A Purposeful, Relationship-Building Event, ideal for a Small Church Youth Ministry

If you are looking for a youth group lock-in that works in a small church, builds relationships, and doesn’t leave everyone hangry and crabby, this is it!

For some churches, lock-ins have the reputation of being a waste of time, money, and energy. They end up entertaining some kids, annoying others, leaving your budget drained, and your adult team depleted.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Here are 5 steps to the BEST Lock-in that creates the momentum you need for events that foster great relationships all year long.

If you follow these 5 steps you will reap the benefits!

  • Your Students build stronger relationships and crave to come back
  • Their Friends experience positive fun and the welcome into a new community
  • Volunteers see their gifts being used and know their time made a difference

And the side benefit: This lock-in won’t break your budget!

You don’t have to hire a band, rent out the YMCA, or be a mega-church to pull this off.

In fact, the smaller church is actually the ideal venue for the BEST LOCK-IN EVER!

  • It’s Relational-Based
  • It’s Affordable
  • It’s Student Planned
  • And it’s Fun

5 STEPS TO YOUR BEST YOUTH GROUP EVENT OF THE YEAR

1) PLAN THIS EVENT WITH YOUR KIDS, NOT FOR THEM

While our goal in youth ministry isn’t to give kids what they want, the fact is if we want them to show up, they need to WANT to come.

So, ask them. Involve them. 

If the students help plan it, they have more ownership

If they design it, chances that they invite their friends increase exponentially!

Notice, I did not say have the kids plan it. I said Plan WITH the kids. That means YOU set the goals. YOU come with a schedule. YOU set the standards.

They get to help fill in the blanks. Find the best games. Choose the activities. Plan the details.

Integrate your Core Values throughout the Lock-in

Hopefully, your church already has Core Values and Standards in place and publicized. If you want to learn more about that, click here: Building the Foundation.

Our Core Values influencing this lock-in event include:

  • Relational Ministry
  • Safe Affirming Environment
  • Congregational Involvement
  • Student Leadership

Our Core Values are never compromised. But the hows and the activities, that’s where the students come in.

2) STAFF YOUR LOCK-IN WITH GIFT MIX IN MIND

RECRUIT MORE VOLUNTEERS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED

Talk to the people at your church who love kids. And ask lots of questions. Don’t look for 3 people to stay up all night. Look for people who would love to play games. And a few who would be great at leading the games. Someone to sit at the check-in table. A couple of people to come in at 11 pm and make Breakfast. Find a few people for the clean up. 

BREAK YOUR NIGHT INTO SHIFTS

Let your volunteers pick their shift. While you may have a few adults who are happy to stay up all night, most will not. But you may find some night owls who are thrilled to stay until 2 a.m. and a few early birds happy to come at 4 a.m.

STACK EVERY SHIFT WITH VOLUNTEERS WHOSE GOAL IS BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

However your shifts work out, make sure you have relational volunteers during every shift. Their whole role is to hang out with kids. Initiate conversations. Build relationships.

These people just love kids! They don’t lead games. They don’t set-up.

They play with the kids. Get to know them. And keep the fun going!

When you evaluate this event with your team, your number one questions should be …

  • Who did you get to know?
  • What did you learn about the kids?
  • How can we support them better?

3) PLAN PROTEIN TO KEEP EVERYONE FROM GETTING HANGRY

Sleep deprived AND hungry is a bad combination!

If you don’t want HANGRY kids and even HANGRIER adults, don’t fill the place with candy and soda. Protein is a great stabilizer and an absolute need for a Great Lock-in!

The Perfect Solution: BREAKFAST AT MIDNIGHT

  • First off it’s just plain fun to have Breakfast at Midnight
  • It’s easy to serve in stations, so you easily can cater to dietary issues
  • Eggs are CHEAP and FILLING!

BREAKFAST BURRITOS ARE SUPER AFFORDABLE

Make some scrambled eggs. Cook up some sausage. Buy some tortilla shells. And you have the start of a Breakfast Burrito Bar. Put some toppings out and you are all set. 

The Gluten-Free Kids can skip the shells. The Dairy-Free Kids can skip the cheese. The kids who don’t like spicy can skip the salsa. They can make it to order and enjoy!

