Tips for Hosting a Scavenger Hunt

We start off each semester at our ministry with a kickoff. Our fall kickoff is usually some type of outdoor event but when we kick off our spring semester in January we are typically indoors. The past couple of years we have started doing scavenger hunts for our students and each year we have seen them grow and evolve. Our students have a ton of fun with these scavenger hunts and whenever we advertise them students come out in droves.

Today I want to share some ideas and tips for how to run a successful scavenger hunt that your students will love to attend and participate in.

Go digital if possible.

If you have been involved in student ministry for a little while you have probably participated in a scavenger hunt, and maybe even had the unlucky job of keeping score with paper and pencils. For many of us who have kept score the old fashioned way, we know the frustration and stress that comes with cataloging scores, keeping track of challenges, and trying to keep everything above board.

A few years back I began searching for a digital resource to help with scavenger hunts. Many ministries utilize social media to track submissions from students but if things aren’t tagged correctly or if internet can’t be accessed then this presents its own problems. In my digging online I found a platform for running a scavenger hunt called Scavr. Scavr is a digital scavenger hunt that you host, build, manage, and track directly from your computer, while your students/teams download the app and utilize its features to engage in the hunt.

Whoever is hosting the game purchases a level of game play–free to $149–that works best for their group (the enhanced option works best for our group and costs $79). Then they can begin creating challenges including passwords–think any type of trivia, riddles, or questions that require an answer–QR codes that you can print out and are scanned by teams, picture and video submissions, and geolocation tags. Once you build the game you send instructions to your groups who login on the app and follow a direct link to your game.

Whenever you start it your teams will be able to compete as long as it is open. You will be able to track and approve submissions as needed and push answers through if they aren’t accepted. Each group will see all the challenges and a live leader board. Then at the end you can stop the game and see the final scores and download all videos and photos. Essentially everything on the front end is done for you so you can have more freedom and flexibility during the hunt.

Utilize a variety of clues.

Whether you are using a digital scavenger hunt or you decide to go old school and use pen and paper, having a variety of clues and challenges will ensure a more complete and fun game for your students. There are trivia clues that span all different types of topics. There could be photos that needed to be taken at specific locations or with specific people or there could be clues that relate to your ministry, Bible trivia, and whatever else you can imagine. We have taken close up photos of items and challenged teams to find that item. We have asked random trivia about our staff team that had students racing to us to find out answers. We had specific locations with specific tasks to be done. And we asked a range of riddles and SAT prep-style questions. The more clues you use the better because the broader the range of challenges, the more involved your whole group will be.

Have a prize worth winning.

Typically we have offered pizza, specialty donuts, or huge bags of candy from Costco. But we noticed that this year the students weren’t as excited about our prizes so we switched things up and began to offer new prizes we never had before. I love to bake and students know that, so we offered free baked goods for small groups made by me. That was a huge success and now I owe three small groups some type of baked item of their choosing this year. We also decided to offer Chickfila for a prize to the winning team this year. We priced out the cost of some nugget trays and large fries and it actually wasn’t that bad. When we announced that prize our group went wild and it was so much fun to see the excitement level go up.

When it comes to offering prizes they don’t need to be huge or monetarily based, but they should be special and unique. So think outside the box and look to offer a prize that is unique and appealing to your ministry. Maybe you have a local creamery your students love so you provide an ice cream party for the winners. Or maybe it’s something special made by leaders or parents. Maybe it’s a percentage off of a camp or retreat. Perhaps you have a wall of fame in your youth room and the winning group is forever enshrined there. Perhaps it’s a unique trophy that is passed between winning teams. Whatever it is, the more you talk it up and the more unique it is, the more your students will love participating.

Consider your environment(s).

When it comes to hosting a scavenger hunt that your students will love, you need to be aware of what you have at your disposal in terms of environment. If you are only able to host the hunt on your church’s property, consider all the different ways your students can interact and engage with it. Utilize clues to things that your students would know and be familiar with. Find creative ways to have them interact with your church like a photo with the senior pastor or in the church library. Consider having them take a photo or complete a task at a specific location at the church like having them all play Gagaball outside or inside a specific classroom or with a certain item on the church property. Things like this will have your students moving all over your campus and also engaging with the church in ways that they may not have before.

If you’re able to do things outside of your campus, make sure that if you utilize private properties or businesses you have permission to do so. Also consider if you’re able to go offsite what ways you can have your students engage with and potentially even serve the community through this activity.

Set up rules and boundaries.

Rules and boundaries are really important for this type of activity because it makes sure everyone can have an equal opportunity to win and participate, and provides safety for the competitors and protection for the site/building. Some rules we always incorporate include areas that are off limits, keeping teams together at all times, not allowing the internet to help solve riddles or questions, being respectful of the property and people on it, how points are scored and recorded, and a time limit for the game. Whenever we have rules for a larger competition, we try to keep the rules short and sweet so they are understood but also not overwhelming or hindering of the game play and fun.

Have you ever run a scavenger hunt before? What are some pointers you’d share?

Ideas for Student Meals

For many youth groups, winter retreats are just around the corner and summer trips are fast approaching, which means planning has begun or will begin shortly. Part of planning for these trips may include meal planning and thinking through how to offer food that is affordable and tasty. Still other youth ministries offer meals weekly to their students as a way of blessing them and their communities.

But have you noticed how we can easily default to the same meals over and over? Perhaps you have run out of ideas about what you can offer to your students. I know I have been there many times. I’ve wondered what to offer for trips that wouldn’t drastically raise the overall price. I’ve defaulted to pizza way too often! And let’s be honest: the easy option can feel like the best option because it’s less work and simpler.

Today, I want to share with you some fun and affordable meal ideas that you can utilize on trips and in your ministry whenever they are needed.

Breakfast options.

