By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
The new facility at Rhema Bible Church will foster authentic connections through thoughtful, relevant design.
Twenty years ago, very few facilities were dedicated specifically to youth church members. “Back then, if you had a basketball goal outside and some good music inside, you were a cut above the rest!” recalls Rachael Rowland, marketing director at Churches by Daniels in Broken Arrow, OK.
Today, it’s different; now her company designs state-of-the-art youth facilities for its clients. “Every teenager has a smartphone and can access anything with a push of a button,” Rowland explains. “It has pushed churches to become more cutting-edge! Now, they want to incorporate the same type of technology and level of excellence to reach the young people as Disney uses to attract young people.”
Rowland and her team are currently meeting that challenge by creating a youth facility for her family’s home church: Rhema Bible Church (RBC).
And the time is definitely right: According to RBC Student Ministries Pastor Denise Burns, the youth group is the largest it has been in 15 years. “So, we felt — with the momentum we’d gained — it was the right time to make the investment.”
Inside the new RBC youth facility, the Churches by Daniels team will accommodate several proven, youth-friendly design trends. First up: multipurpose, or “third place,” space.
“There are two main purposes: to get the most for the money, and to make the church a place where people want to come all through the week instead of just on Sundays,” Rowland explains. “Churches want to be a hub for the community to find fellowship and help if they need it.”
The trend will take form in several facility elements:
The outdoor patio will be used for small group breakout sessions during weekly services; for fellowship before and after worship; and as a dining area for events where food is served.
The open-concept gaming / café / lounge area will accommodate all the same uses as the outdoor patio. “We wanted a wide open space — something that wouldn’t ‘box us in,’” RBC’s Burns says.
The basketball courts will be used for organized games, small groups, fellowship and pickup games.
The worship space will feature removable chairs and a flat floor so it can function as a multipurpose space.
All speak to a trend toward the communal in youth spaces — areas that foster authentic interactions. “The social component was the most relevant element for us,” Burns says. “Youth are social, relational; that was the driving force. You can’t grow the spiritual aspect without growing the emotional, social and mental realms of the students.”
To this end, Burns points out that less than half of the new youth building is dedicated to the auditorium; the rest accommodates social needs. “God needs to be in every component of your life, not just sitting in a church service,” she explains. “So, why should a youth building be just an auditorium?”
Technology at work
For church facility designers, one major challenge is to achieve a youth space with technology in mind, allowing for easy adaptation as new technologies become available — all on a budget the church can afford. “Even when we work on nursery space, we’re always conscious of how quickly technology changes,” Rowland explains.
At RBC, for example, Wi-Fi was a big component — along with high-definition projectors and top-of-the-line audio equipment. “The worship space is equipped with a state-of-the art AVL system, so they can crank the music,” Rowland adds. “And, since the building is separated from the building that houses the church sanctuary, they don’t have to worry about it disturbing the main service.”
Beyond these bells and whistles, RBC’s Burns and her team wanted an energy efficient building. “We’re meeting some Oklahoma requirements for an energy-efficiency building and getting a refund from the State for doing this,” she points out. “Lots of LED and energy-saving lighting.”
You know it when you see it
Given the new RBC’s youth facility’s modern, industrial design, visitors will know — at first glance — that this is a space youth members call home.
The exterior will feature a metal panel system. Garage doors will connect outdoor and indoor spaces. Large, dynamic graphics will grab the youths’ attention and make them want to see what’s on the inside.
There, they’ll find a modern design with a layout that’s perfect for fostering connections — from a café, to gaming, lounging and sports courts. “Nothing was left out of this space,” Rowland says.
Burns agrees: “You don’t feel like you’ve stepped into church; it’s like you’ve stepped into a community,” she says. “Technology, fellowship, games, food and great friends lend to the communal feel that makes it youth-centric.”