You did it! You’ve found the perfect event idea for your students. It fits their personalities, it’s something they can invite friends to and of course, their extracurricular calendars are all magically cleared on the day that it’s scheduled! And now, just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any better, are you ready to take this event to the next level? Great! Don’t tell your students about it! Seems counterintuitive, right? But mystery events and trips have been on the rise in the youth ministry community. Youth workers have omitted their greatest laid plans at the forefront of everything from portions of weekly meetings to weeklong mission trips! Consider making your next event a little bit more mysterious by not telling students what’s going down. Before you do, here are some tips to make sure the mystery machine runs like clockwork:
IT’S NOT A MYSTERY TO EVERYONE.
Nice try, Sherlock, but if you’re the only one that knows the details of the trip, your case will be the one that’s cracked! You should certainly let your senior pastor know the whereabouts and details of the event so you have someone to run everything by. And if your parents are really doing their jobs, they’ll want to have some idea of what their child will be doing for several hours. You should make it a point to meet with parents, and while you don’t have to share all of the plays of your game plan, they should know what kinds of things their children will be doing and how they can get ahold of you at any point during the event.
You can write a parent letter, but don’t put anything you wouldn’t want students to see! Not to mention, you want the event to be a surprise to students, but not to the hosts whose property or establishment you’re invading! But you knew that because you’re a smart youth worker!
KEEPING THINGS MYSTERIOUS
Now that your parents are sure not to spoil the details that you didn’t give them, your students are tugging at your sleeve and begging you to tell them where, what, who how, why… Should you drop hints? Can they guess? Sure, but what’s the plan if they narrow it down and don’t like that it has something to do with music? Or what if they guess correctly, your facial expression gives it away, and the surprise is ruined? This may be the most difficult part, especially when the time comes to getting the word out, but the variety of possibilities is what makes a mystery event so exciting. Keep the mystery a mystery!
AVOID THE BAIT AND SWITCH.
Perhaps you’re a trickster. If you decide to lead students on one train of thought, make sure the thing you end up doing is most assuredly and objectively better than the “original” plan you pitched to them. For example, if you tell students to pack winter gear and skis, don’t be surprised if they’re upset about “only climbing some stupid ropes” on a ropes course. Their hopes were up for slopes! This being said, even with the unwavering element of complete mystery (without the lead-on) and the excitement you may have in the planning, there is the possibility that attitudes and reactions may fluctuate. After all, students literally had no idea what they signed up for! Before your trip or event starts, encourage students to try new things and enjoy being with the group regardless of the circumstances.
CONNECT THE PUZZLE PIECES.
A good mystery event will entail everyone arriving, finding out the mystery pieces one by one, and enjoying the event you so carefully planned. A great mystery event, however, will milk the mystery component as much as possible. Consider having a series of clues that lead from one element to another. You can even stage exciting mysteries of your own… On a recent mystery trip, when we arrived back at the church and thinking all the fun was over, our activities building was locked, and the youth leader didn’t have the key to get in! And to top it all off, parents were inside! There was, however, a QR code with a link to a video that gave some clues… and the students were off! This took some careful planning and some patient parents, but added elements like these will make memories that students will not soon forget!
Have you done a mystery event before? Do you have any pointers or thoughts about how to execute the trip well? Feel free to comment below!
Leta Williams is a graduate resident through the Center for Youth Ministry Training and serves as youth director at Troy United Methodist Church in Troy, Tennessee. You can find her on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM @lovenotknownot or EMAIL.