  • Cereal bar. This is a fun and easy one. Grab a bunch of cereals from your local store and have them set out for your students. They don’t need to be name brand, there are a ton of store brands that taste just as good, but I’d recommend a broad variety so students have different options. Don’t forget that some students are lactose-free, so consider grabbing a milk alternative or two.
  • Pancakes. This is a really cheap option for breakfast. You can grab a large bag of pancake mix from your Costco or Sam’s that only requires water and mix it up to make a hearty breakfast that is fairly cheap. If you’re looking for your pancakes to have a little more taste and to be a little fluffier, grab a bottle of Sprite or 7up and substitute that for the water. Trust me on this one; these are sure to be winners with your students. Don’t forget some butter and syrup to top off this breakfast (check out Aldi for cheap butter and syrups).
  • Eggs and bacon. These are breakfast staples and honestly, it makes morning a little more bearable when you wake up to fresh bacon. Aldi has great prices on eggs, but you may also be able to purchase eggs in bulk at Sam’s or Costco at a comparable price. The same can be said of bacon, so make sure to compare prices. If you live in a community that harvests their own hogs, try connecting with a local farmer or butcher to check out their prices on bacon. You can also see if there are any local people who raise chickens for eggs who could help you out with a deal. A quick tip on making eggs, always go scrambled and add in milk or water to give your them more body and to help with making them go a little farther.
  • Breakfast sandwiches. This is one of those breakfasts I always look forward to. Maybe it’s because I grew up in New Jersey and breakfast sandwiches were a way of life (don’t get me started on pork roll, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel), but these are a great last day breakfast. You get to look at your inventory of leftovers and utilize them in a way that students and leaders will enjoy. Cook up the last of your eggs, heat up or cook all of the leftover meat, grab some American cheese slices, toast up some English muffins or bagels, slather butter on the toast and voila, you have a gooey and delicious breakfast sandwich.
  • Baked oatmeal. I will be honest, I only got into this recently because I was trying to find a healthy breakfast alternative. I realize that most baked oatmeals are anything but healthy, but I did find one that is a little healthier because it substituted all the dairy with applesauce and reduced the sugar drastically. But all that to say, baked oatmeal is a fantastic alternative to regular oatmeal and is something that can be prepped the night before and thrown into the oven in the morning. If you are looking for some recipes, especially some that offer you different flavor options, check out this list at AllRecipies.com.

Lunch and dinner options.

  • Walking tacos. This is something I had not heard of until I moved to the Midwest, and honestly this is an amazing option for meals. Essentially you take a snack sized bag of your favorite chips (Doritos, Fritos, Lays, or really any type of chip will do), add in all of the ingredients that go with tacos (meat, cheese, lettuce, salsa, etc.), and grab a fork to dig in. These are totally customizable by each student, quick to prepare, and also an easy cleanup option.
  • Spaghetti and meatballs. This is such an easy option for a meal and it is incredibly filling. Purchase a bunch of spaghetti and sauce, throw some meatballs in for added flavor, and you have a meal that will have your students ready for bed due to all the carbs! I would encourage you to consider making your own sauce if possible, or doctoring the store bought sauce to make it a little more tasty and special for your students. You can also up the ante by purchasing garlic bread or bread sticks, and by offering Parmesan cheese for students who like that on their pasta.
  • Grilled cheese and tomato soup. This is something that is pure nostalgia for most of us, and I would say the same is true for your students. Bring along a couple of griddles or utilize a flattop and get ready to toast up a lot of bread. A couple of ideas for this include having multiple types of cheese and breads, and making sure you have crackers and other toppings for your soup. Keep in mind you may have students with gluten or dairy allergies, so if you are able, try to have some options available, but understand that these items may not cook up in the same fashion.
  • Soup bar. Depending on the time of year, soup is the way to go! It offers not only warmth and a full belly, but is also fairly easy to put together. My recommendation would be to grab a bunch of crock pots and take them with you if you are going on a trip or have them ready to go in your kitchen space. Ask some parents to prepare their favorite soups ahead of time or grab a bunch of different pre-made options from your local supermarket or Costco, and start them in the morning. Periodically stir them and when dinner time arrives put out crackers, salt and pepper, shredded cheese, and other toppings for a night that will leave students feeling full and satisfied.
  • Sandwich bar. This doesn’t just have to be peanut butter and jelly or lunch meats, but could be a whole themed meal time. You could do different types of sandwich options including various nut butters and jellies, lunch meats and cheeses, BLTs, meatballs, Sloppy Joes, and chicken, tuna, or egg salad. Add in all the condiments and various toppings and you have yourself a DIY sandwich bar that offers your students any type of sandwich they could imagine.
  • Pizza. I know, I know. I said pizza is something we default to. But hear me out on this one. If you are doing pizza all the time, then skip this option. But if you don’t do pizza all the time or want to do something different than your normal pizza options, then jump right in to this one. I’d suggest that you get a bunch of take and bake pizzas from Costco, Aldi, or your local supermarket and do a pizza buffet. Having multiple options and types of toppings gives your students variety and a choice of what they’d like to have. This can turn a boring pizza night into a really fun buffet. I’d also encourage you to consider adding in a dessert pizza, which could be cookie pizza, cinnamon sugar pull apart pizzas (think cooked or baked in a skillet), or even a brownie pizza to round out the evening.
  • Hamburgers and hotdogs. Who doesn’t love a grilled hotdog or hamburger? They always make a great meal. And it gives students something to not only look forward to because they can customize them, but the smell of the grill is enough to entice anyone for dinner that night. I would encourage you to make sure to season your burger patties and have all the accompaniments for the hotdogs and hamburgers. If you’re able to and it is cost efficient, consider purchasing some local hotdogs because that will add to the flavor and uniqueness of your gathering.
  • Crock pot meals. This is a fun and easy option. There are so many crock pot recipes out there that the options are almost limitless. I’d encourage you to find some quick and easy crock pot meals that you can set and forget about and to ask your church families if they’d consider providing some meals for you. This can lead to all types of fun and unique meals and can make this mealtime one that students will look forward to.

Snack and dessert options.

When it comes to snacks, there are a ton of ideas to consider. There’s fruit, granola bars, snack bags of chips, snack mix, ice cream, puppy chow, cereal, popcorn, cookies and brownies, and even leftovers. Anything can be a snack or dessert for a hungry student, just make sure they know when and where they will be available.

A few things to consider.

