Home Youth Leaders 5 Steps to a Youth Lock-in That’s Perfect for a Small Group

5 Steps to a Youth Lock-in That’s Perfect for a Small Group

youth lock-in

For some churches, a youth lock-in has the reputation of being a waste of time, money and energy. It ends up entertaining some kids and annoying others; it leaves your budget drained and your adult team depleted. But a youth lock-in doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re looking for a purposeful event that works in a small church, builds relationships, and doesn’t leave everyone hangry and crabby, this is it!

I’ve gathered 5 steps for an overnighter that creates the momentum you need for events that foster great relationships all year long. Follow these steps, and students will build stronger relationships and will crave to come back. Their friends will experience positive fun at the youth lock-in and be welcomed into a new community. Volunteers will see their gifts being used and know that their time made a difference.

And the side benefit? This youth lock-in won’t break your budget! You don’t have to hire a band, rent out the YMCA, or be a megachurch to pull this off. In fact, a smaller church is actually the ideal venue for the best youth lock-in ever. The event can be relational-based, affordable, student-planned and fun.

Here are the 5 steps for your best youth lock-in ever:

1. Plan the event with your kids, not for them.

While our goal in youth ministry isn’t to give kids what they want, for them to show up they must want to come. So ask kids. Involve them. If students help plan the youth lock-in, they’ll have more ownership. If they design it, chances that they’ll invite their friends increase exponentially!

Notice, I didn’t say have the kids plan the youth lock-in. 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.

During the planning process, integrate your core values throughout the youth lock-in. Hopefully, your church already has Core Values and Standards in place and publicized. Ours include relational ministry, a safe and affirming environment, congregational involvement and student leadership. Our Core Values are never compromised, but the hows of the lock-in and the activities are where the students come in.

2. Staff the youth lock-in with the talents of volunteers in mind.

Talk to the people at your church who love kids and ask lots of questions. Don’t look for three people to stay up all night. Look for people who’d love to play games — and a few who will be great at leading the games. Look for someone to sit at the check-in table and a few to arrive at 11 p.m. to make breakfast. Find a few people for cleanup.

Recruit more volunteers than you think you’ll need. Divide the night into shifts and let volunteers pick their shift. Although a few adults may be happy to stay up all night, most won’t. But you may find some night owls who are thrilled to stay until 2 a.m. and a few early birds who are happy to arrive at 4 a.m.

Stack every shift with volunteers whose goal is building relationships. No matter how the shifts work out, make sure you have relational volunteers during every shift. Their main 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 the youth lock-in 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?

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Laurie Acker is a ministry leader and pastor’s wife in sunny Arizona. She learned pretty quickly that small church ministry can leave you exhausted and deflated, especially when you’re using resources that were never designed for small churches! After 30+ years in ministry, including children, youth, women, and worship, Laurie’s having fun helping others in small churches go from frustrated to effective with tools and strategies that work in small churches. Since 2019, she’s encouraged thousands of women in her free Facebook community for small churches, founded The Creative Little Church website full of resources for small churches, and runs Small Church Summits, where she hosts online conferences just for small church ministry. Connect with Laurie at The Creative Little Church