(For more about why you need to care about Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Kids in your youth ministry, click here.)

4) CLEARLY COMMUNICATE YOUR CODE OF CONDUCT AND THE RULES

This isn’t a glamorous topic, but you’ll be glad you did it!

3 TOUCH COMMUNICATION FOR SUCCESS

  • collect signed codes of conduct
  • get group agreement in the large group
  • post the code of conduct everywhere

At the check-in table, we collect a Code of Conduct & Medical Release Form signed by every student and parent.

Parents leave a phone number that will be available during the nighttime hours, in case of medical OR conduct issue.

We share our lock-in rules in between our mixers early in the evening. And we get group agreement. We post our lock-in rules in every room in the church. 

5) SCHEDULE WITH STRATEGY

There are 4 keys to a successful lock-in schedule.

  1. Keep them busy. Don’t give them time to get bored.
  2. Group Games early on for get-to know
  3. No Options Until 2 am (until then, everyone stays together & plays together!)
  4. Pick up by 7 am.

A SCHEDULE THAT WORKS FOR A 7-7 YOUTH LOCK-IN

7:00 – 7:30 pm

CHECK-IN & UNO JOIN-UP 

After checking in and signing the Code of Conduct, kids immediately enter an ongoing UNO game.

Move it fast with multiple decks. As new people come in, hand them a set of cards. Everyone scoots back to make room. And Play continues with no break in motion!

This UNO JOIN-UP includes everyone immediately, with no time for awkward wait for everyone to arrive.

7:30 – 8:00 pm

MIXERS/INTRODUCTIONS & RULES

Mixers are not just games!

They include get-to-know you info and mixing outside current friendship groups. YOUTH BINGO option is a great standard. THE TOILET PAPER INTRODUCTION is also a great option, but takes longer.

After playing a few mixers, have some fun introduction (youth AND leaders).

During this time, an energetic, positive, happy person should go over the rules for the night.

LOCK-IN RULES:

  • Kindness is Mandatory. At all times.
  • Stay with the group: We should never wonder where you are. Do not go off by yourself.
  • Do not leave the building. (you will be sent home)
  • Boys & Girls are never allowed to pair off alone. (you will be sent home)
  • After 2 a.m., the Quiet Room remains quiet. If people want to sleep let them. 
  • No bad language & no bad songs (references to sex, drugs, vulgarity). 
  • PHONES: Keep your phones at your own risk. There is a cell phone caddy for your convenience. You MAY NOT hang out on your phones, you MAY NOT be on YouTube, or watch videos. You MAY NOT chat with friends who are not at the lock in. You MAY take photos. You MAY post appropriate lock-in photos to your social media accounts. (We will lock up your phone or send you home if you do not adhere to phone rules.)

8:00 pm – 11:00 pm

FEATURE FUN: NERF GUN WARS IN THE DARK

For this event, you want to darken the building, set up obstacles to hide behind, rent a swarm light (or borrow some fun lighting) and have kids make an energectic, clean playlist.

Prepare for several nerf gun games here: Capture the Flag, Girls vs Guys, Humans & Zombie, Kidnap the Bear, etc.

Switch to a new game BEFORE kids get bored or frustrated.

If your pastor or other church leaders are fun, invite a few to join this game with the kids! (The kids are surprised and delighted to see people out of their element being a little wild!)

TIPS FOR NERF GUN WAR SUCCESS:

  • Lighting is vital! Consider a swarm light. Colored uplighting is fun. You want dark but safe. (DO NOT USE STROBES – unless you want headaches and irritable people!)
  • Music sets the tone. My kids created a Techno Play list specifically for the Nerf Gun War!
  • Cell Phone Caddy. We hang a cloth over-the-door shoe organizer in the kitchen for kids to store cell phones during the game. Cell phones will fall while running and get stepped on.
  • Game Leader needs to be positive, energetic, and fast at instructions. 

11:30 pm – 12: 00 am

BREAKFAST AT MIDNIGHT

A Breakfast Burrito Buffet Bar is the cheapest & happiest option for this time of night.

The protein keeps everyone from feeling crazy sick with lack of sleep and it keeps away some of the HANGRIES.

While Breakfast is being served, send a crew in to re-set anything you need for your next slate of large group fun! For us, our worship center is our large group homebase for the next 2 hours.