Remember the students and leaders who have dietary restrictions. This is a pretty big deal especially if you’re planning a trip or retreat because there will be multiple meals. Start by including a question on your signup form asking if people have allergies or dietary restrictions. Then connect individually with that family to see how you can help meet that need. This will require extra work on your part but it will mean the world to those students who are often forgotten.

Always over-estimate on food. I learned this early on in my youth ministry career. Students can put away food like it’s going out of style and like they haven’t eaten all week. So always have extra food on hand to make sure your students are well fed. If there are leftovers or extras, you can always freeze them, use them at your next gathering, or even give them away to some of your leaders (especially your college students).

Don’t forget coffee, tea, and hot cocoa. Typically I reserve the coffee for my leaders because they are doing so much on trips already. Having some hot coffee for them each morning goes a long way. Make sure to have good coffee (go beyond Folgers or instant) and some fun creamers. The tea and hot cocoa can be for anyone and can be nice to have during those winter camps where it’s freezing outside. Having these drinks available make your trips and gatherings just a little sweeter and more special.

How to Make Leader Parties Special

This is typically the time of year that many of us are hosting parties of various kinds and undoubtedly will host a party for our leaders. Our leaders are amazing, and without them our ministries wouldn’t be able to happen. Regardless of our ministry budget, how many leaders we have, or even what our options may be, showing love and care is vital to help our leaders know that we value them.

Today, I want to share a few ways you can host a party for your leaders that is meaningful and special, even if resources are not ideal. The ideas below are low- to no-cost and meant to hopefully provide a spark of creativity and insight as you seek to encourage your leaders.

Utilize families.

One of the blessings of student ministry is that we get to partner with families. We are able to walk with, encourage, and be for our families in all moments. Families see this and most are aware of how important our leaders are because they see the evidence in the lives of their students. So consider asking families to help with putting on a leader party.

You may have a couple of parents or families who love to host and put together parties who will run the whole thing for you. Or there may be a family who would love to offer their home as a place for you to gather offsite that feels more special and intimate. You can also create a Sign Up Genius form where families could sign up to bring food for either a meal or a dessert buffet. Another fun and really special idea would be asking families to bless their student’s small group leader with a gift, a meal, or card shower to make your leader party even more special. Imagine if you could give each leader a special gift from the families in the church and consider how seen, loved, and known they will feel.

Utilize students.

What if you encouraged your students to bless your leaders whenever you have a party for them? If you have a Christmas party for your leaders, have your students write Christmas cards or bake for them. Maybe even have your students bring a gift for their leaders. Even a small card or gift will do wonderful things in encouraging your leaders. If it’s an “end of the year” party, maybe have your students gather around their leaders and pray over them.

Any time you have a gathering for leaders, you could have students write thank you notes to them. A handwritten note acknowledging what you thought no one saw or understood brings such a sense of joy, peace, and accomplishment. You could also have your students be the hosts and waiters at your parties if applicable. Having students bring out the food and serve leaders or even greet them and say thank you is a really fun way to encourage leaders. These are a few ways you could utilize your students to make your leader parties special and meaningful.

Have food and drinks.

Refreshments don’t need to be extravagant or expensive. You could make a quick and tasty punch from items found at Aldi or Dollar Tree with orange juice, cranberry juice, ginger ale, and sherbet, and you wouldn’t break the bank. Tasty snacks can also be purchased at these stores and by putting them in a bowl or on a platter, you have made the gathering a lot more inviting and intentional.

If purchasing items is off the table (food pun intended), consider making the gathering a potluck and create a theme to make it more fun. Do a baked potato bar and have everyone bring their favorite toppings. Host a brunch and ask everyone to bring their favorite breakfast dish to share.

Provide a gift.

This can be a tough thing to do depending on your budget, but even small gifts mean a lot. You could find things on Etsy or at places like 5 Below that may not cost a lot but can be meaningful or funny or relatable to your team. You may not be able to purchase gifts, but you may be able to make something special for your leaders. I love to make candles as a hobby, and I have a ton of supplies at home where I could make a votive for each leader with minimal cost. Elise is a gifted artist, and loves to create all types of things that leaders would love.

For those type of things to be able to happen, you need to be thinking intentionally before the party because otherwise you will be stressed for time and it may not happen. Even a nice handwritten card encouraging your leaders and speaking about the ways you have seen them step up would be a wonderful gift to receive as everyone loves encouragement and a handwritten card. Often times the smallest gifts are the most meaningful because they show thoughtfulness and intentionality.

Take time to encourage them.

I try to be very intentional about encouragement because our leaders need to know how important they are and how thankful we are for them. Student ministry is hard! And there are times we may want to quit, and we are paid. Think about our volunteers who show up and probably don’t see much return on their investments, and yet they keep coming back and taking more and more upon their shoulders. They are awesome individuals, and taking the time to recognize them and encourage them is not only welcomed but I would assert it is necessary. So at your gatherings carve out time to intentionally speak into their lives, to highlight God moments you have seen, to laugh with them, and to honor them. Don’t throw it at the back end of a meeting but be intentional with where it is placed to show your leaders how important and valuable they are.

Shape the environment.

This is super important and should not be something we push to the side or forget about. I know for many of us, we have less than ideal locations for hosting a party. Perhaps you have a small church where the options are slim-to-none for hosting, except for the gym/Awana Room/fellowship hall/storage area. Maybe you are a church that is all multi-purpose so you don’t have a space to call your own and shape fully to your desire. Or maybe you are a church plant and you don’t even have a space because you rent a building only on Sundays.

I get it, shaping the environment can be hard sometimes, but I don’t think that should cause us to not try. Wherever you end up hosting, whether the Awana Room, your youth room, or at your own home, look to shape the environment to make it warm, welcoming, festive, and fun. Think about playing music for the party. If it’s Christmastime, play Christmas music. If it’s an “end of year” celebration, play throwback tunes for your leaders. Think about decorations. Are there ways you could make the time together feel special? Add tablecloths to the old wooden tables, hang Christmas lights or put up a Christmas tree, or rearrange the furniture to make it feel more welcoming or like a living room space. These things, while they may seem small, show intentionality and communicate that your leaders matter. So don’t think about what you don’t have, consider what you can do to make the setting special for your people.

