by Stephanie Dodge and Lauren Gilliland

Rule #1

Avoid lock-ins. Don’t put one on the yearly schedule. Wait for someone to bring it up, then try to work it in. Depending on your ministry setting, plan around community events when possible. If football/cheerleading/band competitions/soccer games are big in your town, scheduling a lock-in in the middle of October might not be the best plan when you have to work around so many other commitments. Do you host a 30 Hour Famine event in February? Combine the lock-in that your kids want with service-oriented event.

Rule #2

Help youth build community, have fellowship, and give them a sense of safe freedom. There is nothing more an exhausting for a youth minister than an all-nighter full of fun and games. If you tie the lock-in to something like a service project the next day, not only does it encourage the kids to do something meaningful, it also means everyone has to sleep. It’s a great bargaining chip. The youth want a lock-in, you want them to do a service project, so meet somewhere in the middle.

Rule #3

Shift work. Plan by the hour. Whether or not the youth are staying up all night, it is imperative to have volunteers work in three to four hour shifts. Few parents are willing to stay for the entire lock-in, but most accept that you need their help at some point. They might volunteer for Friday night until midnight, or come and spend the night, or cook breakfast in the morning, or go to the service project with your group the next day. You’ll get more adults to commit to a few hours rather than the whole night, and night owls and early birds can have their choice. A 1:6 ratio is a good rule of thumb when recruiting chaperones.

Rule #4

Know your limits. You know that you are not going to function well without sleep, so don’t try to be a superhero. If you are doing an activity or service project the next day that means setting a strict bedtime so that you can function. (Make sure that bedtime is an hour earlier than you actually need to be in bed.) Also, chatty parents, awesome games, and lots of coffee are helpful for powering through the late parts of the night. Stress that lock-ins only happen if you have adults helping. You cannot do a lock-in by yourself. Another role to delegate is that of worship. Ask someone else to lead worship and give the message so that you can have the experience of worshiping with your youth.

Rule #5

Don’t try to be that cool church down the road. Yes, you could spend a lot of money and bring in a lot of teens who have never stepped foot in your church, but at the end of the night will you really be able to compete with all the glitz and glamor that the world already offers your youth? Or you could build a bonfire, eat some s’mores, worship, play board games, watch a movie, and offer the youth some space to build relationships with God and each other? Certainly encourage your youth to invite their friends. But don’t go overboard trying to out-do someone else’s lock-in. If you’re going to host this kind of event, make it relevant to your youth, and frame it around what they (and you) want the event to be.

What are your best tips for lock-in survival?

Rev. Stephanie Dodge is a 2012 graduate of the Center for Youth Ministry Training and Memphis Theological Seminary, and she serves as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Crievewood UMC in Nashville, Tenn. She was commissioned as a deacon in the United Methodist Church in June.
Lauren Gilliland is a 2013 graduate of the Center for Youth Ministry Training and Memphis Theological Seminary, and she serves as the Director of Youth Ministry at Muford FUMC in Munford, Tenn. She is a certified candidate for ordination as a deacon in the United Methodist Church.