I spend a lot of time on design. Not because I'm a great graphic artist, painter, or designer (cuz I'm not). But more because I care deeply about space, visuals, and the nonverbal communication of even architecture and how it makes you feel.
I care that a font looks right in an e-mail. I care that it can be easily skimmed and that the most important things jump off the page. I care about room design, how a teaching outline looks, the visuals I use, and how how it all collectively impacts how a participant feels. I care about little stuff stashed in the corner of a stage and marks on walls and a lot of stuff. In my first book, I've worked hard with my publisher to come up with a design that is right and fits the book. Because I think the cover matters and shapes the impact of the content. Claiming that you "can't judge a book by it's cover" is a nice idea. It's just not true. People do it all the time. We all do it all the time. Visuals shape us and often give us first impressions that shape our expectations.
Think about it. Think about the spaces you most love to be in and feel most inspired by. Even if it's a beach, I'm betting it's a clean beach, not a trash filled one. If it's a restaurant or a room, my bet is it's well designed. Things work together and it just feels right. Everything from the music to the lighting to the smells matter. The truth is, the amount of hours I've spent on set designs, brochure planning, and even cleaning up a room as a youth pastor is HUGE. For years it was shared space I had to learn to temporarily design and then take down again. Then in parts of my ministry I've been able to design custom student spaces too. I truly value a well designed space and love it when a space inspires others and myself too.
Last week, I spent well over 3 days in preparation and working with our volunteers to redesign our regular student meeting space into a Christmas space for an outreach party and Christmas series we do every year. If you added it all up, it takes a solid 100+ hours to flip our room and make it what it is for this season. Even re-using previous decorations, it all adds up to an astonishing amount of work. Last year, I had a professional party designer check it out and tell me that our design and attention to detail was as good as any professional party design he'd ever been to.
Here's some shots of this years design that my friend Pat took of the final preparations.
Here's at least 3 reasons why I think you should care about your space and why I care about mine.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER: The first impression a student will get of your youth group and the experience they are about to go into will largely come from the space you meet in. If your space feels dark and dirty and cold, then it will set a certain tone for the audience. If it's big and empty and intimidating it will create another impression. If it's fun and inviting and inspiring to them, then it will send another message. It's why a great outreach investment can be landscaping and paint for your church campus. If people don't find the outside of your space inviting, they don't believe the inside is any different. In real-estate they call it "curb appeal" and if you don't have it, you can't sell it. Same is true for ministry. Curb appeal matters.
SPACES SEND MESSAGES: Like it or not, your space is communicating something. The only question now is, what is it saying? When we do a "set design" for a new teaching series, we're trying to change the room to be part of the message. If you're doing a series on love in February and you cover the tables in rose pedals or candy hearts, it says something. If you ignore the tables and simply put the same pencil boxes you always put on them, that says something too. Non-verbals are a HUGE piece of communication and what a space is saying non-verbally cannot be ignored. You don't have to spend thousands to remodel a space, but you do have to pay attention to it and find creative ways to change a room to fit the message you're trying to send.
STUDENTS DO NOTICE: Students may have messy rooms and be mess makers themselves. My experience says both of those things are common with teens. But that does not mean they don't notice the details of space. The number of comments I get about how our "room feels" or how a new set design or party decor inspires a student to engage is very high. Even tonight I was talking with a student at small groups and they talked about how the room feels like a "coffee shop" and how they feel comfortable there and inviting their friends into it. I had another gal tell me that the white stripe/crown look that we added to our Christmas decor up high made her notice the walls in ways she had never before. It's sometimes crazy to me, but students do notice non-verbals. A lot!