The Value of Home Groups

Back in 2020 when COVID first reared its ugly head, our ministry did what everyone else did: we went virtual. We shared teaching videos for small groups to watch and engage with via Zoom, we supplied online group games, and tried to host large group gatherings digitally. Like many of you, we saw our numbers gradually wane, and as we hit summertime our students were begging us to not meet online as they and our leaders (like all of us) were struggling with Zoom Fatigue.

Summer 2020 was spent searching for meeting alternatives, connecting with other youth workers to pick their brains and find new strategies, and browsing the internet for ideas on how to structure a youth group during a pandemic. Most of these searches yielded very few results. Everyone was struggling with the same questions as we never had to figure this out before, and our ministry education didn’t offer “YouthMin in a Pandemic 101.” Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see that course being offered now.

So I began to think through multiple strategies that would allow our ministry to continue, while still aligning with our vision, and meeting the need our students had for fellowship and community. Enter Home Groups. We came up with an idea that would allow our students to meet together in smaller groups around the community within the comfort of homes while all engaging the same material. We placed individual small groups in homes with leaders and provided them with a pre-recorded video lesson, games and activities, snacks, and discussion questions.

If you had asked me in the fall of 2020 if we would continue to have Home Groups after moving through the pandemic, I’m not sure how I would have responded. It was such a different style of student ministry that I wasn’t used to and it placed a lot of additional weight and responsibility upon my leaders to facilitate and lead their groups.

But enter summer of 2021. We took our students on a mission trip and for the first time we combined our middle school and high school students, and it was a rousing success. I saw my students love and care for one another in new ways. I watched my students step up and lead in a manner I hadn’t previously seen. I saw spiritual maturity in my students that was at least two years beyond where they should have been. What I was able to witness in my students was a depth, vibrancy, and spiritual maturity that had come out of taking a large group and going small.

Our students had actually grown and flourished spiritually in our Home Groups to a degree I had not seen previously because we inadvertently modeled what Jesus did with His disciples. Jesus always had large groups following after Him, but He often went deeper with smaller numbers, and from those smaller groups great fruit would be produced. What Jesus did intentionally, we had to wait for a pandemic to move us in that direction. And I am so thankful it did!

Today, now over two years since COVID entered our vocabulary, we have kept Home Groups as a part of our DNA. We have incorporated Home Groups into our programming once a month. We have also lengthened our small group time during large gatherings because we are seeing that’s where students grow and engage with the Gospel.

Home Groups take a lot of planning and organization, and at times can be a lot to handle. But the reward far outweighs the struggles. Sure, they look different now–no more video message, it’s all inductive Bible studies–but the growth and maturity still exists. We are seeing more students turn out to Home Groups than our normal midweek programming. Students engage with Scripture at deep and tangible levels. They desire the community and intimacy that homes afford. And honestly, I haven’t looked back and probably will not return to “normal” midweek programming ever again. Home Groups were a step of faith, but the reward has been amazing.

If you are looking to deepen the faith of your students, challenge them to think biblically about their lives, provide them with a place to fellowship and build community, and an opportunity to see discipleship happen in their lives, I would encourage you to consider Home Groups as an option. The reward goes beyond students and also impacts your leaders who are given the permission and opportunity to use their gifts and talents to help your students grow and flourish.

In what ways have the past two years reshaped how you do ministry?

Key Things to Look for in a Summer Camp

Many of us have already thought through our summer programming, and have possibly identified a camp to which you’re taking students. Perhaps it’s a camp you have gone to for ages. Maybe it’s a denominational camp and the expectation is you go every year. Maybe it’s a local camp that has various activities your students look forward to and tell countless stories about.

While you’re thinking through the camp you attend, let me ask you a question: does that camp meet the needs of your students? Does it meet the spiritual needs? Does it meet their relational and emotional needs? Do your students come away feeling challenged, encouraged, and more spiritually mature?

Camps and retreats are some of the most important and developmental times in the lives of students. But if am being honest, I think it is easy to just go to a camp because we have done it forever and it’s easy to keep doing the same thing over and over. We default to doing what we have always done and we don’t pause to think through the rationale about why we do it. At its base reasoning, we should pick a camp that mirrors or encourages the vision and purpose of our ministry. From there we can build outward and upward as we seek to leverage its resources to help our students grow and mature.

Today, I want to share with you a few ways I try to find the best camp for my students in order to help them grow as disciples of Jesus. These aren’t the only ways I try to find a camp, but they serve as a starting point for choosing the best camp possible for our students.

Find a camp that matches your vision.

Our student ministry vision is all about forming disciples who make disciples, and equipping them to do so beyond high school. We want students who know Jesus, are growing in their relationship with Him, and are looking to lead others in the same way during their time in youth group and beyond. So for us that means finding a camp that has a similar heart and vision so it helps to cement what we have been teaching them.

Find a camp your students will enjoy.

It isn’t about finding a camp with all the bells and whistles, but finding a camp that has items all your students will find engaging. It is easy to do a sports themed camp or an outdoor camp, but what about your students who are more artistic or inclined to not compete in sports? Finding a camp that has a good balance and activities that fit a broad range of interests is beneficial as it will encourage more students to attend.

Find a camp that is fun, missional, and discipleship focused.

This may sound like a tall order, but I would actually assert that there are more and more camps leaning in this direction. When looking for a camp experience it is important to find one that has fun aspects to it, but that cannot be the sole focus. As youth workers we have an obligation to help our students develop in their relationship with Jesus.

Many camps focus on the fun element with a little Jesus sprinkled in. That cannot be our focus because while yes, youth group is to be fun, the primary reason we exist is to help our students know and pursue Jesus. That means we should find camps that do likewise. So look for camps that have longer small group times. Find places that include service and missional elements, even if it’s simply cleaning up the camp. While students may not find those activities “fun,” they are teachable moments that help you to show them what it looks like to live as disciple-makers and serve their communities.

Find a camp that is affordable to everyone.