Midnight – 2:00 am

MORE LARGE GROUP FUN

Sardines and Hide-&-Seek in the dark start after Breakfast. For this, we leave Nerf Gun Wars obstacles up.

Other Large Group Ideas: lipsync battles, spoons, round-robin badminton, giant group jenga, competition events.

Plan more than 2 hours of large group games and activities. Switch to the next while everyone is still having fun. Keep the energy level high and positive.

A little before 2 am, bring out the slew of snacks your kids brought to share and start re-setting for the YOU-CHOOSE OPTIONS if needed.

(at some point before 2 a.m., someone sets up the movie room, quiet room, active options (balls, nets, etc), & tables for cards & games)

2:00 am – 7:00 am

YOU-CHOOSE OPTIONS

By this point, some kids will be fading and some getting sleep-deprived cranky. While most have really decided they WANT to stay up all night.

Because our goal is positive relationship (and not ticking everyone off) it’s good to provide some quiet spaces. And a place where people can sleep if desired. But also, great clean fun options too.

During this time slot, students get to choose from different activities.

Until this time, all large group activities have been mandatory. Because of this, they love the freedom to wander a little and mellow. They hang with their friends a bit. And get to know different adults.

Set up activity stations around one main area, so the kids are kind of together, but still doing their own thing. Make sure your quiet/sleep area is removed from the noise, but still monitored by adults.

Options include: Movie Room, DIY basketball game, photo booth fun, badminton, pingpong, cards, jenga, board games, wii games, and anything else the kids can come up with.

This 5 HOUR STRETCH needs to remain intentional.

This is NOT the time to let the kids do their own thing unsupervised. Although they have more choice of activities, adults are more involved than before!

  • Adults stay involved, building relationships with conversation and play.
  • Keep pulling in the fringe kids who feel less included.
  • Maintain a closer eye on behavior, kindness issues, and cell phone use.

7:00 am

PICK-UP

If your pick up is any later than 7 am, early bird kids will begin rising and be crabby. And the ones that stayed up all night are ready to crash and need to go!

HOW TO KEEP YOUR YOUTH EVENT LOW BUDGET & AFFORDABLE

I’m including our budget for reference, but you can do this for less.

The only food we provide is Breakfast at Midnight. We ask kids to bring snacks to share. It’s on the flyer and in all the communications. 

We also ask the kids & volunteers to bring their own nerf guns. We provide all bullets. (We have a stash of extra nerf guns at church if needed.)

We spend $100-200 on our lock-in. We usually have around 20 people. But, again, everything listed here is optional.

  • 2 SWARM LIGHTS: $40. We rent 2 Swarm Lights from Guitar Center. Colored lights dance around the dark to the beat of our nerf gun music. It makes the environment super fun. The kids love it. 
  • EXTRA GUNS, BALLS, BIRDIES, BULLETS, MISC: $40-$50 (we have purchased church-owned nerf guns and game supplies over the years.)
  • GLOW-IN-THE-DARK NECKLACES: $15 (used to identify nerf gun teams in the dark by color)
  • DOLLAR STORE PRIZES: $15 (kids get goofy prizes for our lip sync battles and competitions)
  • BREAKFAST FOOD: $50 (eggs, sausage, burrito shells, toppings, and drinks)

CAN A SMALL CHURCH REALLY PULL OFF A GREAT LOCK-IN WITH LESS THAN 15 KIDS?

Yes, you really can.

I know because we have done it. Keep in mind that kids really don’t need more entertainment these days.

Churches can’t compete with $500 video games and concert tickets. We just need to offer what we have.

  • Relationships
  • Significance
  • Truth

Bring the kids in with a night of fun. And offer Relationships. Learn their names. Their hopes. Their dreams. Their gifts. Their pains. Offer them your awesome community. 

FOR MORE ON YOUTH MINISTRY, CHECK OUT:

The Best Youth Ministry Kick-Off Ever. Plan an entire year of youth events in one night, and leave with volunteers in place.

Youth Ministry in a Small Church: Build This Foundation. Ideas for Youth Ministry and Children’s Ministry in a Small Church. For smarter decisions, easier planning, and better results, set your foundation!