Truly engaging youth spaces

By Paulla Shetterly  |  Featured Photo: “BibleLand” at Mt. Paran Church in Atlanta

When done right, these areas motivate, encourage, teach — and even inspire kids to draw their parents to church.

While youth and children’s spaces in the church are designed to motivate, encourage and teach principles that last a lifetime, they also need to be fun environments where kids can be kids — and be inspired to invite others to join them.

When a designer has a heart for this type of work, he or she will seek to create places that capture the imagination of the children and the youth who use them. In fact, this needs to be a primary goal.

During the master planning process, a plan can change many times. But, one thing that needs to remain constant is the designer’s commitment to the church’s mission. Be very deliberate with this.

Then, when a vision for a particular youth ministry begins to take shape, the vision for the space will also become clear.

When this target goal is reached, children and youth who use these spaces will become very engaged, and so will their parents — many times, in ways that are completely surprising. Attendance goes up.

Volunteer involvement increases. The church grows. Excitement builds as parents watch their kids in these interactive spaces, having fun with others and enjoying every moment.

One of the greatest rewards for any designer or architect is to stand back and watch clients walk into their finished building for the first time, especially when you can watch kids using the facility. When the end user is happy and loves what you’ve done, then you realize that you’ve probably made an important contribution to the life of that church — and, particularly, to the youth group.

Another primary goal of every designer is to connect with children and youth in ways that are familiar to that age group. This means designing areas that are flexible and uniquely “theirs.” These are places where the youth feel they belong and not just areas that have been randomly set aside for their use. Instead, the spaces have been structurally created for them, and they know it.

What success looks like

Stand-outs projects — whether for older and younger youth — are designed to be age-appropriate, interactive, engaging and timeless. All this means they’re flexible and can be easily adapted or changed for special events and future growth.

PerimeterChurch“KidsTown” at Perimeter Church in Duluth, GA, was created to contain a colorful city street with storefront bay windows. The area is action-packed and contains moveable windows; carpeted areas for street plays; a large, flexible 300-seat auditorium with black-light carpeting and paint; and unique features such as a stained concert floor with manhole covers. The kids love it.

Perimeter Church’s youth area, “The Bricks,” includes a café, rock climbing wall, and even stained concrete flooring for a funky look. Glitter was added to the floor sealer to create a flashy effect that reflects light and creates a youthful mood. Glass garage doors — framed in a contemporary metal finish — were installed to divide colorful spaces and game rooms. When raised, these doors open the space up for additional seating during group events.

Unique detailing and vivid artwork is often a part of creating a theme environment. At Mt. Paran Church in Atlanta, for example, colorful murals became living examples of what the children were learning each Sunday. Connecting with youth and children in ways that are familiar makes it easier to teach them the vital lessons of life. This method also provides interaction and growth.
When a designer is effective with this approach, clients often return, asking for even more work to be done. This is when our mission becomes very satisfying and compelling.  CE

As an associate principal with CDH Partners, Inc. [], Paulla Shetterly is an award-winning designer with an extensive background in interior design. She is known for her intuitive ability to create themed youth spaces, along with other designs that are well-planned for space and quality.


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