth / Galt, California
(This is the next in our series of Feature Articles from Youth Leaders Only 114 – which has the theme of TECHNOLOGY: Doing Ministry in the 21st Century.)
It was an open room with a boom box, a podium, and metal folding chairs that would always sting a little if you wore shorts. There wasn’t a projector, or pool table – but somehow, we were always able to have a great time.
What was this magical space that seemed to have very little but everything at the same time? It was my youth room growing up.
That was years ago when MTV actually played music videos. But times have changed, and so have our youth rooms. What makes a youth room “click” with students? Does the room shape the experience, or does the experience shape the room? Perhaps it’s both.
One of the biggest lessons I like to share with youth is that we don’t have to “get better” before we meet Jesus. The thing about Jesus is that we don’t have to meet Him “half way.” Rather, He meets us where we are, faults and all. Taking that concept to heart, it seems as if many of our youth rooms are made to do the same. Today’s youth are driven by technology. To meet students where they are, we oftentimes tweak little things over the years that add up over time. We fill youth rooms with video games systems, Apex Legends posters, loud music, and televisions.
Youth rooms have shifted to become more of a place of physical comfort as well as emotional comfort. Couches have replaced the metal folding chairs, bean bags have replaced the benches, and even a comfy rug is an acceptable place of seating (or laying). The question many youth workers and even church members ask is, “Does it really matter?” Does providing Super Smash Brothers, the latest FIFA game, or plush seating area equate to an improvement – or are we feeding into this illusion that the more you have, the better?
That’s not a question one can simply answer in general. The more important question is, “Does our youth room invite people in, and is the message of Christ being delivered?” Being able to answer, “Yes” to both parts of that question is the biggest thing. Youth rooms will always be changing, but the part that should never change is that Jesus is always at the heart of it all. It may seem like a “Switzerland” answer, but it’s true. Is the room facilitating authentic relationships among youth, or is it hindering them from interacting? Do they feel safe? Are they comfortable physically, yet challenged spiritually? These are all individualized questions that will be different for each group.
What I do know is that some youth rooms still have those metal chairs, and students still meet in small rooms without projectors and/or sound systems, but guess what—they still feel that they have it all. Some of my most treasured memories of my spiritual walk were made in that small southern church where I learned it’s not what you have but who you have that matters.
So, which is it? Does the experience shape the room, or does the room shape the experience? It’s both and neither at the same time. Just make sure the walls of the room don’t replace the walls of the heart.