One of the coolest things I get to do at Saddleback Church is act as the director of our student ministry building that we call “The Refinery.” It has special meaning to me because this building was basically the brain child of one of my student ministry heroes, Doug Fields. The name “The Refinery” was chosen because we are refining young souls for Christ. The building is 50,000 square feet and was designed to look like an old run down refinery mill. I get calls from churches all over the country that are looking into a new student ministry building and they want to know what we did, how we did it and what would we do different. If you’re looking into changing or building a student ministry facility, here are some of my ideas:

1. Build as big a building as you can. Even if it means you cut back on furnishings or stuff you can add later. It’s less expensive to add furniture later than to add on to a building. During the construction of our building as construction costs were going up we cut down on the size of the building. It’s still a huge facility, but in three years we have out grown the building.

2. The Refinery is a ministry, NOT a building. That’s one of my catch phrases that I instill into the staff that work in our student building. The Refinery attracts students to our campus, students who might not otherwise step foot on a church campus. We invite the community to use the meeting rooms and the gym for “non-church” functions. Our local high schools use it for sports banquets and functions. It’s great exposure to students and it definitely brings them back to a weekend church service.

3. Video camera monitoring. We have 41 cameras throughout the building. It’s an easy way for us to monitor the entire building and keep an eye on things without students feeling a negative presence. We can easily see when a teenage boy and girl are “fellowshipping a little too close” and need to be told to “leave some room for Jesus between them.” If an incident happens we have video available to find out what exactly occurred and who was involved.

4. Staffing. This has been an issue for us since the day the building opened. I want staff working in the building to interface with students, talk to them, and play games with them. I want the building to be a place where students can come and have fun, feel safe, and meet friends, all while growing in their faith. We are in the process of trying to grow a volunteer program, but even with a church the size of Saddleback it’s hard to find volunteers.

5. Security. We have some policies in place so that we can insure the security of students in the building. For example, during service times (Saturday night and Sunday morning) the upstairs of the building where all the games are located is off limits to adults. Occasionally a parent will question us on this rule but we just explain its one of the ways we keep students (including their kids!) safe from any predators. Not something that’s easy to talk about but we have to consider all potential issues. We use a LOT of grace first and only resort to calling parents and sending kids home when we absolutely have to. We have to keep order and keep everyone safe, but we also want kids to be able to have fun!

Matt Reynolds is a Security Supervisor with Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California and is also the Director of the Refinery — the Student Ministry Building at Saddleback. He is addicted to student ministry and blogs and teaches volunteer student ministry leaders with Steven Orel, who is also on staff at Saddleback Church. Their blog can be found at

From time to time people ask us if we have any policies regarding overnighters using the church building. We do! Here’s a quick rundown of how our small group leaders can use it for a fun activity. If it is helpful to you then by all means adapt it for your setting and you’re all set!


We understand how beneficial this activity can be for your Life Group and we believe the Refinery is an awesome place to hold your small group event. We want to be sure that you as the group leader understand the rules and requirements to hold your sleepover/overnighter:

  1. All students participating in your sleepover need to be registered in your group. If you have other kids joining you for the night, please make sure that we are made aware of them in advance.
  2. Please notify our Security Department that you are on campus by calling 949-xxx-xxxx. We have Security Staff here 24/7, please notify them if you have any problems.
  3. We will make every effort to get any cleaning crews in and out of the building as quickly and as early in the evening as possible. Please note that some nights the building requires them to be in the building for longer time.
  4. If the facilities are being used for an event the following day and chairs and tables are set up, those areas might be off limits to you for the night, we can talk about arrangements with you for you to make sure all the tables and chairs are put back in place by the morning.
  5. Everyone needs to be out of the building by 8:00 a.m. the following morning. The building needs to look like you were never there.
  6. Due to Health Department regulations, any places where food is prepared are off limits. Do not go behind the counters. The drink machines are shut off each evening, so please make arrangements for your own food and beverages.
  7. Do not use any of the audio/visual/technical equipment unless you have received permission prior to your sleepover. No exceptions!
  8. Once the doors have been locked for the night by security, students will need to stay in the building and the doors need to remain locked.
  9. Please contact us if we can do anything to assist you in making your sleepover night an awesome experience for your group!


This video created a neat moment in tonight’s service.


Funny video promoting The Refinery (formerly known as The Student Zone) preview tours this coming weekend … fun stuff.


Limping Into Summer

 —  May 25, 2008 — 1 Comment

I liked Kurt’s new article on about limping into summer. We’re gearing up for the grand opening of our student building (see the progress here) and we’ve got a full calendar. There’s some wisdom in this, here’s a clip:

Second, easier is sometimes better. Over the years I’ve discovered that while my students enjoy trips to the amusement park, camps and other big events, they also really like the cheap and easy stuff like park days, pool parties and the like. In fact, in our ministry we have more students show up for the cheap and easy stuff than the big stuff. Maybe it’s because the cost is less and maybe it’s because they can just show up without the need for pre-registration, medical releases etc. Putting a few big events on the Summer calendar is always fun, but don’t be afraid to balance those out with a few cheap and easy ones, too.


Have you checked out the Marriage and Youth Ministry Podcast? I haven’t yet … but I’m excited to see what Doug and Cathy Fields have to say. Check it out on their new channel on!


This video ended our service as we now head into week 3 of Bringing Sexy Back. Tough questions and straight answers next week …


According to Kurt’s blog, the Student Zone now has an official name: The Refinery. Cool! Details if you head to his blog and you can find the latest updates and picture of the project here, too.