Youth and children still look for "cool" church design - Word&Way

Youth and children still look for “cool” church design

By Vicki Brown
Word&Way Correspondent
Architects and construction professionals stay on top of the “cool” trends in church design, particularly for ministry to youth and children. Not surprisingly, technology still heads the list of “must-haves.”

“The sky’s the limit,” noted John Littlefield of Littlefield Architecture in St. Louis. The emphasis, he said, seems to focus on big-screen televisions and video games. Ross Will­iams of Ross Williams Con­struction added that separate gaming areas are popular. 
Limited sound-proofing to teen rooms is a trend that benefits the rest of the congregation, Williams noted. Youth and young adults enjoy music at volumes a little higher than older adults do. Intense graphics in youth and older children’s areas are also popular.
Willingness to “think outside the box” can keep the “cool” factor in children and youth sections of the building, as well, Littlefield added.
More churches are providing space as an after school “hangout” for completing home­­work or keeping off the streets.
That “out-of-the-box” thinking can show young people that church isn’t boring or irrelevant. “We can go out and get all these secular things with the idea that ‘you go there [secular venues] to have fun. Now you can come here to have fun,’” Jyh-Yuung Ping of Image Architects in St. Louis said.
“The idea is not just having fun but also having Jesus, about making the church user-friendly.”
Some churches now are adding outdoor amphitheaters to their campuses as additional usable space for concerts, theater and worship services, Littlefield said.
And they are getting creative. “Some churches provide unique spaces to attract youth and children,” he said. He pointed to a United Methodist congregation in Cape Girardeau that asked his firm to design an ark as its children’s area. Members also asked for a small castle to be constructed inside the church.
“The people developed what they wanted because they were able to think outside the box,” he said. 
“We don’t force anyone to do what they don’t want to do. A congregational leader needs to…glean all he can to think outside the box.”
Frank Newell, church facility specialist for Jefferson City-based Septagon Construction, noted First United Methodist church in Se­dalia installed a climbing wall in its youth section.
Ping cautions parents and church leaders not to isolate children and youth when trying to attract them.
“I like my children to be raised up with adults. I don’t agree with isolated space for children,” he said. “But I do think they need their space for their identity.”
“Cool” isn’t limited to children and teens. Adults like to keep up with trends, particularly in technology, color and style.
Small pulpits or simple glass or metal stands are replacing the traditional heavy, large wooden ones in many churches. Choir areas have been reduced. Flexible seating and stage areas mark many sanctuaries, as well.
Many churches offer coffee bars or cafes and allow congregants to snack during worship.
Some adults are attracted to moral or social action trends. Newell said that “going green” to be more environmentally friendly is a popular trend today.The professionals also point out that being “cool” is appropriate as long as ministry is its foundation.