If I ever meet the youth director who invented lock-ins, I may have a few cross words to share with them. These events have been a staple in youth ministries since at least the 60’s and, although they are dreaded both before and after they occur, they are always fun while they’re happening.
Lock-in no longer has to mean “locked-in.” Lock-in really just means staying-up-all-night-doing- something-with-the-youth-group. They’re a great way to get kids together, create community, build relationships and have a lot of fun. Here are some ideas for your next lock-in.
The old fashioned lock-in is when you stay at your own church and play all night. Depending on the size of your group, you can do each activity together, or have different activities in various places and have students rotate through them. Some ideas: A board game room, cookie decorating/baking, make your own pizza, button making, inflatables, dodgeball/volleyball, etc., S’more making, movie room. You can also utilize talented parents by having them host a card-making room, wood carving, scrapbooking, etc. Pinterest is a great source for lock-in ideas.
Not every activity has to go on all night. Create a schedule where new and exciting things pop up throughout the night to keep student interested. Midnight dance party! 3am Coffee Bar!
You can raise money on a lock-in by having a walk-a-thon, bike-a-thon, fast-a-thon, game night marathon, you get the idea. Students get sponsors for each lap or hour, then hang out at the church doing the a-thon. Add food and entertainment and you have a lock-in!
These can be expensive, but they are loads of fun. They work best with large groups. Some venues offer a flat rate rental so, the more students you have, the less it costs per student. Other venues charge by the student. Trampoline centers, bowling lanes, mini-golf courses, go–carts, gymnastics centers, climbing centers, swimming pools, etc. are usually willing to stay open late or open early for lock-ins. Spend a few hours at each place, load the bus and head to the next event.
If you have adults who don’t want to stay all night, it’s easy to switch them out between events.
Mystery Destination Lock-in
Give a few clues about what to bring and wear (plus a few incorrect clues just to throw people off), load the bus a head to a surprise destination. You might head to a concert, rally, or other event. You can also go to any of the travelling lock-in destinations mentioned above. If you’re really adventurous, make it a mystery weekend and head to an amusement park or resort area.
Although lock-in are often just wild events used as recruiting tools, they can also be fun learning experiences.
- A poverty lock-in may include visiting a homeless shelter and serving a meal or leading worship, volunteering at a thrift store cleaning and sorting after hours, then ending the night sleeping in cardboard boxes on the church lawn.
- A hard-hitting lock-in on drug and alcohol abuse might include a stop at a rehab center, police station, emergency room and even a morgue or funeral home.
- A world tour lock-in could include an Italian restaurant, Salsa dancing lessons/demonstration, or Japanese origami.
- Simply interspersing themed teachable moments or devotions throughout any lock-in can make it both fun and educational.
Low Budget Ideas
Locking in at your own church is cheap, but can be boring since your students are always there. However, going to another church (perhaps in a different city) can add inexpensive excitement. Every youth director has ideas about what to do in their own church, so this is an easy way to add excitement without extra cost. You could even to a lock-in swap with another group.
Transportation can be expensive especially if you‘re paying a driver. You can save money by travelling less time. Stay at your own church until 10 or 11:00, then have the bus arrive to take you somewhere. You can also have your last destination near the church. Once you arrive there, say at 4:00AM, release the bus driver and have parents pick up students there rather than at the church. This will cut few hours off bus/driver fees.
Lots of venues are free, but you may need permission to be there after dark. City playgrounds, arboretums, tracks/stadiums, barns, etc. are great places to do activities for little or no cost.
Since lock-in’s seem to be here to stay, we might as well make them as fun as possible for everyone involved. Be safe, be creative, and have fun.
Scott Gillenwaters has been in youth ministry since 1986, and currently serves as Director of Student Ministries at First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He’s married to his best friend, Kathy, and has two college age sons. He sings, plays piano, runs, reads political history and loves to dabble in local politics. If you’re really bored, you can follow him on Twitter @SGILLENWATERS.