In every youth group I’ve worked in there has never been just one socioeconomic category. We’ve had students from all different financial categories and that means that not everyone can afford trips, especially ones that cost a higher amount. Let me encourage you to not simply choose a camp that has a lower price at the cost of sacrificing various aspects that other camps offer. Instead look for camps that offer a reduced rate as needed or have a more affordable option for everyone. If you are not able to go to a more affordable camp consider offering scholarships, a reduced rate, or designating funds for students into your budget.

What do you look for in a camp?

10 Low-Prep, Low-Cost Summer Activities

Does your summer programming look different than what happens during the school year? Has your budget been trimmed or are you approaching the end of a budget year? Many of us can relate to these issues and almost all of us are on the lookout for fresh ideas that can make summer more meaningful, fun, and Gospel-centered for our students.

Today’s post is designed to provide some ideas for the summer that will help you reach your students, look awesome while doing so, and hopefully add little to your workload.

1. Summer movie nights.

These are super easy and can be a ton of fun especially when you incorporate various elements. Having food for nights like these is a must and can range from having students bring their own movie snacks, to popcorn that’s provided, or even having a nacho bar where everyone brings a topping. It is also a lot of fun to allow your students to be involved in what movie is shown because then they have ownership and are more likely to invite their friends. Consider letting the students vote on which movie to show or doing polls at youth group. Also, remember to consider the legalities that are involved when it comes to showing movies. It may be necessary to have the proper licensing and to check the number of people you can show it to.

2. Nerf battles.

These are a ton of fun and super low-cost (even no-cost) to put on. Send out an invitation to all your students to bring their own Nerf guns and darts to a certain location to have a Nerf battle. If hosting this at your church, consider setting up various barriers and obstacles or even different venues for different styles of game play (everyone for themselves, team battles, king of the hill, etc.). If you have the finances available I would also suggest having some extra Nerf guns and darts as some people may show up without either and darts will inevitably get lost or broken.

3. Trivia nights.

These are a ton of fun and fairly easy to pull off. There are tons of websites that have trivia in just about every category and you can also utilize DYM or Trivial Pursuit to get trivia content as well. Consider having a student or a group of students host the night as that will generate ownership and a desire to invite their friends. Also, if finances allow, consider having some snacks for everyone and a prize for the winning team.

4. Grill out at the park.

Hosting a night at a local park is a great way to get students to an event outside of the church. Find a local park that has a grill or two, bring along food, grab some outdoor games and activities, and you have the makings of a great evening! A few quick tips: make sure to bring a variety of activities, a portable speaker for music, some board games for people who would rather chill, and consider grilling chicken drumsticks as a cost-saving option.

5. Worship nights.

These can be a little more involved when it comes to planning, especially if you are not musically inclined. But consider handing this off to some leaders and/or students who have the talent and passion for these moments. Allowing students to take ownership and plan out the event ensures that they will invite their friends. These are also great outreach opportunities where you could incorporate a student testimony.

6. Start a volleyball (or other sports) tournament.

Students love a good competition and an opportunity to challenge their friends. So think through what resources you have that you could utilize and leverage them to facilitate the tournament. It could be volleyball, kickball, Spikeball, 9 Square, ping pong, Foosball, or even ultimate Frisbee. If possible, have water or sports drinks and snacks available and maybe even a prize for the tournament winners.

7. Youth room redesign/makeover.

This is one that could be a lot of fun and truly give your youth group a unique identity. Many of us have very creative students and leaders in our programs and this will afford them a wonderful opportunity to put their creativity to use. I would encourage you to make sure that there are guide rails in place and that you provide a vision for those who are helping so as to provide cohesiveness and stability to what you are looking to have in your space. It may help to start with a planning meeting or two before getting started.

If you don’t have the freedom to completely redesign your space, think about some non-permanent options. Maybe your leaders and students can create removable decor, like paintings, modern sculptures, or cool lighting. Or you could put up butcher paper over a plain wall and let them create a mural to temporarily display. Or you can host a creative night where participants can take their creations home at the end of the night.

8. Small group neighborhood cleanup.

Another awesome summer activity is to utilize your small groups in a way that serves and engages with their communities. This may require finding opportunities where your small groups can serve, or you could hand that responsibility off to your small group leaders and/or students. I would also suggest hosting a gathering after the cleanup is done, using it as an opportunity to celebrate what was accomplished and to engage in community as a group.

9. Camp-out at church.

For some churches it is difficult to take trips during the summer, so an easy and relatively low-cost alternative could be a camp-out at the church. You could set up tents, fire pits, and activities for your students to engage in, and possibly turn this into a family activity. You could also host various night games, engage in camp fire worship, and even give the food for the activity a theme like “old west cooking.”

10. Beach/lake trip.

If you live near the beach or a nice lake, doing a trip to either could be a great low-cost activity. Essentially it would cost you gas money and some beach or lakeside activities (think footballs, Frisbees, etc.). You could even offset the cost of gas by asking families to pay for it. Depending on where you are going, you could even host a grill out and allow for a student to share their testimony.

Responding Well to a Crisis

Working in both security and various ministries, I have witnessed or been involved in a variety of crises. Whether it was treating a compound fracture, being pastor-on-call when a deacon and father passed from a sudden heart attack, caring for a family who’s loved one took their life, administering first aid to a twisted knee, handling a mental health crisis, or ensuring a leader suffering a heart attack stayed conscious while EMTs arrived, there are moments in all of our lives that will be crisis moments. We must be prepared to step into them well.

Not all of us will have the same skillset or training, but God has uniquely and divinely equipped and positioned each of us to be present in those moments for an express purpose. I believe that in order to truly handle those moments and situations well, we must be prepared and knowledgeable so we can care well for our people.

Today I want to provide you with some ways to prepare (as best we can) for crisis moments by helping us think through steps before, during, and after the crisis that will help us best respond and minister to the people under our care. I will say this though: these steps do not make you a crisis negotiator nor afford you any special training or ability to be something we are not. In many crisis moments referral is necessary as we are not equipped to handle various things. This is simply meant to help you think through how you respond and are equipped as we know that we will experience these moments in our lives.

Pre-crisis.

