Thinking Outside the Box – Part 4
Whoever invented the lock-in should be punished severely. I’m talking drawn and quartered or something. Seriously, who does he think he is sentencing youth leaders to a life of torment with great weeping and gnashing of teeth? Ok, maybe I’m the only one who despises lock-ins. Man, I can’t stand them. By two in the morning I always have junior high boys stumbling around the building like zombies. They’re miserably tired, but for some unknown reason they refuse to find a corner and sleep. Two years ago I made the greatest decision of my youth ministry career. I placed a permanent ban on these cursed events.
Do you find yourself planning the same events every year? Are there any that you don’t like doing but for some reason they keep coming back? Are there any on your calendar that serve no real purpose? I firmly believe that every event that a ministry does should further the vision and mission. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun for fun’s sake. It just means that it better be propelling you forward, not just keeping a status quo.
I am going to make a bold statement. There should be no event on your calendar that is untouchable. No ministry should have sacred cows. You may have an event that is successful, inspiring, and propels your ministry forward. Awesome! It may not always stay that way. Every event has a season of plenty followed by a much needed season of retirement.
Here are some clues that an event may need to be retired:
- The thought of the event makes you want to claw your eyes out.
- The thought of the event makes your students want to claw their eyes out.
- You find that your ministry exists to support the event, not the other way around.
- You don’t know why you are doing it.
These are just a few examples. Creativity dies at the hands of rote tradition. Meaningful tradition is good…sacred cows are not.
Practical Tips for Retirement
Sometimes there is tremendous external opposition to the retirement of the event. Often that opposition comes from within yourself. Here are some tips for retiring an event.
- Cast the vision of your ministry
Never make a significant cut without casting vision. People need to know why you are making a change. Instead of just giving them the details of why you don’t like this event, give them the exciting direction the ministry will be heading without it.
- Replace it
This is a great way to follow up the casting of your vision. Replace your retired event with something else. This doesn’t always mean another event. Sometimes it simply means a renewed focus on something else that you are already doing. When making cuts it is important for people to see that you are still dedicated to what God has for the future of your ministry.
- Be prepared for opposition
Expect it. Prepare yourself and your team for it. Present a unified front, and always respond to opposition with love and humility.
Sometimes events need to be retired. Other times they need to be created. Students need relevant ministries, not ministries that do what ministries have been doing for decades. If your calendar is full of lock-ins, pizza parties, and movie nights you may need a push of creativity. Here are some tips for creating innovative events.
- Find out what your students are in to.
This may seem obvious, but many leaders miss this. I can’t tell you how many leaders I have seen fill their ministry calendar with events they loved as a teenager without taking the time to see what their students actually enjoy.
Here are an example of how I adapted my calendar around my students’ interests:
Early on, I discovered my students had a passionate love for disc golf. Now, instead of loading my calendar with my own ideas, for several summers I have run a disc golf league that meets twice every week. It has been an awesome outreach tool, bringing in several unchurched students. The cool thing is it was a student’s idea, not mine!
- Don’t bankrupt your students’ families.
Be VERY careful how many high-cost events you put on your calendar. Students may love you for scheduling several days of paintball and trips to amusement parks but parents will not. You need to be careful how much pressure you are putting on parents to shell out their limited supply of discretionary income. Find ways to provide free or nearly-free events and mix in infrequent events that have a high cost.
- Partner with other ministries
Many awesome events require a critical mass. There are few things more lame than a flag football tournament with eight students. Students are highly social beings, and events become that much more cool when there is the opportunity to meet new people. The next time you are planning an event, try to get other youth ministries in your area on board. It may require humility and letting go of the reigns, but the results are worth it.
Events are a wonderful way to inject life and excitement into your ministry. They are also a wonderful way to show its irrelevance. Don’t be afraid to retire events that are no longer relevant. Think outside the box when creating new events. Don’t just pull from the old fashioned youth ministry playbook. And please…let us all unite and overthrow the tyranny of the lock-in!
Questions? Comments? What outside-the-box events have you done? How have you successfully retired irrelevant events?
previous posts in this series: