My students will tell you that the fact I’m even writing about this topic is a miracle. I personally think lock-ins are of the devil, but I understand they are memorable and can have great results, including students coming to faith in Christ. The hard part about a lock-in is surviving. The night is long, and the more tired students get, the dumber they become. At the same time, adults lose focus and stamina. However, if you decide to hold a lock-in, here are a few things to think about as you plan the event.

Be Intentional with Purpose

Have a reason to do a lock-in. Please don’t do it because your students begged for one. If they want one, then motivate them with purpose. If you want to see students saved, then make that the intention of the night. Make sure your students know it too. If you want a more cohesive group, then be intentional about it. In your preparation, you are organizing an event with a goal in mind rather than throwing random ideas together. The lock-in is not an end in itself, but a means to an end in your overall youth ministry plan and supports your ministry philosophy. If you have no purpose, then all you did was turn more hairs on your head grey or in my case, make more of them disappear. Also, if something goes awry, it’s easier to explain to church leadership that while the damage done in the senior adult room was regrettable, students did get saved that night.

Start Later/End Early

The most difficult challenge in planning a lock-in is filling up the hours. Start as late as possible. I would suggest starting around 9:30 or 10 p.m. It’s late enough that you’ve used up most of the evening getting ready, and parents aren’t too tired to drive them up and drop them off.

On the flip side, end as soon as possible. Have parents pick students up at 7:00 or 7:30 a.m.. Do not do a Saturday night lock-in and expect students to stay for church. You will have to plan for the extra hours and also have explain why everyone (adults and students) slept during the service.

Tight Schedule and Location

I have nightmares about what students might do in the dark when I’m not with them. I don’t want an epic tragedy to happen when they are under my care for a lock-in. A wandering eye and a sleep deprived brain create opportunities for mischief. When organizing a lock-in, it’s important to maintain attention and minimize boredom.

The first thing you should do in planning a lock-in is to plan a schedule. If you plan the schedule well in advance, you give yourself time to visualize and adjust. To minimize potential boredom, plan for less time than you think you will need. While I could play dodge ball for hours, shorten it to 30-45 minutes. Keep the students begging for more. You also have the option of dropping activities at the end of the night if certain activities run long or have good momentum.

If you are going to do a Bible Study or evangelistic message, do it early in the process while the momentum and energy level of the night is still high. If you wait to do it before students leave, not even you will be able to think straight.

I know of one ministry friend who chose to do rotations allowing groups of students to rotate to different stations such as crafts, missions, games, and karaoke. By doing rotations, you have fewer people sitting and allows for more intentional interaction. Moving from one station to the next also kills time.

Some youth ministers like to show movies at lock-ins but try to make movies a last resort. If you decide on a movie, don’t immerse the room in total darkness. Instead use low lighting such as a lamp. You will also need to decide if you are going to separate guys and gals during movie time; otherwise, you are going to have students sleeping on each other.

You also want to control the space that students have access to. While having a lock-in at a church is memorable, there are some very creative hidden spaces to explore. I would prefer the new couple in the group not find one of those. Limit yourself to the large spaces as much as possible.

In addition, I would restrict access to the nursery and preschool areas. The toys are fun but not meant for older students. Many preschool policies have strict cleaning rules, and I do not expect that you will want to Clorox wipe down everything at the end of the night. I also recommend it to protect the preschoolers. I learned this the hard way. We had a NERF war one year in the church. It was an epic battle, but we put no limitations as to where you could play. Some of the best barriers were in the nursery. However, the problem was with clean up afterwards: there were bullets everywhere. While we cleaned diligently in the nursery area, for two weeks I had nursery workers dropping NERF bullets off at my office. While you will weather the storm of a senior adult member’s pillow being out of place in their classroom, you will never live with yourself if a child chokes on a NERF bullet. 

More than Enough Resources

The no brainer would be food. Make sure you have plenty of it. Plan for more food than you think you will need. While pizza will probably survive a nuclear explosion, it does not need to stay out on the table forever. You will need to put some food out and save some in the refrigerator to bring out later. You can always reheat in the oven to or serve it cold (Yummy).

I would also encourage more than sugary desserts to be on the table. With too much sugar, at about 1 or 2 a.m., an awesome lock-in may become too awesome with students hyped-up with a sugar rush. Then, about 3 or 4 a.m., you will have a dead lock-in with a sugar crash). Your middle schoolers, who do not understand what “enough” means, will get sick if they eat too many sweets. I would suggest crockpots that keep stuff warm with different protein and veggie based foods. You can have these on rotation, not putting everything out when you start, but saving some food for later on in the evening. I would end the lock-in with two things: cleanup in which everybody helps (time killer!) and a good breakfast. I can almost smell the bacon permeating the church.

Let’s end our lock-in plans by talking about the adults. Resources are not always about supplies and food. The biggest resource you need during a lock-in is adults with fresh minds and lots of energy.

 Did you know that some senior adults go to bed around 9 p.m.? Did you know that most senior adults only need seven hours of sleep? Which means… (drumroll) they are up and ready to attack the day by 4 or 5 a.m. Therefore, instead of having all of the adults spend the entire night with students, find some adults who will work on rotations. Have the night owl youth worker (those up late at night) start the evening, and then have the early birds (those that get up early) come help finish the lock-in. Have your senior adults come cook the breakfast.

Wrap up

What have we learned about lock-ins? Obviously, the best way to not “die” during a lock-in is not to have one. But, if you do, plan ahead, eat well, and have plenty of workers even if they can’t stay the whole night.

Categories: Youth Ministry

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