Tuesday, February 25, 2014

10 Tips to Plan A Successful Church Youth Lock In

Earlier this year, I wrote about growing up as a church kid, and how now that I am an adult in the church, I want to ensure that our Youth Group looks back on their time as a church kid in the same positive light that I do. That post was in response to another blog post: 20 Signs You Grew Up as a Church Kid. Number 4 on that list was: "You participated in a youth group “lock-in.”

When I was a kid, lock ins were so much fun. They made for a long night, because we stayed up all night... playing games, hanging out and chatting, and probably driving our Youth Leaders crazy because we just wouldn't go to sleep. So, when our Youth Leaders decided that we were going to have a lock in, I was scared. I envisioned a sleepless night with kids running around everywhere.

Last weekend, we had a lock in, and it was so successful. All of the kids were asleep by 11:30 pm, up before 7 am and back with their families by 8 am, and most importantly, a lot of fun was had. I'll admit, I didn't have a huge hand in planning the lock in, but as I was sitting there, waiting for the last of the kids to drift off into dream world, I jotted down some notes about what I felt like made this lock in a success, as well as things that we could have done a little bit differently. I also thought about things that could be done with different age groups and with other purposes and came up with this list.

1. Make sure all logistics are covered.
When your Youth Leaders first decide that you are going to have a lock in, make sure that you are all on board with the logistics. Date, Time, Location, etc. You want to make sure that you have a large enough area for everyone to be able to run around and have fun, but also be able to have separate sleeping areas for boys and girls. We are lucky enough at our church to have a large activity center that provided enough space for all of our needs. You also want to make sure that parents know what time to drop off their kids, and what time to pick them up. Usually, lock ins last at least 12 hours, and depending on your purpose, can run as long as 24 hours. Do what works for your kids. We started at 6 pm and had a pick up time of 8 am.

2. Age Groups
You want to make sure that your age groups aren't too large. Our church youth group is divided into 3 age groups. 3-8, 9-12, and 13-19. For this lock in, we only had the youngest two groups. However, none of the 3 and 4 year olds came, so we had ages 5 to about 11. If you want to include all of your age groups, it is possible, but know that you will have to have separate activities, since teenagers aren't going to want to play with the little kids. 

3. Adult to Kid Ratio
The Adult to Kid Ratio is really important from a safety stand point, but you also don't want the kids to overwhelm just a few adults. You may have to ask for more help, outside of just the Youth Leaders. Depending on the age of the kids, I would suggest a ratio of around 1:4. 1 adult per every 4 kids. We had 16 kids, and 6 adults, so we were closer to a 1:3 ratio. You also want to make sure that you have both male and female adults present to help with things like bathroom visits and changing into pajamas and for when it is time to go to sleep. 

4. Have a Theme or Purpose
The reason that we decided to have a lock in last weekend is because some of our kids wanted to go camping. With our weather being a little unpredictable lately, we decided that we could do the lock in with a camping theme, and bring it all inside. We went with a "camp in" theme. We used tents to separate the sleeping areas, roasted marshmallows and ate at picnic tables which had lanterns on them. We had camping chairs set up for when we watched a movie.

I also thought about some other themes or purposes that you use for a lock in. You could really do anything, but here are a few other ideas.

Service Based
Design a lock in around a service project. You could plan your lock in for the fall and pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child. You could pack boxes for your church missions. Have your lock in that night, and then wake up and clean up the church yard or plant flowers in the Spring. There are so many options. Just pick one and make it the purpose for having everyone get together and do something good.
I remember as a kid, we used to have Rock a Thons in our church fellowship hall. I was recently going through old home videos and found one from a Rock a Thon in 1990 that was also a lock in. They are a perfect thing to do together. Have each youth group member bring their own rocking chair and collect pledges for the number of hours that they would rock. Set the rocking chairs up in front of a projected movie, or in front of TV where kids could play (church appropriate) video games. Set the chairs up in a circle and play games or sing songs or have devotion time. Just keep rocking and raising money for your cause.
Worship Retreat
Design your lock in to be a time of Worship and Spiritual Renewal. I think that this one would work really well with older kids, like teenagers. Sing songs, have a time for testimonies, spend a lot of time in prayer, have several devotion times throughout the night. Plan your activities to bring your youth group closer together and closer to God.
5. Have Food
If there is anything that our church does well, it is eating. Our Activity Center has a large kitchen in which we prepare meals often. It is important to include some type of food in your lock in, whether it is a meal or just a bunch of snack type food. Kids like to eat, especially when they are in a party type atmosphere. We kicked off our lock in with Supper. That's a good way to get everyone together for a meal before all of the activities begin. We kept it simple with cheeseburgers that one of our male youth leaders cooked on the grill. We had chips and cookies to go with them. We also had snacks that the kids could go in and grab throughout the night. It is important though, to make sure that you set a cut off time for the food and the drinks, especially if you are dealing with younger kids. 
We also had doughnuts the next morning for a quick breakfast before the kids left. Since they were leaving so early, we didn't need anything too heavy. I have been to lock ins where there was a big breakfast the next morning, and that might be a good idea, depending on your time frame. 

