Fun is part of the game in Student Ministry. I believe that it’s important to give fun a purpose, so as to utilize it to the maximum potential for the Kingdom. In other words, if we’re going to do a big fun event, let’s make it so that our students are excited about inviting their friends. I think there are a couple of ways we can optimize fun events. First, don’t do them all the time. I hope and pray that there are fun elements in your weekly programming. If students aren’t laughing weekly in your environments, that’s no bueno. However, don’t do so many fun, themed events that they aren’t special. Second, don’t make them stand alone and separate from your weekly programming. If you are planning a fun, themed event, work to fit it into your normal programming. This will give your students who invite their friends an opportunity to introduce their guest to your regular environment. Granted, I realize the challenge, if your normal weekly programming is a Sunday morning, but otherwise, tie it in! We try to do a fun, themed event once every 6-8 weeks. Which works out to be 6-8 times a year.
Here are 3 themed events, that can generate energy and fun, and that you can easily attach to your regular weekly Wednesday or Sunday night environment (or whatever time your group meets):
This is a big one. The reason it is a big one is because teenagers want to participate in Halloween, but many may feel like they are too old. So, let’s give them an excuse to participate! Go big or go home. This is easily our biggest themed event we do each year. We call it Sugar Rush and basically plan our regular Wednesday night programming around it. No matter when Halloween falls, we do it on Wednesday. If Halloween happens to fall on a Wednesday, we will do it the week before and cancel on Halloween (whether or not you cancel is up to you and your church. We have made the philosophical choice to encourage families to be in their neighborhoods for this holiday). You could do a themed Halloween event, where students are encouraged to dress in a favorite decade, or zombies vs. aliens, or whatever! You could also just ask students to dress up. Students love to dress up and have a great time. To add to the night, have tons of candy and treats, and maybe some prizes for 1st-time guests and the friends who brought them. You could even encourage small groups to dress up in their own themed costumes. Have costume contests, play extra games, and get your adult leaders into it.
2. Tacky Prom
Nothing is more fun than to poke fun at a real teenage event. High Schoolers love Prom (most do), but Tacky Prom is an event that all students can get behind (middle & high school). The name of the game is the cheesier the better. Encourage everyone to dress as tacky as possible with messed-up make-up, and out-dated suits and dresses. Basically, anything that you would never wear to prom, wear. Then go all out with the decorations! Make a red-carpet, have a paparazzi, even a pony to pet. Do a photo booth, and have some of the oldest, cheesiest music on all night. Play games, have a runway show, and have waiters and waitress serve snacks to the participants. For an “extra touch,” utilize Instagram to encourage students to do Tacky Promposals using your ministry’s hashtag.
3. Parents vs. Students.
Think Parent Open House, but cooler. Youth ministers look for ways to get parents interested in what we’re doing. We also know how difficult it is to get parents to a parent meeting (probably because we call it a parent meeting…womp womp). Here’s a way to get parents to an open house AND a parent meeting all while encouraging a little healthy competition between the generations. Advertise hard that it’s going to be an epic battle of parents vs. students to determine generational supremacy. To spice it up, you can even encourage parents to wear certain things (like track suits or jerseys) or you could have pre-made shirts for parents. Make the night as close to normal programming as possible, but allow for some extra time to do games where parents and students battle and crown the supreme generation. Once you dismiss students to small groups, keep parents back for a special parents small group (which of course, is just a parent meeting). Then give them information about the ministry they need, answer any questions they have and pray for them. You may also want to divide them up into small groups representing the small groups their students are in. This will give them the opportunity to meet and talk to the parents of the student’s in their student’s small group. Close the night with allowing them informal time to talk time with other parents.
Remember, use themed events as a front door to your normal programming environment and invite guests back the following week.
Sell them on the event, but win them over with your community!
Nick Ballard is the Next Gen Pastor at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, MO, which is outside of St. Louis. I’ve been in full-time student ministry since 2005. I’ve been married since 2004, and I’ve been a father since 2011. I love student ministry, I love the local church, and I believe that God has big plans for this generation of teenagers!