Know your team. This is so important because knowing who is on your team and their skillset allows you to be prepared for various circumstances. Perhaps you have a mental health counselor, or an EMT, or a nurse on your team. Knowing these people allows you to gain knowledge and insight from them, to empower them to take the lead in crisis situations, and helps your leaders take more ownership because they are seen and empowered to lead.

Know your networks. This is one of the most important things you can do before a crisis. If you know the people, agencies, and services that are provided in your community, you will be better suited to know how to respond and who to respond to. Knowing the counselors in your community and building a relationship with them allow you to help people better. Knowing the crisis hotline and helpful, caring, knowledgeable health professionals means you can bring a trusted resource and needed care to your people. Knowing the police officers, EMTs, and firefighters means that you not only can advocate for and care for first responders, but can also help them know and love your people and vice versa. When you build a network you are building a trusting and caring community and you can be a bridge to the person who is experiencing the crisis by connecting them to someone you know and trust.

Be educated. Whether it is by taking a CPR and first aid course, reading or listening to trusted resources, furthering your academic education, or talking with a professional, make sure to continue to grow in your knowledge and expertise. The more you know the better suited you will be to care for people and respond to a crisis.

During the crisis.

Stay calm. This is huge. As a leader, your level of intensity, panic, or calm will reflect outward to your people and the person experiencing the crisis. Think about this: if a fire alarm goes off and you start freaking out and yelling “we are all going to die,” your people may not respond well. But if you keep a cool head and direct people out, making sure they are safe, then your people will reflect your resolve and peace. This is true in any crisis situation, so always seek to remain calm. Now I will say this: it is okay to feel the intensity and adrenalin within yourself, but don’t let that be reflected outward. Should a student call you and say they have a plan to take their life, it is okay to feel all the things and begin to make a plan of intervention. But don’t let the intensity or panic reflect in your voice or in your actions.

Remember and rely on your training. This goes hand-in-hand with staying calm. The more training you have the calmer you will be in a situation. Sometimes when a crisis develops it is helpful to simply pause and breathe for 3-5 seconds and calm your heart as you assess what is happening. As you assess remember your training and step in and respond to the best of your ability.

Bring in necessary people. This goes back to knowing your team. You may have some training or equipping, but there may be others who are better suited to respond. I’ve had various types of training when it comes to handling first aid and crises, but if someone is hurt I am defaulting to the nurses and doctors in my program. Their training and education is much greater than mine and they can handle the situation in better ways.

Contact the necessary people and/or agencies. This is paramount. If there is a fire we all know to call 911, but do you know who to call in a mental health crisis? What about in the event of a power outage? What if there is a tornado or hurricane? Knowing who to call and when is key in a crisis, and honestly something that all leaders of a ministry should know and equip their volunteers with as well.

Pray. This is something that you as the primary responder should be doing throughout the crisis, but I would also encourage you to call your leaders and people in your ministry to pray as well. You may not always have that luxury as some crisis moments are between you and just the individual, but if a crisis happens in a public setting like your youth group, encourage your leaders to pull people away from the crisis (nothing elevates stress and embarrassment like a crowd hovering) and have them pray for what is happening.

Care for your people. Let the person(s) involved in the crisis know that you love them and are there for them. Be a calming presence and allow the peace that God affords us to be reflected through you to them. Also, if you aren’t the primary responder, make sure to care for the other people at the crisis. If a nurse steps in, care for the friends of the individual. Pray, read scripture, cry together, and walk with them.

Post-crisis.

Continue to care for your people. Sometimes after a crisis has been handled and the appropriate people and agencies contacted, it may seem easier to assume our job is done. But honestly your job is only just beginning. Continuing to care for your people, those who had the crisis and those affected by it, is paramount. As you continue to follow up, speak love and truth, and minister to people, you will be showing them the power, peace, and love of God.

Stay involved to the appropriate degree. As you continue to care for people, it is also important to know your role. It is easy to for us to want to care and be involved, but there are only so many degrees to which we can do so. Trying to get involved in the counseling sessions after a mental health crisis could muddy the waters. But continuing to care for and minister to that person is key. Trying to get into an operating room isn’t allowed, but sitting with the family and being present is hugely important. Seek to find a balance to the level of involvement that enables you to care well for others.

Know your limitations. While care and involvement are good things, it is also helpful to know our place and our limitations. Sometimes we can be prone to inserting ourselves into situations that don’t warrant our involvement, or exhausting ourselves through our efforts to stay involved. So know your skillset, know how you can be of the best help, and know when to step back and let others handle the situation. This will help you make sure that your people receive the best possible care and allow you to breathe and find peace in the midst of the aftermath of the crisis.

Pray. Prayer is something that should continue to be a part of this journey. Pray for your people. Pray for everyone involved. Pray for continued treatment and helpful results. Pray for healing and resolution. Pray for peace and for people to see and trust Jesus. As you pray continue to trust God and rely on Him to bring healing and restoration to this moment.

Talk to a counselor or a trusted person for decompression. This is more about self-care. As someone who has been in too many traumatic situations to count, I know the weight they can put on you. The emotional, physical, psychological, and even spiritual weight that can come from these events can feel overwhelming and crippling. So make sure to talk to someone and process through what has happened. Release the emotions, talk through what happened, and process your thoughts. Doing this will help you heal and be a better minister to those in your care.

Packing List Essentials for Youth Leaders

Perhaps you are like me and you’re preparing for winter camp in a few short weeks. Or maybe you’re really proactive, ahead of the curve, and you’re already planning for your summer trip. Before camp, youth leaders typically have things ready like student waivers, transportation, food, essentials for games, and teaching, and it feels like everything is ready to go. But have you ever arrived at your destination and wished you had brought something you hadn’t? We’ve all been there.

Today I want to provide you with a list of easily-missed items that will help you be better prepared and equipped for whatever trip you go on.

A phone charger and extra battery packs.

