by Jason Sansbury
Events are an integral part of any youth ministry. At their best, they can help create momentum and accomplish great things in the lives of our youth groups and the students involved. At their worst, they can become huge time drainers that don’t accomplish much at all. Planning is one of the key things you can do to make any event successful. Here are some helpful tips on planning and making any event great.

Great events have a purpose!

A friend of mine recently interviewed for a position at a new church, and was told during the interview process that there is one youth ministry event that is untouchable–don’t change it at all and certainly don’t even think about canceling it. It’s THE sacred cow. When my friend asked about the purpose of the event, he was met with blank stares! Traditions can be great in youth ministry but there needs to be a point so that know what you would like to accomplish through and during your event. A lock-in designed to reach out to your students’ friends looks different than a lock-in that is designed to bring your group closer together. Here are some helpful things to consider when planning any event:

  • Who is your target audience? This answer could run from committed youth group students to new students to parents and even to the whole church.
  • What do you want to accomplish with this event? This should be a one sentence answer. If you try and accomplish too much through one event, you often wind up doing very little.
  • What kind of resources can you dedicate to this event? Additionally, what is the cost you can reasonably charge students and families for this event? How many people can you reasonably anticipate being at the event?
  • What is the date that makes the most sense for this event? A large number of factors need to guide this decision! You should know school schedules, church schedules, vacations, etc. when setting a good date. For example, I once schedule a weekend retreat on the same weekend that the local high school marching band had a competition. 80% of my youth group kids were in band. Needless to say, attendance was pretty dismal and a lot of kids were frustrated that they couldn’t attend.

Great events have people!

Anyone who tries to do a youth ministry event without adequate support is asking for major trouble! You need help. Once you have some solid ideas, you need to make sure you have enough adult help to make an event happen. At a lock-in where we had far too few adults present, I gave myself a concussion during a game of dodge ball. Clearly, it was not a fun experience to be concussed and try to figure out how to oversee students and get the medical care I needed. When in doubt, have too many adults ready to help rather than too few.

Great events have publicity!

As your group gets larger, the publicity part of any event gets harder and harder. Spend the time to create a publicity game plan. Know what is considered a reasonable amount of time for families to have notice and create a plan on how to publicize any event you are holding.
For example, in the group I serve and lead, a month out is a reasonable amount of time for a lock-in. But our summer camp information needs to be in the hands of students and parents at least 9 months out. Learn what your group needs and wants and how to serve in this area well. Here are some key timeline moments:

  • Initial publicity wave. Dates, costs, general information of what the event is and who it is for–for instance, if you are planning to host a senior high retreat, get that information out in the beginning so that junior high kids (and their parents) are aware that this retreat is not for them and that you are (hopefully) planning a separate one for the under-14 crowd.
  • Registration. You need a signed commitment, a medical release, and, depending on your context, a financial commitment. Know what your deadlines are, especially in regards to using outside resources. Many a youth worker has lost tons of money because he or she wasn’t aware of the dates when the commitment to a retreat center or a laser tag place could be lowered.
  • Build a target list. If an event is aimed at certain students, don’t be ashamed of recruiting specifically to them. For example, at my church, we are launching a youth leadership team in January and we are building a specific list of students that we want to make sure are involved in this ministry. (Note: we aren’t excluding anyone but we are ensuring that certain students are involved!)
  • Communicate well just before the event. All of the details for ANY event need to be available at least a week prior. We post everything to one central website; additionally, we use email blasts and make the cell numbers of the leaders available for parents who might have questions.
  • Communicate well after. Any event that we are doing with a purpose and goal in mind needs to be followed up on.

The audience of students, parents, and your congregation needs to hear about any event and some of its successes. If possible, plan ahead for students to share testimonies in worship, write an article in your church newsletter, and utilize any other communication areas your church has, like the website or Facebook page.

Great events have a plan!

Yes, there is a degree to which we want to be able to have some spontaneous time in any event but the danger is under-planning. A lock-in without a good plan is a recipe for disaster! When thinking through any event, I try and balance structured planned events with unstructured play time. But I also have a plan for unstructured time if it starts to go off the rails. Having a list of games, goofiness, and fun in your back pocket to pull out during a stretch of free time is essential! At one summer camp, it rained and stormed to the point we couldn’t be on the beach four out of five days. Because we brought a ton of board games and cards, and we knew where the local movie theaters were, we still managed to have a great week. A week of teenagers staring out at a beach they couldn’t visit with nothing else to do would have been a nightmare!
Again, events are essential to any youth ministry if they have a purpose and goal, if you have significant enough support to have the event well-staffed, if you have a publicity plan for before and after the event, and if you have a plan and schedule for the event itself!
With that in mind, what are the best events you have ever been a part of in your youth ministry experience? What makes them stand out in your mind?
Jason Sansbury is the youth minister at Belle Meade United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn.  Previously, Jason has served churches in Franklin, Tenn. and Georgia and has been on staff with YoungLife.  Additionally, Jason was one of the founding partners of Crossed-Up Ministries, a ministry specializing in putting together large worship events for youth groups.  He has a heart for helping young people find their call into ministry and succeeding early in their ministry and careers. For fun, Jason loves movies, music, and television. He is a fount of useless pop culture trivia and dreams of being a winner on the TV show Jeopardy.