“Mr. Will, is there going to be a lock-in this year?”

You have no idea how many times I hear (and dread) that question throughout the year.

Last month, we organized and hosted our fourth annual Lock-In for our students at Celebration Church with the help of our awesome volunteers.  We always do a lock in at the end of the summer or beginning of the school year, as a springboard to take us into the fall season.  Students always get very excited about it; and adults get tired as soon as I mention it!

It’s definitely a sacrifice of time and sleep to pull it off, but we pull more students into this event to hear the gospel than any other event that we do throughout the year.  You should consider doing one as well, but you don’t have to make all the mistakes I have!  We’ve learned a lot through the years.

So here are seven things that will help you put on a lock-in for your students:

1) Get your rest.
If you are the lead youth worker/pastor/organizer for this event, you better rest up.  You’re gonna be running hard the whole time (probably around 20 hours), and won’t likely find your bed until 10-11am the next morning.  From my days working the graveyard shift as a drugstore manager, I use the technique of staying up late the night before, then sleeping in the morning of the event to reset my internal clock.

2) Recruit volunteers early and often, and delegate tasks.
Never, under any circumstances, attempt an event like this on your own.  Bad idea.  Start early, talk it up, and then make specific, direct requests to people you think might be willing/interested.  Offer a shift based on their preference, if necessary.

Then, delegate the organization/execution of specific aspects to trusted volunteers.  This year was our most successful night by far, because I wasn’t trying to do it all myself.  I had a volunteer running registration, early games, late games, the main event, AV/tech, food, and a few other things, so I was able to focus on bringing it all together into one package.

3) Incorporate the gospel and worship.
Some might disagree here, but I believe it would be a wasted opportunity to have an event like this and not preach a message on the gospel.  Yes, it’s not going to be the most popular part of the night with the students, but it’s a valuable opportunity.  Plus, you can take the opportunity to do something out of the norm.  For instance, this year I spoke on idolatry and smashed some blocks onstage with a sledgehammer, something I don’t do on a normal Wednesday night.

4) Build the night around a “main event.”
Each year we have a main event that we put most of our time and planning effort into.  Because we have a pretty good sized property with lots of buildings, Capture the Flag has been a popular one.  We’ve done different different variations: 4-Team CTF, Hunger Games theme, Duck Dynasty theme, etc.  This “main event” needs to be able to take up a solid 3 hours of your schedule, 25% of your night.

5) Consider the night you’re doing the event when planning activities.
A couple years ago, we pushed back the lock in to be after the first or second week of school, instead of at the end of summer.  Our numbers grew significantly, because students brought more friends.  But we planned the lock-in like the kids hadn’t been in school all day, with full-on activities stretching well into the morning.  By 4am, we still had major activities planned, and the kids were just wiped out.  There energy levels are at a totally different place in the summer than they are at the end of a school week.  We build in “down time” now towards the end.  Make sure you consider that.

6) Use enough space to facilitate the event, but no more.
A few years ago we used a recently renovated building that we didn’t have access to in years prior.  It has several classrooms and we decided to make use of them.  So we had a “guys sleeping room,” a “girls sleeping room,” a “board game room,” a “video game room.”  You know what happened?  They all got trashed.  Who cleaned it up?  Me and my volunteers.  Bad move.  The next year, everybody stayed in the same big room, with a girls’ side and a guys’ side.  Cleanup was instantly ten times easier.

7) Leave the campus better than you found it.
If you’re going to try to do events like this in the future, you need to invest in your relationship with all other authorities in your church by taking care of the property.  If you have a lock-in and leave the place trashed, chances are you’re gonna have a hard time convincing your pastors to let you do another one.  Sacrifice your sleep and make sure the property is clean before heading home.

So go make a lock-in happen for your students!  I won’t lie – it’s a lot of work!  But it has the potential to draw students like a magnet to your ministry that you might not normally have!