Have you ever forgotten one of these before? No, just me? It’s the worst feeling because you are limited on what you’re able to do. When we take students on a trip, we don’t allow them to bring electronics. So our staff becomes the default communication for families and leaders. We share photos, information, and texts to stay up to date and it drains your phone so fast. Couple that with posting to our social media accounts for families to get updates and my phone is practically dead by lunch time. So always bring a wall charger for your room and a couple back-up battery packs or remote chargers for when you’re on the go. And of course, don’t forget the cord!

A good first aid kit.

A basic first aid kit is fine but it is often not what we need. I have found that creating your own first aid bag is the way to go. Due to the size of our program, we actually have three first aid bags that we take on trips. Our first aid kits have come in handy so many times, and I have found it’s better to be prepared and not need the kits than unprepared and need something you don’t have.

Our kits are stocked with the essentials like:

  • bandages of different sizes
  • gauze
  • sutures
  • Neosporin
  • splints
  • triangle bandages
  • tweezers
  • feminine products
  • bee sting kits
  • electrolyte tablets
  • candy (should someone need a sugar boost)
  • cough drops
  • a multitool
  • a sling
  • butterfly bandages
  • antiseptics
  • Tums
  • dry mix packages of Gatorade or Propel
  • mosquito repellent
  • aloe
  • sunscreen
  • ice packs
  • various medicines like Advil, Tylenol, and Benadryl

These are just some of the items I’ve been thankful to have at various camps. Some camps provide nurses and first aid, but others require you to be that person for your group. So whatever you can pack in your first aid kit will help you be prepared for whatever comes your way.

A flashlight.

If you have ever had a student not be in their bunk at lights-out or had to walk outside to the restroom during a winter camp at night, you know that a flashlight is your best friend. I would highly encourage you to have at least two LED flashlights you can utilize for whatever situation in which you may find yourself. A quick tip if you’re taking a long trip: turn one of the batteries around (i.e. flip the positive and negative ends) and this will stop your batteries from getting drained.

An alarm clock.

Some camps and retreat centers don’t always have outlets by your bed so you can plug in a phone charger which would allow you to use it as an alarm. So pick up a small battery-powered alarm clock which will help you and your students wake up on time. You can usually find these at a dollar store, Five Below, Walmart, or Target.

Instant coffee packs.

If you are like me and love a good cup of coffee, you have probably cried a few tears for what passes for coffee at camps. So do yourself a favor and seek out a good coffee brand that has instant coffee packets you can take along. Many stores and coffee companies have options available and trying them out ahead of time will help you survive the trip.

Personal snacks.

We often think about food for meals and perhaps special snacks for our leaders. But we don’t always think about ourselves. It is okay to treat yourself and I would encourage you to bring along some treats for yourself. There are moments on every trip when you just need a pick me up. So grab your favorite snacks and stuff them in your bag for when you need them.

A power strip.

Many times, the dorms you are in will have a limited number of power outlets. So bringing a power strip will allow multiple people to utilize one outlet and will hopefully keep more people happy throughout the trip as their devices will be charged.

Tea and throat drops.

Often times at camp you will find you are loosing your voice. Having some herbal teas and honey if you can bring it along, coupled with throat drops can be a life saver (pun intended). Make sure to pack enough for however long the trip is and perhaps some extra for your leaders.

What essentials do you pack for yourself on trips?

How to Make Music Work for Your Gathering

Music is such a key part of our lives. Think about how often you hear or listen to music. Sundays at church services. In your car while you drive. In a store as you shop. On a tv commercial. At a football game. At a friend’s home. Or at a social gathering. But I think we often forget to have music at our youth gatherings and various other church settings.

Music is so beneficial because it sets the tone of the venue, offers background noise, encourages engagement, and makes occasions more invitational. I didn’t always embrace this, especially early on in ministry, but I have found myself utilizing music all the time now and it has helped so much in student ministry. In this post, I hope to encourage you in how you choose and implement music, and to also offer tips and resources to do this successfully.

Think through these four key areas:

1. Ambiance and environment.

Whenever you choose music, think about what you are trying to accomplish in the environment and what tone you want to have. For instance, if you have a gym night and you play folk music, you probably won’t have a ton of energy. Or if you want a coffee shop vibe and you decide to blast For King and Country, it probably won’t embody the setting you are seeking to cultivate. Thinking about the setting, tone, and desired outcome will help you cultivate the ambiance and environment you desire.

2. Energy for the venue.

I referenced in the previous point that setting the tone is key, and that is true in multiple ways. The music you play sets the tone of the energy for the venue. If you want people to be loud and engage in active games, you will want to have more upbeat music that will energize your audience. If you are going for a relaxing vibe, you want to have softer or acoustic music which will allow for more conversation and thoughtful engagement. The music you choose will convey the energy you are looking to achieve, so make sure to think through this piece as you choose what to play.

3. Target audience.

One of the big things we should be considering is our audience. I can sometimes get lost in creating a playlist for my students and throw in songs I grew up with in youth group. But if I am being honest, my students don’t care about those songs. They may resonate with a few of them but not all of them. This is a reminder to know who you are trying to reach and directing all elements of what you are doing toward them. As you think about what music or playlist to utilize, remember to think about who you are reaching. Include songs they know, artists they are familiar with, and tunes they can sing along or engage with.

4. The message you want to send.

Think through who your audience is and what message you want communicated to them through the music you are playing. For instance, on Sunday mornings I tend to utilize worship music because our programming is oriented toward students who are already following Jesus and who we are seeking to equip to be disciple-makers. But on youth group nights, our music is a blend of current and past upbeat Christian and clean secular music. Since we are seeking to pull in people who don’t know Jesus, our music could go from Lecrae, to Ok Go, to Crowder, to Justin Timberlake, to Hillsong, or to The Greatest Showman. This way everyone has something they may be familiar with, and it allows us to introduce people to various Christian artists. All of the music is filtered so there is no profanity, drug or alcohol references, references to vulgarity, violence, or derogatory language.

As you considered these key aspects, let me offer you few tips and resources to help you truly utilize music to the best possible outcome. These tips are meant to help your group grow, succeed, and meet the mission of reaching students for Jesus.

Invest in a good sound system.

I am not talking about built-in house speakers and a switcher with a great bass. If you have that, fantastic, make sure to use it. But if you don’t have that at your disposal, consider investing in a good quality Bluetooth speaker or computer speakers so you play music for the entire space you are in.

