Because of our new youth room, my mind is attuned to anything that is talking about space. So, the other day I was listening to Diane Rehm interviewing New York City Planning Commissioner, Amanda Burden. She had some great things to say about creating special spaces in a huge city like NYC. I’d like to offer a few quotes and then some commentary.
And just before that time, I met my most important mentor. His name was Holly White, William H. White, and he wrote “The Organization Man,” and he was an urbanologist who specialized in public spaces. And he said to me, you can measure the health of the city by the vibrancy of its streets and public spaces, and that became my passion.
ur·ban·ol·o·gist (ûrb-nl-jst)n. A sociologist who specializes in the problems of cities and urban life.
You could say, “You can measure the health of a youth ministry by it’s space.” but that is a little overboard. I would re-phrase it this way, “Rooms and space are an important aspect of a youth ministry’s ability to be healthy,” Buildings and room plans cannot change a heart, but it might put a teen at ease long enough to listen to the gospel. I have not done a formal study on this, but my guess is, the church in your town with the best facilities is getting the lion share of kids to show up. That does not mean they are doing everything well or even making disciples of Jesus, but they do have the raw material of the gathering to work with.
We can swing overboard both ways on this topic. We can obsess about our meeting space or ignore it and say things like “It’s the Spirt that matters, not the room we meet in.” Agreed, to a point, but some teens may want to come to your creepy church basement to experience the Spirit. Let’s be people of balance.
11:18:03It is. And having the public spaces to study, it makes all the difference in the world because that’s what makes people fall in love with the city. The public spaces, the parks, the streets, just finding places that they can enjoy, have that respite, whether it’s on the waterfront, whether it’s in Bryant Park, or whether it’s in a small place in Paley Park, whether it’s on a sidewalk café. All of those things make a city wonderful.
I like the word respite. It’s possible that our youth rooms can be so busy (video games, lights, etc.) there is no respite. No place to think, talk, rest, or pray. In other words, we have to balance having the energy of Times Square and make room for the respite of Central Park.
Yes. Well, you know, as you’ve heard, we have very, very broad, ambitious plans for shaping the whole city, but really how we judge a project is how it feels at the street. That’s what people really care about. How does it feel walking along that street? Are there many stores along an individual block? Are there shade trees in a park? Are there places to sit that are comfortable?
This is the key phrase “What does it feel like at street level”. When was the last time you looked at your space from a teens point of view? The “build it and they will come” may work for a few weeks, but if we watch how our teens gather, how they break up, how they sit together, it may clue us to the effort we should put into the seating and lay out of the rooms we meet in.
When you sit at the water’s edge, can you see over the railing? Or does the railing block your view? Do you feel that there is a place for you for sun and shade, a table to hold your book? Each of these things is very important and details make all the difference.
Pay attention to detail. Your kids are. They know when it does not look right or feel right. Our rooms, their smell, their color, and their layout all my be making our jobs of ministering to our teens harder.