So - you might be wondering - "Smoothie Bar? Hang out spaces? Ping-pong tables? What do any of those things have to do with ministry?
Relationships are valued and cherished things in all of our lives. Sometimes they happen by accident; other times they are carefully thought out. We need them to survive.
Just about anything - a casual conversation, a mutual friend, the same hobby or shared experience can act as a catalyst - sparking a long-lasting friendship. You never know how a relationship will be formed.
We want everything about our Youth Center to be fuel for relationships, whether it is talking around a table at the Smoothie Bar, playing a game of ping-pong, high-living after landing a jump in the skatepark, lifting our voices together in worship, studying the Bible or sinking that shot. We're living this life together, and we want our space to reflect that idea.
In youth ministry, as in life, relationships are the foundation of everything we do. As teenagers begin to develop their identity apart from their families, the relationships that they establish and maintain become strong influences in their lives. When leaders form relationships with students over time, the conversations deepen, and because of the trust and comfort found in these kinds of bonds, ministry takes place at a heart level.
What started at a ping-pong table continues when a student is having problems at home and we are able to listen and share advice. The skateboard is traded in for a set of car keys, and we are one of the first people a student takes for a ride. The laughter at the Smoothie Bar turns into a late night phone call, as a distraught student is comforted and encouraged by a caring adult. After the basketballs are put away, a student asks for a ride home and starts talking about God for the first time ever.
If we're in it long enough, that squirrely, smart-mouthed freshman, the one who we seriously doubted would ever make it to 15, calls out of the blue at age 25. He remembers his teenage years, says that the youth group leaders were the first people to really believe in him. He tells you he has found the love of his life, and asks you to marry them next June. At the close of the conversation, he says, "Hey, I've been practicing my ping-pong game. You still play?"