Utilize students to help with music.

If you have students who are musically inclined, consider utilizing them in various ways. They can lead worship, you could have a house band playing at youth group, they could pick your playlists, and they can help with the audio/visual elements. When students are involved and excited to be on the team, it generates an excitement and interest among their peers to also be involved. These opportunities for students to lead outward will not only generate excitement but it will also give them ownership of the ministry which will help it succeed.

Utilize apps and the internet.

There are many free music resources that you can use depending on your level of comfortability and time that you can afford to it. You could use YouTube and just look for playlists. You could utilize Pandora’s free option, but you will have to deal with ads and those can sometimes be uncomfortable or inappropriate for the setting. You could also utilize Spotify, which is my personal favorite. You could create your own playlists, or simply put on various albums, artists, or playlists that you find on it. Spotify also doesn’t use ads like Pandora, and they have various levels of subscription that are worth looking into if you have the budget for it.

A quick tip if you don’t have the budget to get a paid Spotify subscription: You can utilize the non-paid option on multiple computers as long as you keep the offline feature turned on. Simply download the playlist ahead of time, then switch to offline and voilà you can use the playlist in a few different locations.

Here are a few playlists that I utilize and the settings I use them in:

5 Tips for Hosting a Great Christmas Party

With the holiday season officially beginning, many of us are probably preparing to host at least one Christmas party this year. Whether you’re hosting your own, a leader party, or a student Christmas party, we all know the pressure to have a good one that people enjoy.

Over my many years in ministry I have hosted multiple Christmas parties, some were better than others, and today I want to give you five quick tips to host a great Christmas party for students. These aren’t the only things that will make your party great, but incorporating them will help you in that direction.

Before I get to those points, I do want to highlight one extra tip that will definitively make this a great party: make it highly relational. This is a huge thing whenever you host gatherings like this. Find ways to leverage the time together to pour into and care for your students. This is a great opportunity to connect with students on the fringe, have conversations with students you haven’t connected with yet, to encourage and speak truth into students’ lives, and to laugh and fellowship together. Take the opportunity presented to you and use it to build into and care for your students.

1. Pick a theme.

It is easy to just say “we are having a Christmas party,” and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you choose a theme and announce and champion it to your students, it will generate momentum and a desire to be a part of the gathering. It makes it more fun, engaging, and invitational to your students and their friends. Here are a few ideas to consider for your theme:

  • Ugly Christmas Sweaters. Challenge everyone to wear an ugly Christmas sweater and hand out prizes for various categories (most likely made by a grandmother, most itchy, most unique, most likely grabbed last minute). When choosing who wins, involve students to either choose or judge who wins to make it more engaging.
  • Christmas Costumes. This one you can take in any variety of directions. You could do Christmas movie costumes, Christmas decades costumes ( i.e. 1920s or 1700s), retro Christmas costumes, or even Christmas character costumes.
  • Christmas PJs. Have everyone come to the party in their favorite Christmas pajamas. You can market this as wearing your favorite jammies, fuzzy slippers, and cozy blankets, and then have the evening be more relaxed and centered on fellowship and community.

2. Set the ambiance.

Ambiance enhances any gathering, but especially when it comes to parties and outreach opportunities. A quick, easy and no-cost way of setting the ambiance comes from simply playing Christmas music. Create a Spotify account and make a Christmas playlist for your gathering. I love to throw in some old school songs just to see how my students respond.

Also consider utilizing Christmas decorations and lights to make the setting feel more Christmasy. Simple decorations and lights add so much to a gathering and it shows intentionality to your students. It communicates that you care and value them, and that will make them want to invite their friends.

3. Have a gift exchange.

Gift exchanges are a huge hit for Christmas parties because it gives students an opportunity to receive a present. To help keep this cost effective, challenge each student to bring their own wrapped gift to the party. However, always make sure to have some wrapped extra gifts just in case a student doesn’t bring a gift. We never know why a student can’t bring a gift, and you never want a student to feel singled out or left out because they didn’t have a gift. This ensures everyone gets a present and feels valued and loved.

For the gift exchange itself you could choose from any number of different options, but here are a few fun ones:

  • A white elephant gift exchange. You can add in rules for trading gifts or just allow everyone to pass a gift to their right a few times.
  • Randomly choosing grades to go and pick a gift.
  • Playing rock, paper, scissors among the group and allowing the winners to go and get a gift. If you don’t win, you keep playing with different people until you do.
  • In small groups, have students sit in a circle and one at a time roll a pair of dice. Once someone gets doubles they can go and choose a gift. The group keeps playing until everyone gets a gift.

4. Provide some sort of food.

Food makes events much more personal and welcoming. A few fun food ideas for your party can include:

  • A hot cocoa bar with all the toppings.
  • A fresh-baked cookie bar with different Christmas cookies to choose from.
  • A Christmas dinner.
  • A Christmas dessert bar.
  • A decorate your own Christmas cookie bar.

This may feel like an expensive option for many youth groups, but if you don’t have a budget for this consider some alternatives. You can ask parents to provide different items. You could utilize the older generations and ask them to provide the items needed and even invite them to the party to increase inter-generational ministry opportunities. You could utilize announcements in church or in your bulletin asking for donations for the party. These ways of gathering supplies and resources will help offset the cost, afford you opportunities to champion student ministries, and allow you to engage with members of your extended community.

5. Focus on what is important.

Sometimes we can allow these parties to just be parties. A place of fun and games and food, but we don’t focus on what we should be focusing on. Students can and will attend Christmas parties outside of yours that will be a place for just those things. But your party should focus on the important things. That is not to say that you don’t have fun, eats lots of food, and play silly games. Do those things, but don’t forget why you are gathering.

You are gathering to celebrate the birth of the Savior and to help your students grow as disciples of Jesus. So highlight those areas during your party. Have small group time. Talk about Jesus. Have a Christmas message. Encourage and challenge your students in their faith. Don’t let this become just another party, rather be intentional with its focus and purpose and leverage those opportunities to enrich the lives of students with the Gospel message.