Another update in our “live from the Rio Olympics series and youth pastor David Thompson on location!

Team USA athletes are arriving at the village daily, and one of my responsibilities is to set up and operate a lounge that is just for them.  The lounge is basically three apartments that we have transformed into spaces that facilitate community, conversation and camaraderie. Below is a list of principles that we decided were of vital importance when creating a great space. I think these same principles apply in our youth ministries as well.
One of the first things we agreed upon was that cleanliness was absolutely necessary.  Even though the athletes come into the space stinky after training, we want them to feel like the space is clean.  The lounge needs to be somewhere the athletes choose to spend their time. If someone’s first impression of a space is a dirty area and a stinky smell, chances are they will not think fondly of it. To keep our space clean, we had to gain access to cleaning supplies and be ready to clean the space ourselves.  We have a cleaning crew that comes through the space, but that is just not enough.  It doesn’t matter that I was on the US National team or that I have a Master’s degree in youth ministry.  We must be willing to do any job for the betterment of our ministry. Let’s admit it, it is tough to keep a youth space clean.  Teenagers stink and are some of the dirtiest humans on earth.  So be strategic in how you set up your space.  Have lots of trash cans!  Get furniture that is easy to clean and can hide stains.  Have lot of febreeze on hand and keep the clutter out. Simple is good.
This one seems obvious, but true comfort is something deeper than the type of chairs you have.  To provide comfort, we must consider the total message our space is conveying.  In the lounge, we have a few couches set up so that you can have conversation in a large group.  We also have some chairs in an area that allows for small group conversation.  Not every person feels comfortable in a larger group setting, so having options of conversational space is important. You can also use this principle when choosing colors for your area and merchandise. I personally believe that warm colors are better than neons.  We love neon colors in youth ministry… Neon says fun, but it doesn’t always read as “comfortable.”
One of the most important things about our lounge is the snack & drink area. We have a bunch of healthy snack options for the athletes to enjoy before or after training and snack on as we hang out. Having food provides us with a solid way to serve the athletes and gives them a good excuse to come into our space.  I believe that good (and healthy) food can be a great way to serve our students and is a good “excuse” for them to come hangout with our staff.  We all know that relationships are at the core of what we do in youth ministry and Jesus loved to converse while “breaking bread” with others.
Social Objects
The final principle we used while creating the Team USA Lounge was “Social Objects”.  A “social object” is something in your space that sparks conversation. We have a huge white board wall and a chalkboard wall that the athletes write on and decorate.  These are right at the entrance of our space, so as soon at the athletes walk in they are drawn to these walls.  They read what others have written, comment and conversation begins.  We also have a big map of the United States so athletes can come in and place a pin on their hometown.  It has been cool to watch conversations start around the map while people discuss their hometowns.  Social Objects are so important in youth ministry. Think about hanging pictures on the wall or scrolling images on a TV in your gathering space.  Creating social objects can help new folks feel welcome in a room AND it can help your volunteers and student leaders by equipping them with a topic or object to talk about as people arrive.
How would you rate your youth ministry space when it comes to cleanliness, comfort, food and social objects?
Next blog post coming soon …how to talk to Olympians!