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Teen lounge brings new opportunities

SUMMARY: No longer children, but not quite adults, teens constantly try to figure where they belong in the church family. Spirituality is part of that questioning.

How do you attract youth to your church in a friendly, welcoming, nonjudgmental atmosphere? All people like to have a place they can call their own. Consider the opportunities that open when you gather youth in a fun, informal and welcoming "teen lounge."

A teen lounge gives you a chance to reach youth already attending your services AND to connect with those who do not. No matter your space, a teen lounge can work-whether it is a nook in the corner of a multiuse room or a separate room within your facility. Remember, it's not about the space; it's about the youth.

Here are some ideas on how to develop and operate a teen lounge:

  • Set up a youth advisory board. Empower teens to make as many decisions as possible about the lounge, assuming adult responsibilities. Have them select programs, set up volunteer committees to work at the lounge and oversee budgets. The more youth are involved in leading the lounge, the more likely they will come and bring their friends.

  • Invite teens to plan and decorate the lounge. Have a party where teams create their vision and everyone picks the best design. Select teams randomly so youth will interact with people they may not know. Collect several paint sample cards from the local home-improvement store. Make sure to have multiples of each color card. Have everyone pick a color card; then match with others who have the same colors. Each team works together to create a "design" plan for the lounge. After presenting them to the group, the teens vote on the final choice by secret ballot.

  • Create an Internet lounge. Involve church members who may donate used/working or new computers, underwrite Internet-connection costs and provide software. Be sure to create a formal policy on computer use and buy software to prohibit youth from entering "mature" or other inappropriate sites.

  • Have the teens create a Facebook group for the lounge. A Facebook group allows youth to interact, even when they are not at the lounge-and to invite their Facebook friends to be "friends" of the virtual teen lounge. It is also a great place to announce activities.

  • Encourage youth to interact with the younger community. One night a month, have a preteen night or afternoon, where the teens can bring their 10- to 12-year-old brothers and sisters or friends. Have the youth organize the event-planning activities and refreshments so the preteens will have fun and want to be full-fledged members when they are old enough.

  • Offer a coffee/hot chocolate bar with fun fixings (flavored syrups, cream and sugar). Allow teens to create personalized mugs to leave for return visits.

  • Have "American Idol" night where youth display their talents. Or make it a karaoke event where teens select their favorite auditions or performances from the show (use YouTube to find clips), then mimic that singing. Consider having a few tech-savvy youth produce a montage of the clips or record your teens' performances for future viewing.

  • Ask church volunteers age 25 and older to support the lounge by spending a few hours a week or month overseeing it. Perhaps these volunteers could be young adults in the church who do not have teenage children so the lounge doesn't feel like a babysitting center. This older liaison also may serve as a good role model or advisor for the youth.

Finally, remember this is a church teen center. Incorporate an element of religion (a prayer to give thanks or grace before a meal) that does not overwhelm nonmembers but gives a message that this is a place filled with God's love.