I have heard a lot of conversations about the pros and cons of having a building in college ministry. These are important conversations to have, and I don’t know that either answer is the only right one.
We have had a building for the entirety of our time in college ministry, over twenty years. We want to make the best of this opportunity, and we are very grateful to our association of churches for paying the utility bills and paying for the structural upkeep of the building. They also fronted much of the cost of our recent addition to the building which doubled the size of our meeting room, added on to the kitchen and created four office rooms. We want to be wise stewards of this gift, so we have tried to make the building as useful to students as possible without sacrificing the opportunities to be on campus, which is also important.
How to Make Your College Ministry Building Hospitable
One of the ways I try to make the building useful is by creating a home-like hospitable atmosphere. We want the building to be a place students want to be. Much like many Baptist buildings, our facility has been added on to multiple times and rearranged for usefulness. The oldest part was built in the early 1900’s and the latest addition in 2018, so even the woodwork and feel of the building is quite inconsistent throughout. This makes it an adventure to create an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality! I have learned a lot throughout this process, so I would like to share a few key thoughts here:
Keep an Open Palette
Pick a neutral, inviting color for your walls and accent with colorful curtains and décor. There was a time when bright, bold colors were fashionable, and we let our students paint every room a different, vibrant color. The problem with this was that after a few years, those colors went out of style, and the new students despised the bright colors. My solution has been to paint the entire building a light gray, then use pops of color in each room to provide the warmth needed.
Mind the Budget Creatively
Manage the tension that comes with a limited budget well. I remember one of our mentors, Gene Austin, sharing with us how creativity can thrive when resources are limited. We have a very tight budget for decorations and furniture. People will often reach out to us wanting to donate their unused furniture, and I usually accept. An old couch can be recovered with a pretty inexpensive cover found online. Then, after a few years, we can replace the worn out couches with newly donated furniture, without having to spend money.
Keep the building as clean as possible. One of the ways we have accomplished this in the past is to have our small groups take turns deep-cleaning the building each week. This helps the students take ownership and responsibility of the building as well as spreading out the workload. Another possibility is having a team of students serve as the cleaning crew. Having a clean building, especially bathrooms and kitchen, creates an inviting atmosphere.
Make the Schedule Accessible
Have areas where information for events can be easily accessed. As students wander through the building, they are reminded of what is going on. We recently created a giant four-month calendar from a dry erase board that is hanging on the back wall of our meeting room. Events are added as we go, so students can easily see what is coming up.
Celebrate the Fun
Choose areas to post picture collages of students having fun together. Much like you would have family pictures hanging in your home, do this with students. Make sure to post pictures featuring a wide variety of activities and students. It helps students feel like they belong when they see their pictures hanging on the wall, and it gives others a taste of the community they might experience if they join in the fun."It helps students feel like they belong when they see their pictures hanging on the wall, and it gives others a taste of the community they might experience if they join in the fun." -@YarnellKarin #collegiatedisciplemaker… Click To Tweet
Create Spaces for Hanging Out
Set up areas where students can congregate in small groups for different activities. We have an area in our kitchen with a table and a dry erase board that is useful for study groups. We also have an area in our basement with couches and two large TVs where groups gather for Bible study or to play video games.
Establish Quiet Areas
Arrange quiet areas available for individual study as well. We have a large bay window where we have set a small table so someone can read in natural light.
Always Have Food
Put drinks and snacks around the building. Both a counter in our new kitchen and a small space on our main floor have the equipment needed for coffee, hot chocolate and tea. Students know they can help themselves to anything there, and there are often cookies and other snacks in those spaces as well.
Take Out the Trash
Make sure to have ample trash cans around the building so students have access to throw away their trash. Otherwise, you will be constantly picking up trash.
Use the Walls Well
Be intentional with wall décor. We have several pieces of art in our building from Kurt Caddy from Southwest Baptist University. These beautiful pieces of art are inspired from Scriptural truth. We also have verses posted throughout the building that remind the students of the importance and truth of God’s Word.
Building Hospitality in Your Building
My office is in an area off of the kitchen, and some of my favorite days are when students are just spending time in the building chatting, cooking, praying, studying or hanging out. It also provides me with some unique time to interact with them in a natural way, and I love it when they bring their friends and they show them around the building like it is their home, because that is my goal-that they can see this building as their home away from home. This is where they belong, where they are loved, and where they hear about Jesus.