6. Have Lots of Activities Planned.
We had a lot of things for our kids to do throughout the night, but there really wasn't a set schedule of when things would happen. We kind of played it by ear to see what the kids were doing, if they were getting bored with one thing or if we needed to move on to something else. Plan out activities that are geared towards your theme or purpose. 

Since we were going with a "camp in" theme, we knew that one thing we wanted to do was to roast marshmallows. We used a fire pit outside and had the kids take turns roasting their marshmallows. We didn't want to do this too close to dinner time, but we didn't want it to be too late either. After we ate, we let the kids run around and play. We had games like Twister and Giant Tic Tac Toe set up in stations in the gym. We also had access to basketballs, other kinds of balls, scooter boards, plasma cars, etc for the kids to play with. We kind of just let them run around and do whatever they wanted.

Around 8 pm, we could tell that they needed a change, so we went outside to roast marshmallows. They loved it, and it fit in perfectly with our theme. 

After we were done with that, we came back inside and washed up for some group activities. It is important to have whole group activities for your youth to bond as a youth group. We wanted to make sure that we did a short devotion, so once everyone was settled back inside, we started with that. One of our youth leaders did a devotion that related to the camping theme.

After the devotion, we played some group games to wear them out even more. Think of "old school" games like Four Corners. They loved that game, and it gave them more opportunities to run around and play before we wanted them to go to sleep. After Four Corners, we played a teacher's favorite, Silent Ball. After a couple of rounds of each, it was time for a movie. 

We projected the movie on the wall, and some kids sat in the camping chairs, while others curled up in their sleeping bags. Pick a movie that is appropriate and not gender specific (no princess movies or super hero movies). The movie was the final "wind down" activity for the night... some of the kids even went to sleep before it was over. 

7. Know that Some Kids Won't Stay.
When planning your activities, keep in mind that some kids will not stay the entire night. There could be several reasons for this. Some might plan to leave for various reason, and their parents will arrive to pick them up. Some kids might wake up and want to go home. When dealing with younger kids, some might get homesick. Keep all of those possibilities in mind. We had a couple of kids that had plans the next morning and needed to leave early. Luckily, we didn't have any kids get homesick. Make sure that you plan activities that these kids can participate in. Since we didn't have anything really going on the next day, the kids that didn't stay, didn't miss anything. If you have big things planned for the second day or overnight activities, make sure that you have things both groups can do as well. 

8. Remember Kids with Special Needs. 
Know your kids and if they have any special needs. If you have kids that have allergies or asthma make sure that you know that in advance. Make sure that if kids need medication that they have it on hand. When we went outside for the marshmallows, the smoke and cool air got to one of our kids with asthma, and she started having trouble breathing, and she didn't have her inhaler. We quickly got her inside and breathing into a paper bag until her parents could drop off her inhaler. Make sure you have what you need. Also, make sure that you have simple first aid supplies on hand in case something happens. 

9. Establish a Bedtime or Lights Out Time. 
For your sanity, this one is important. I think that this was one of the most successful aspects of our lock in. The kids knew that they were expected to go to bed at some point. For us, once the movie was over, the kids that were still awake, went into their tents and went to bed. A couple of the adults stayed up until they were sure that all the kids were asleep. Let your group know from the beginning that everyone needs sleep. It helps if you have activities that will wear them out and make them tired. It also helped that when we started the movie, the lights went off. It calmed everyone down.  Before midnight, all of our youth were sleeping and it was glorious. My fears of a super late night were gone. 

10. Have Fun!  
All of these tips are great, but if no one has fun, it isn't even worth it. Remember that you are dealing with children. Things will happen, someone's feelings will get hurt. Kids will bump into each other and get hurt. There may be tears, but soothe them and assure them that everything is ok. Monitor all of the activities and make sure that the kids are having fun. Have fun with them. Make memories with them.

Have you ever been a part of a youth group lock in? 
Do you have memories of church lock ins as a kid? 


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